From the Publisher
“Resplendent.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Fascinating first-person anecdotes from little-known 19th-century publications make this book a treasure for Civil War buffs.”Smithsonian Magazine
“Thoughtfully assembled with an obvious talent for editorial craftsmanship. . . an excellent gift.”Dallas Morning News
“Military buffs will delight in this book.”Publishers Weekly
“This work is a treasure.” Times-Picayune, New Orleans
Read an Excerpt
At the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, General Robert E. Lee watched in wonder as General Ambrose Burnside threw one futile attack after another against Confederate breastworks built into the natural advantage of a sunken roadway. Before the day was out, more than 12,000 Union soldiers lay dead or dying upon that battlefield. The sheer futility of Burnside’s repeated assaults was underscored by Federal General Francis Palfrey: “The distance the Union troops had to march in attack was 1,700 yards, exposed to a murderous fire of musketry and artillery, without being able to return a single effective shot.” Confederate General James Longstreet later commented on what he had witnessed: “A series of braver, more desperate charges than those hurled against the troops in the sunken road was never known, and the piles and cross-piles of dead marked a field such as I never saw before or since.” As General Lee so gravely observed that day, “It is well that war is so terribleor we should grow too fond of it.
But how could anyone grow fond of a war that killed or seriously wounded well over a million of the country’s ablest youth North and South? And yet, today, many thousands of Americans young and old, male and female, are consumed by a passion for the Civil Waras dedicated members of countless military units reenacting famous battles and at hundreds of Civil War Round Tables sharing a common interest in learning more and more about this fascinating conflict.
Soon after the Confederate surrender, groups were mobilized to aid the surviving veterans materially and emotionally and to offer comradeship in their adjustment to peace. On the Northern side there was the Grand Army of the Republic. And amongst the earliest similar organizations in the South was the Confederate Survivors Association, which, along with other local and regional entities, was to be sheltered beneath the United Confederate Veterans umbrella. The ladies of both sides dedicated themselves to tending the final resting place of sons, brothers, and husbands.
By 1875 much of the residual bitterness in survivors’ hearts was ebbing away. Even General William T. Sherman, who made Georgia “howl” in his scorched-earth March to the Sea, now admitted that he felt “kindly toward all Southern generals.” Indeed, many of them had been old friends from West Point. Most of the aging troopers were to concede that their former foes also had fought honorably and bravely in the great battles of their youth, and, to help reunite their country, they should all commemorate jointly their military service and their sacrifice. But, for their first bivouac together, the veterans chose to meet at Bunker Hill, where in a great battle just a century earlier it was a common enemy their country had faced. In 1913, for the 50th anniversary of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg, more than 50,000 old soldiers from both sides came together for a combined reunion sponsored by the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans. The old men camped out adjacent to where General George Pickett’s brave soldiers made their historic Charge, and they now walked arm-in-arm up Cemetery Ridge to pause at the Angle in the low stone wall where the Confederacy had reached its “high-water mark.” Subsequent reunions were to muster fewer and fewer of the aged veterans, but, increasingly, their places were taken by authentically outfitted enthusiasts who restaged many of the battle’s memorable scenes. For the 135th anniversary of Gettysburg, there were 30-40,000 of these “reenactors” in the field. And ever since, the drama of their engagements has been a significant feature of many a Civil War anniversary.
General Sherman was the first major figure of the war to publish his Memoirs, his “recollections of events,” but many another old soldier was to recollect events differently. In a first critical riposte, the author of Sherman’s Historical Raid: The Memoirs in the Light of the Record declared: “Our erratic General thrusts his pen recklessly through reputations.” Of course, all of this had to be sorted out carefully for posterity, and thus was launched an extensive bibliography that in 150 years has grown to more than 65,000 volumes on every aspect of the Civil War, with about 2,000 books currently in print.
In 1880, “Uncle Billy” Sherman addressed a GAR gathering of “good old boys,” and famously told them this: “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.” He strongly urged them to “bear this warning voice to generations to come,” but in this last campaign General Sherman fought a losing battle. To Americans proudly commemorating their Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, this was a war that is now all glory.