The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865

The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865

by Stephen B. Oates

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The Whirlwind of War builds on the great themes and follows many of the important figures who were introduced in The Approaching Fury. Stephen B. Oates’s riveting narrative brings to life the complex and destructive war that is the central event in American history. He writes in the first person, assuming the viewpoints of several of the


The Whirlwind of War builds on the great themes and follows many of the important figures who were introduced in The Approaching Fury. Stephen B. Oates’s riveting narrative brings to life the complex and destructive war that is the central event in American history. He writes in the first person, assuming the viewpoints of several of the principal figures: the rival presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; the rival generals, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman; the great black abolitionist, editor, and orator, Frederick Douglass; the young Union battlefield nurse, Cornelia Hancock; the brilliant head of the Chicago Sanitary Commission and cocreator of the northern Sanitary Fair, Mary Livermore; the Confederate socialite and political insider, Mary Boykin Chesnut; the assassin, John Wilkes Booth; and the greatest poet of the era, Walt Whitman, who speaks in the coda about the meaning of war and Lincoln's death.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
“A sweeping, fast-moving story, smoothly readable, broader in scope than many one-volume histories of the war.”—New York Times Book Review
Washington Post Book World
“Questions [about the Civil War] have been asked by historians and novelists for generations but put into the first person they gain poignancy and . . . suspense. In The Whirlwind of War . . . Oates’s intensive research has brought new light to some of the more complex issues of the time.”—Washington Post Book World
Buffalo News
“Oates does a masterful job of weaving the profound themes the country was struggling with at the time of the war.”—Buffalo News
Omaha World Herald
“A realistic, engaging narrative.”—Omaha World Herald
William C. Davis
“In The Whirlwind of War, Stephen B. Oates once again takes a daring approach to the task of giving history back to the people. Challenging, interesting, innovative, his technique opens windows onto the minds and hearts of good people on all sides who simply could not avoid the vortex that consumed them.”—William C. Davis, author of Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour
Ernest B. Furguson
Altogether, this is a sweeping, fast-moving story, smoothly readable, broader in scope than many one-volume histories of the war. -- NY Times Book Review
Fort Worth Star Telegram
Stephen B. Oates has earned a considerable reputation as a Civil War historian....[His] scholarly credentials are impressive...[and he] has struck literary gold with the first two volumes of his Voices of the Storm trilogy....The Whirlwind of War is important because it makes us consider already familiar things in a new way.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As he did in The Approaching Fury, Oates, an established scholar of the Civil War era and veteran of 16 books, here tells the conflict's story through reconstructed first-person narratives, in this case writing in the voices and from the viewpoints of 11 well-known figures: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; Robert E. Lee, Ulysses. S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman; Stephen A. Douglass; behind-the-scenes Confederate politico and socialite Mary Boykin Chesnut; Union battlefield nurse Cornelia Hancock and sanitation promoter Mary Livermore; and John Wilkes Booth. The result is a tour de force of shifting yet integrated interior monologues that come together in witnessing some of the war's major set pieces. Bull Run, Gettysburg and the March to the Sea; the Emancipation Proclamation, the burning of Atlanta, the assassination of Lincolnall have their place in this re-creation. Oates deserves praise for the care and sophistication with which he integrates material from his subjects' speeches and writings, as well as the memories and observations of other participants, with his own literary constructions. Unfortunately, too many of his characters sound essentially the same. (The occasional inclusion of colloquial contractions in Grant's dialogue or the salting of Sherman's texts with obscenities and racial epithets helps little). The format renders it difficult to evaluate the merits of such controversial interpretations as the assertion that Lincoln's assassination was instigated by the Confederate secret service, while the extensive footnotes cannot resolve the confusion the text creates between the perceived realities of Oates's various protagonists and his own analyses of data and events. Ultimately, Oates's conceptual virtuosity too often obscures the intellectual limitations of his ambitious, praiseworthy effort.
Library Journal
From the firing on Fort Sumter to Lincoln's assassination, this Civil War history is told through the eyes of the major figures. Lincoln is portrayed as a patient, long-suffering leader whose only goal is to end the war and restore the Union. Jefferson Davis is seen as an irascible, ill man whose health deteriorated along with Confederate fortunes. Lee is depicted as a soldier who served his native Virginia with a cool efficiency despite self-doubts and mounting odds. General Grant is pictured as a quiet man who fought a war only one waypursue the enemy and defeat him. A University of Massachusetts professor and the author of 16 books (e.g., A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War, LJ 4/1/94), Oates takes the reader to the center of the action while breathing life into historical figures. This is the second book in the "Voices of the Storm" series that began with The Approaching Fury (LJ 2/15/97). Riveting reading that is highly recommended for academic and public libraries. Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora
Harold Holzer
Vivid prose, a great biographer's insightfulness, and riveting dramatic tension...brilliantly imagined, faultlessly researched. -- Harold Holzer
Kirkus Reviews
An epic but deeply flawed Civil War history (the second volume of a planned trilogy) suffers from the fictional techniques it employs, while benefiting little from that genre's potential narrative punch. As in his earlier volume, The Approaching Storm (1997), Oates uses invented dialogue, dramatic staging, and "imaginative" manipulation of facts in fashioning this nontraditional history of the cataclysmic war years. Characters range from major players like Lincoln, Grant, and Lee to small-timers like Cornelia Hancock, a young battlefield nurse. The results are uneven. Fiery Sherman, his legendary profanity liberated from the expurgation his own age demanded, is a masterpiece of revisionism. Jefferson Davis, whose florid, long-winded monologues read like a caricature of Victorian prose, is a melodramatic nightmare. Oates, who was a consultant in Ken Burns's televised Civil War series, but whose inspiration runs to Faulkner's multiple fictional viewpoints and the gimmicky segues of Robert Altman's films, strains to heighten the drama of America's most turbulent period to prove that differing attitudes (a chivalrous code of honor in the South, harsh pragmatism in the North) made the war's outcome inevitable. He pushes the envelope farther than Shelby Foote's sterling history, but with exponentially less effect. Curiously, Oates's fictionalization is less, not more, dramatic. The stoicism of generals desensitized to battlefield carnage, for example, or the fragmentation inherent in 11 different viewpoints (each with personal biases and blind spots) makes for flaccid narrative. The lack of tension is abetted by the absence of the historian's guiding hand, and the much-neededinterpretive objectivity it provides. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Oates's putative scoop: John Wilkes Booth's assassination of Lincoln had the approval of the highest Confederate authorities, including Davis himself. Outside Booth's own fevered ranting, the tantalizing scenario is wholly unsupported by Oates's facts or fiction. An ambitious but disappointing history whose drama arises from the historical facts, not from its freehanded embellishment of them.

Product Details

University of Nebraska Press
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 2.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Winds of 'Sixty-One

The Union forever, hurrah! boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star,
While we rally round the flag, boys,
Rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

We are a band of brothers, and native to the soil,
Fighting for the property we gained by honest toil;
And when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far,
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!

I. Abraham Lincoln

The Sunday morning headlines screamed with the latest news from Charleston harbor: Fort Sumter had fallen after a two-day bombardment by rebel shore batteries. The only good news was that the defenders hadn't suffered any casualties and the rebels had allowed our navy to evacuate the garrison. I guess they expected us to thank 'em for their charity. The fall of Sumter was the climax of almost six weeks of maneuvering in which I'd elected to send down a provisioning flotilla and leave it up to Jeff Davis and his pretended government, the Confederate States of America, so-called, whether to open fire on the fort and start a civil war. The blast of their guns at our flag gave me my answer.

Tossing the papers aside, I called the Cabinet together in my second-floor office and told them that the insurgents, by firing the first shot, had forced on us the decision of immediate dissolution or blood. We all realized that it would be a gigantic contest and that the small regular army-about sixteen thousand men all told-was wholly inadequate for the job; it was scattered across the country, mostly on the frontier, and southern resignationshad badly depleted it. To maintain the government, we would have to rely on state militia. How many would we need? Some of the secretaries thought at least fifty thousand; but Secretary of State Seward croaked that it ought to be a hundred thousand. We settled on seventy-five thousand.

The next day, April fifteenth, I issued a proclamation calling up seventy-five thousand militia from the several states to suppress the rebellion, and I summoned Congress to convene in special session on independence Day. "I appeal," I said, "to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government. "

Just two days later-two days'-the Virginia convention, which had been in continual session, waiting to see what I would do, adopted a secession ordinance, which Virginia voters would later ratify in a special election. Virginia Unionists went over to the rebellion, they claimed, because they could not tolerate the specter of Federal troops marching across their soil to suppress the insurrection in the seven cotton states, which had formed the so-called Confederacy in Montgomery before I'd even been inaugurated.

