The Civil War:
The First Year Told by Those who Lived it
Edited by: Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean

Library of America
Hardcover/800 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5985-3088-9
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". . . a look into the emotional impact of very real people . . ."

For anyone who has visited Gettysburg and stood on those fields filled with the graves of men who gave up everything to fight – against their own brothers, in some cases – in order to make all of America conform to what each side felt was the correct way to live, this is the book to read. For anyone who has stood there and imagined hearing the cannon fire reverberate in their ears, and the sounds of soldiers dying and families weeping for their beloved husbands, brothers, and sons who gave up their lives at the hands of an enemy that lived in the very same country as they did, this is the book that will be unforgettable.

The Civil War will always be one of the biggest parts of American history. This was the largest case of national destruction based on prejudice, envy, and judgment of our fellow man. It was also the turning point that put America back together and heading down a new path where the citizens would have a chance to get along and become a coherent nation of free individuals.

There are many books regarding the Civil War and how it all began – from political to social commentary regarding the time period and the unrest that took over the populace. However, this book is more of an encyclopedia; a fascinating look at letters, songs, and poems – all different historical documents that were written, spoken, and created by the actual people who lived during this time period. These incredible editors have accumulated over one hundred and twenty documents in order to show readers what went on in the past with some of the most incredible being military reports and legal opinions from the real “insiders.”

The book begins on the night before Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 and ends in 1862 when the secretary of war, Edward Stanton was appointed. Writings from Lincoln, himself, are a part of this incredible book as well as Grant, Lee, and Frederick Douglass. There are also a variety of letters, speeches, military correspondence and more from less well-known figures like proslavery advocates, mistresses who oversaw their own plantations, and lieutenants in the infantry who were embedded in the battle. There are memoirs that offer vivid looks at the emotional impact the horrific battles had on the people, as well as the whole of society as they watched their world crumble down around them. Priorities shifted, some ideas were set in stone while other minds were changed by the shock of war and what their neighbors said and did. Readers will “feel” the panic, anxiety, immediacy, and urgent devotion to separate causes and belief systems that were the main catalyst in bringing a nation to the tip of insanity and watching them fall over the edge into a painful, bloody abyss that was desired by some and chastised by others.

The liberation of slavery – the ultimate feeling of ecstasy as a people were released from bonds they had no choice about for so long, makes the reader almost cry for the ones who never saw the happy ending to a life that was lived in chains.

From the Union to the Confederacy, all points of view are given in this compilation, and an index as well as chronology of events helps the reader even further. This is only the first volume focusing on this tragic time and companion books will be offered that will include information and opinions coinciding with all the years of the conflict.

The editors have done a remarkable job with this extremely informative guide that not only offers fact, but also offers a look into the emotional impact of very real people that readers will not soon forget. In fact, perhaps immersing ourselves in this time period will bring into focus how prejudice still affects this modern world, and hit home the fact that we need to change our ways before we are faced with yet another painful choice of brother fighting brother.

Reviewer: Amy Lignor