This issue of Civil War History features a special Historians’ Forum marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The forum looks both backward, at historical understandings of the document, as well as its origins, reception, and impact, and forward, by asking our panel to consider fruitful directions for future research.
Our two articles offer readers close analyses of familiar topics but with fresh insights. Michael Robinson’s “William Henry Seward and the Onset of the Secession Crisis” narrows in on the crucial weeks between November 1860 through January 1861 and argues that Seward had a difficult time gauging the best response to the crisis. Portraying the secretary of state as genuinely interested in salvaging the Union, Robinson contends that, during this time often overlooked by historians, Seward was afraid to place himself too far ahead of his party or the president-elect. “In reality,” he maintains, “the experienced politician found himself groping about for the best way to deal with secession, the future of the Republican Party, and the likelihood that compromise would rescue the Union from permanent disaster.”
Marion V. Armstrong details the fight for the famed “Bloody Lane” at the Battle of Antietam, presenting his case for French—Brig. Gen. William H. French, that is, the commander of a division of the Second Army Corps. French is traditionally believed to have arrived on the battlefield some twenty to thirty minutes behind the lead division of the corps, and mistakenly, and on his own authority, committed the division to attacking south toward the Sunken Road, rather than following the lead division west in its attack toward the West Woods. Armstrong reconsiders this interpretation by examining its historical sources and reexamining the events surrounding the commitment of French’s division, which, he finds, was not delayed in its arrival on the battlefield. Thus, the decision to commit his division to attack toward the Sunken Road was made as a part a deliberate effort to follow Union general George McClellan’s original plan of battle and subsequent orders. Armstrong’s essay urges readers to remember that McClellan in the most basic sense did not “fight the battle he had planned” on September 17, 1862.
Anne Sarah Rubin also revisits a familiar subject, this time the famed novel Gone with the Wind, in a feature we hope to repeat in coming issues where [End Page 5] historians discuss important classic books in the field and their continuing relevance today. She discusses the novel’s stubborn resilience and historical significance more than seventy-five years after its publication.
Finally, our Book Review section delves into a wide array of subjects, including guerrillas, “weirdings,” and abolitionists. New titles explore military maneuvers in Missouri, international debates, strong personalities, and postwar ramifications.
The editors of Civil War History wish to congratulate our editorial assistant, Zachary J. Wimmer, in winning the 2012 Boylan Thesis Award from Emporia State University. Zach earned the best thesis award for his MA thesis “Out of the Dust: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Kansas.” [End Page 6]