"Those traitors," I said bitterly in the privacy of my office. "How many times have I heard Virginia Unionists, right here in this room, proclaim their loyalty to the flag? I was sure on that basis that Virginia would remain loyal. But when I choose to defend the flag against treason, these professed Union men almost instantly embrace the rebellion and become traitors themselves. The sons-of-bitches! With Virginia on its way out, we may lose the entire upper South. Damn, damn, damn. Well, Virginia will be exceedingly sorry for this. I have no choice but to deal with the rebellion where I find it."

I tell you, it was chaos in Washington that day. We had no plan of operations and no idea how we were going to equip and supply seventy-five thousand men for the ninety days I'd called them to serve. It would be the largest force ever assembled in the countrymore than seven times the size of the expeditionary force old Winfield Scott had led into Mexico in 'forty-seven. Our most pressing problem was the want of a capable officer to command the troops in the field. I greatly admired Scott, the general-in-chief of the army. He was a hero of two wars and though a Virginian was an unqualified patriot and a friend of the Administration. But it was plain to everybody that at seventy-five he was too old and sickly to command in the field. He was exceedingly stout and suffered from gout, vertigo, dropsy, and I don't know what else. It hurt him so much to walk that he had to pause every few steps to gather his strength. He couldn't ride a horse or climb the steps of the Capitol without help.

In the afternoon, Seward and I paid a visit to the old general, setting out on a tree-shaded brick walkway that led to the War Department and army headquarters on Seventeenth Street. It was a warm spring day and the lilacs were blooming along the way. Seward chewed on a cigar and talked nonstop about the crisis, using "damn" and "hell" liberally. A jocular little New Yorker with white hair, a beaked nose, and a scraggly neck, he tipped his hat at everybody we passed and said "How-de-do?" He seemed to think they all knew him. Some fellows, I noticed, openly sported secessionist buttons. The damn traitors probably worked for the government, too. I tell you, it gave me the hypo.

We passed the little War Department building and crossed the street to the five-story Winder Building, where army headquarters were located. Going upstairs to Scott's office, I noticed how many of his staff officers were old codgers who sat in little rooms off the hallway, writing memos or staring out the window. We found General Scott seated at his desk, which was cluttered with maps and papers.

An enormous fellow with bushy gray brows and side whiskers, he was dressed in full uniform with a yellow sash and expansive epaulettes.

Seward got down to business. "We're gathering a large army," he said around his cigar. "What we don't foresee is how it's to be led. What will we do for generals?"

The Whirlwind of War. Copyright © by Stephen B. Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Harold Holzer
"Credit Stephen Oates with introducing an intoxicating new way of vivifying history. Combining sound scholarship, vivid prose, a great biographer's insightfulness, and riveting dramatic tension, he weaves a brilliantly imagined, faultlessly researched account of the Civil War. Thesesoliloquys bring bracing freshness to the great American story."
Frank J. Williams
"This sequel to "The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861" revolutionizes the presentation of history - especially the tumultuous Civil War. This dramatic story, told in the first person narrative by the majorparticipants, will impact every reader in home and school. Poetic prose, psychological sensitivity, and historical accuracy are combined to create a new kind of historical work. I know of no other book of this kind."
William C. Davis
"Like the people of the North and South who lived it, readers today will be caught in THE WHIRLWIND OF WAR, as Stephen B. Oates once again takes a daring approach to the task of giving history back to the people. Challenging, interesting, innovative, his technique opens windows onto the minds and hearts of good people on all sides who simply could not avoid the vortex that consumed them. Lincoln called the Civil War 'a people's contest,' and THE WHIRLWIND OF WAR reveals why."
John F. Marszalek
"Basing his beautifully crafted words on thorough research, Stephen Oates brings leading Civil War personalities to life by allowing them to speak directly to the readers. This is daring history and eloquent literature. No one interested in the Civil War should miss it."

Meet the Author

Stephen B. Oates is Kendall Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and has published eighteen books, including With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln and The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820–1861 (Nebraska 2012). He is a recipient of the Nevins-Freeman Award of the Chicago Civil War Round Table for lifetime achievement in the field of Civil War studies.

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