Remembering the Civil War
The Conflict as Told by Those Who Lived It
Edited by Michael Barton and Charles Kupfer
Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2019, 488 pages
Book Review published on: March 25, 2022
Remembering the Civil War: The Conflict as Told by Those Who Lived It is an anthology—a collection of memoirs from participants of the American Civil War. During and following the war, these memoirs became their own American literary genre. Historians Michael Barton and Charles Kupfer selected pieces from the memoirs of important players to produce a single-volume Civil War narrative. Key contributors include Federal Army Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan. From the Confederacy, the editors included Gens. Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet. The editors chose four memoirs from Longstreet and his reflection after key battles, which included the battles of Antietam (1862), Fredericksburg (1862), Gettysburg (1863), and the “frenetic and often confusing Battle of the Wilderness” (p. 8).
The book is comprised of a thorough introduction, a prologue to war, an annual chronology of major battles from 1861 to 1865, and concludes with a reflection on the war. Other interspersed sections include everyday life, whether in camp, field, or hospital, along with a variety of writings on the Civil War experiences from disparate group involved in prison life and a massacre after a surrender. One writer in the prologue concluded that two major themes explained everything about the differences between the North and the South. Another prologue piece discussed in the “Ordinance of secession,” particularly the reasons the state felt it necessary to break from the U.S. Government, while another piece highlighted a differing view.
The introduction and headnote for each excerpt provide a comprehensive background of the document within the operational environment. Each document is varied in both quality and reliability based on the time it was written and the disposition of the writer. Many of the memoirs offer interesting perspectives when taken as a whole. This allows the reader to grasp vivid descriptions of major battles at the tactical and operational level while also understanding the strategic political developments and other important events from the start of the war at Fort Sumter to its culmination at the Appomattox Courthouse.
As with the prologue leading up to the war, the book concludes with reflections on the war and its aftermath. This section contains President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address of 1865, in which he named and faced America’s original sin of slavery, while also reiterating a generous reunion free of malice. Frederick Douglass’s speech in 1878 focused on the Christian notion of “charity toward all, and malice toward none” as the question of emancipation, finally addressed, with the secession issue settled. A former Confederate general reflected on the secession issue and what would have come of it had it succeeded. He rightly highlighted those divergent interests would have separated the states into groups dividing and further weakening them.
This book was well compiled from an impressive group of memoirs from the American Civil War that gives the reader an excellent historical view. There seemed to be a balanced viewpoint from both the North and South. Though there were twenty-five illustrations and twenty-five photos, there was only one map, making it difficult to follow some of the battle narratives. The book was designed for general readership presenting memoirs on their own terms allowing readers to comment and make inferences. This is a great read for Civil War historians and military of all ranks. The book allows readers to see the distinct levels of war from strategic, operational, and tactical viewpoints.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Stephen S. Harvey, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas