This book delivers far more than its title suggests, as it is a concise history of not merely the Civil War, but the entire Civil War era. By a masterful melding of the techniques of Bruce Catton's lively narrative storytelling and the scholarly craftsmanship typified by T. Harry Williams and Shelby Foote, Louis P. Masur has written a book that should appeal to the widest audience—including lay readers, students, and academics—interested in the Civil War. By neither advocating nor demeaning the philosophical positions of either the Union or the Confederacy, Masur offers a balanced discussion of not only the creation of war strategy and major military engagements but also the travails endured by both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in trying to successfully cope with the vexing domestic issues of raising and outfitting a mass military, financing the struggle, building morale, constitutional constraints and political intrigues, the moral and economic arguments raised over slavery and its extension, and the problems of attempting to reconcile theories of reconstruction with the practical realities of reunifying a postwar nation still rife with sectional distrust and, in some instances, avowed hatred.
The key to the success of this work is its format. Just as Lincoln used to preface many of his arguments by saying he was reminded of a story, so does Masur never permit his readers to forget that history is a story that must be told as a chronological narrative, and thus his chapters are labeled not by themes but rather by years. In so doing, he brilliantly yet subtly demonstrates that the story of the Civil War era is actually the story of the political, economic, and social development of the nation, rather than simply an isolated occurrence. As Lincoln demonstrated in his Gettysburg Address, Masur reaffirms Lincoln's knowledge that brevity, when coupled with a skillful literary [End Page 280] presentation, sends forth a powerful message. This book is an essential addition to everyone's Civil War collections.