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History > U.S. History > Civil War Era

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At Lincoln's Side Cover

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At Lincoln's Side

John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

Edited by Michael Burlingame

John Hay believed that “real history is told in private letters,” and the more than 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing Abraham Lincoln in action: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”

Along with Hay’s personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the “literary brilliance of [Hay’s] personal letters,” Burlingame explains, “they help flesh out the historical record.” Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln’s signature, including the celebrated letter of condolence to the Widow Bixby.

More than an inside glimpse of the Civil War White House, Hay’s surviving correspondence provides a window on the world of nineteenth-century Washington, D.C.

 

At the Precipice Cover

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At the Precipice

Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis

Shearer Davis Bowman

The third volume in the Littlefield series, this manuscript by Dave Bowman follows (chronologically) Liz Varon's Disunion!, which dealt with the long process of separation of the two regions and its roots in the Constitutional and Federal periods. Bowman's study takes readers into the secession crisis itself, examining the thoughts and actions of key individuals including Lincoln, Buchanan, Davis, Tyler, Van Buren and others. In focusing on major figures from the period and their interactions, Bowman sets his work apart from those that view the crisis through the lenses of major forces, events, and developments. This approach provides especially keen insight into what Americans North and South on the eve of the Civil War believed and thought about themselves and the political, social, and cultural worlds in which they lived, and how their assumptions and thoughts informed their actions and decisions.

Autobiography of Silas Thompson Trowbridge M.D. Cover

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Autobiography of Silas Thompson Trowbridge M.D.

Silas Thompson Trowbridge. Introduction by John S. Haller Jr. and Barbara Mason

Autobiography of Silas Thompson Trowbridge M.D. is a remarkable account of nineteenth-century medicine, politics, and personal life that recovers the captivating experiences of a Civil War–era regimental surgeon who was also a president of the Illinois State Medical Society and a United States consul in Mexico. First published in 1872 by Trowbridge’s family and even printed on a family-owned press, only a handful of copies of the initial publication survive. In this first paperback edition, Trowbridge’s memoirs are reprinted as they originally appeared.

 

Indiana-born Trowbridge moved to Illinois in his early twenties. A teacher by trade, he continued that career while he began the study of medicine, eventually starting a medical practice near New Castle, which he later moved to Decatur. Though respected by the community, Trowbridge lacked an authentic medical degree, so he enrolled in a four-month course of medical lectures at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Autobiography describes the atmosphere of the medical school and delineates Trowbridge’s opinions on the lack of quality control in medical colleges of the day.

 

Although three years of study and two annual terms of sixteen weeks were the actual requirements for the degree, Trowbridge was allowed to graduate after a single course of lectures  and completion of a twenty-page thesis due to his previous experience. He then married a young widow and returned to Decatur, where he began a partnership with two local physicians and inaugurated a county medical society.  In addition to practicing medicine, he was known and respected for regulating it, too, having supported legislation that would legalize dissection and prohibit incompetent persons from practicing medicine.

 

In 1861, Trowbridge began service as a surgeon of the 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry commanded by Colonel Richard J. Oglesby. Autobiography describes his experiences beginning in Cairo, Illinois, where the infantry was involved in several expeditions and where Trowbridge made his “debut at the operating table.” Revealing a litany of surgical duties, replete with gruesome details, these war-time recollections provide a unique perspective on medical practices of the day. Likewise, his commentaries on political issues and his descriptions of combat serve to correct some of the early written histories of the war’s great battles.

 

After receiving an honorable discharge in 1864, Trowbridge returned to Decatur to resume his partnership with Dr. W. J. Chenoweth and devote himself to surgery. His reminiscences recount several difficult surgeries, his efforts to reorganize the county medical society (which had collapsed during the war), and his communications to the Illinois legislature to set higher qualifications for practicing physicians. He was later elected president of the Illinois State Medical Society and appointed by President Grant United States Consul to Vera Cruz on the eastern coast of Mexico, where he studied and challenged the treatment of yellow fever. The autobiography ends in 1874 with a six-day family vacation and the marriage of his daughter to a merchant of Vera Cruz.

Awaiting the Heavenly Country Cover

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Awaiting the Heavenly Country

The Civil War and America's Culture of Death

"Americans came to fight the Civil War in the midst of a wider cultural world that sent them messages about death that made it easier to kill and to be killed. They understood that death awaited all who were born and prized the ability to face death with a spirit of calm resignation. They believed that a heavenly eternity of transcendent beauty awaited them beyond the grave. They knew that their heroic achievements would be cherished forever by posterity. They grasped that death itself might be seen as artistically fascinating and even beautiful."-from Awaiting the Heavenly Country

How much loss can a nation bear? An America in which 620,000 men die at each other's hands in a war at home is almost inconceivable to us now, yet in 1861 American mothers proudly watched their sons, husbands, and fathers go off to war, knowing they would likely be killed. Today, the death of a soldier in Iraq can become headline news; during the Civil War, sometimes families did not learn of their loved ones' deaths until long after the fact. Did antebellum Americans hold their lives so lightly, or was death so familiar to them that it did not bear avoiding?

In Awaiting the Heavenly Country, Mark S. Schantz argues that American attitudes and ideas about death helped facilitate the war's tremendous carnage. Asserting that nineteenth-century attitudes toward death were firmly in place before the war began rather than arising from a sense of resignation after the losses became apparent, Schantz has written a fascinating and chilling narrative of how a society understood death and reckoned the magnitude of destruction it was willing to tolerate.

Schantz addresses topics such as the pervasiveness of death in the culture of antebellum America; theological discourse and debate on the nature of heaven and the afterlife; the rural cemetery movement and the inheritance of the Greek revival; death as a major topic in American poetry; African American notions of death, slavery, and citizenship; and a treatment of the art of death-including memorial lithographs, postmortem photography and Rembrandt Peale's major exhibition painting The Court of Death. Awaiting the Heavenly Country is essential reading for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the Civil War and the ways in which antebellum Americans comprehended death and the unimaginable bloodshed on the horizon.

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Basil Wilson Duke, CSA

The Right Man in the Right Place

Gary Matthews

By the early twentieth century, Basil Wilson Duke had established himself as one of Kentucky’s most popular storytellers, but unlike many other talented raconteurs, Duke was not merely a man of words. In Basil Wilson Duke, CSA, the first full-length biography of this distinguished American, Gary Robert Matthews offers keen insight into the challenges Duke faced before, during, and after the strife of the Civil War. As first lieutenant of General John Hunt Morgan’s legendary band of Confederate raiders, Duke became Morgan’s most trusted advisor and an integral contributor to his dramatic tactical successes. Duke was twice wounded in battle and was captured during a raid in Ohio in 1863. Held captive for over a year, Duke rejoined Morgan’s cavalry in August 1864, only days before Morgan (who was Duke’s brother-in-law) met his demise in Greeneville, Tennessee. Promoted to brigadier general and appointed commander of Morgan’s men, he helped convince Jefferson Davis of the futility of continued resistance at the close of the war and was assigned to the force escorting Davis in his escape. Duke’s life of action and achievement, however, did not end with the war. He wrote A History of Morgan’s Cavalry, preserving for posterity the experiences of his fellow warriors, and covered for the Louisville Courier-Journal an 1875 horserace that would eventually be known as the first Kentucky Derby. He built a reputation as a skilled historical writer, and his interests led him to help found the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. Duke also applied his talents to public and political life. He opened a law office and was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky House, where he served until 1870. Then applying his legal expertise and political connections at the state and national levels, Duke represented the powerful L&N Railroad as the company’s chief lobbyist in the aftermath of the war and during the emotionally charged era of Reconstruction. Gary Robert Matthews’s comprehensive study of the life of Basil Wilson Duke allows a great soldier and statesman to step out of the shadows of the past.

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Battle Hymns

Music and the American Civil War

Christian McWhirter

In “Liberty’s Great Auxiliary,” Christian McWhirter explores the role of music in Civil War America. McWhirter explains that although music was a significant part of American culture in the antebellum period, the explosion of amateur and professional music during the Civil War was unparalleled, and its popularization during the war had a lasting impact throughout the decades that followed. Drawing on an extensive array of published and archival resources, McWhirter examines how music influenced the popular culture surrounding and supporting the war and makes broad statements about the place Civil War music in American society, north and south (and with attention to the music of African Americans). Finally, McWhirter goes on to examine a resurgence of popularity of Civil War songs during the late nineteenth century and discusses the implications of their continued resonance in the twentieth century.

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Battle of Stones River

The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland

Larry J. Daniel

Three days of savage and bloody fighting between Confederate and Union troops at Stones River in Middle Tennessee ended with nearly 25,000 casualties but no clear victor. The staggering number of killed or wounded equaled the losses suffered in the well-known Battle of Shiloh. Using previously neglected sources, Larry J. Daniel rescues this important campaign from obscurity. The Battle of Stones River, fought between December 31, 1862, and January 2, 1863, was a tactical draw but proved to be a strategic northern victory. According to Daniel, Union defeats in late 1862—both at Chickasaw Bayou in Mississippi and at Fredericksburg, Virginia—transformed the clash in Tennessee into a much-needed morale booster for the North. Daniel’s study of the battle’s two antagonists, William S. Rosecrans for the Union Army of the Cumberland and Braxton Bragg for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, presents contrasts in leadership and a series of missteps. Union soldiers liked Rosecrans’s personable nature, whereas Bragg acquired a reputation as antisocial and suspicious. Rosecrans had won his previous battle at Corinth, and Bragg had failed at the recent Kentucky Campaign. But despite Rosecrans’s apparent advantage, both commanders made serious mistakes. With only a few hundred yards separating the lines, Rosecrans allowed Confederates to surprise and route his right ring. Eventually, Union pressure forced Bragg to launch a division-size attack, a disastrous move. Neither side could claim victory on the battlefield. In the aftermath of the bloody conflict, Union commanders and northern newspapers portrayed the stalemate as a victory, bolstering confidence in the Lincoln administration and dimming the prospects for the “peace wing” of the northern Democratic Party. In the South, the deadlock led to continued bickering in the Confederate western high command and scorn for Braxton Bragg.

The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5–6, 1864 Cover

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The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5–6, 1864

Gordon C. Rhea

Fought in a tangled forest fringing the south bank of the Rapidan River, the Battle of the Wilderness marked the initial engagement in the climactic months of the Civil War in Virginia, and the first encounter between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. In an exciting narrative, Gordon C. Rhea provides the consummate recounting of that conflict of May 5 and 6, 1864, which ended with high casualties on both sides but no clear victor. With its balanced analysis of events and people, command structures and strategies, The Battle of the Wilderness is operational history as it should be written.

The Battle Rages Higher Cover

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The Battle Rages Higher

The Union's Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry

Kirk Jenkins

" The Battle Rages Higher tells, for the first time, the story of the Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry, a hard-fighting Union regiment raised largely from Louisville and the Knob Creek valley where Abraham Lincoln lived as a child. Although recruited in a slave state where Lincoln received only 0.9 percent of the 1860 presidential vote, the men of the Fifteenth Kentucky fought and died for the Union for over three years, participating in all the battles of the Atlanta campaign, as well as the battles of Perryville, Stones River and Chickamauga. Using primary research, including soldiers’ letters and diaries, hundreds of contemporary newspaper reports, official army records, and postwar memoirs, Kirk C. Jenkins vividly brings the Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry to life. The book also includes an extensive biographical roster summarizing the service record of each soldier in the thousand-member unit. Kirk C. Jenkins, a descendant of the Fifteenth Kentucky's Captain Smith Bayne, is a partner in a Chicago law firm. Click here for Kirk Jenkins' website and more information about the 15th Kentucky Infantry.

The Battlefield and Beyond Cover

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The Battlefield and Beyond

Essays on the American Civil War

Clayton E. Jewett

In The Battlefield and Beyond leading Civil War historians explore a tragic part of our nation’s history though the lenses of race, gender, leadership, politics, and memory. The essays in this strong collection shed new light on the defining issues of the Civil War era. Orville Vernon Burton, Leonne M. Hudson, and Daniel E. Sutherland delve into the master-slave relationship, the role of blacks in the army, and the nature of southern violence. Herman Hattaway, Paul D. Escott, and Judith F. Gentry offer innovative perspectives on the influential leadership of President Jefferson Davis, Lieutenant-General Stephen D. Lee, and General Edmund Kirby Smith. Other contributors consider politicians and the public: Michael J. Connolly and Clayton E. Jewett investigate how despotism contributed to Confederate defeat; David E. Kyvig and Alan M. Kraut examine the war’s impact on the Constitution and racial relationships with Jews; and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Kenneth Nivison, and Emory M. Thomas discuss the critical function of memory in our understanding of Lincoln’s assassination. The essays in The Battlefield and Beyond consider the fundamental issue of the Confederacy’s failure and military defeat but also expose our nation’s continuing struggles with race, individual rights, terrorism, and the economy. Collectively, this distinguished group of historians reveals that 150 years after the nation’s most defining conflict its consequences still resonate.

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