Civil War History

In celebration of discovering  two Civil War veterans on my family tree last year I indulged in the purchase of several books related to this turning point in American history. (Thank you to my  great-grandfathers William Donar and Edward Kennedy for making yourself known after some grueling genealogical research.)

  • Civil War Chronicle: 150th Anniversary by Davis, Sauers, Graham, Skoch and Johnson. Published in honor of the war’s 150th anniversary, this 450 page tome presents its offerings in easy to follow chapters supported by a day-by-day timeline that runs from chapter one (The Road to the Civil War) through chapter eight (The War’s Enduring Legacy).  And the content in between–sketches, paintings, and early photographs by Matthew Brady–doesn’t  disappoint either. Even the endsheets featuring Civil War battles which grace the inside covers of this richly illustrated volume are a feast for the eyes (if you can say that about a book that focuses on one of the bloodiest wars in American history.)
  • An Illustrated History of the Civil War: Images of an American Tragedy by William J. Miller and Brian C. Pohanka. Not better, just different from the publication mentioned above. While text in each chapter provides broad outlines for understanding this complex conflict, the details of the story are captured in the captions that accompany this book’s generous visual offerings. Early photographs of Civil War camps, pictures of  artifacts (weapons, medical kits, tools, etc.) and historical maps are the visuals in this book that bring the reality of this conflict to life.
  • Diary of a Yankee Engineer by John H. Westervelt. In researching great-grandpa William Donar’s Civil War Regiment, I came across this diary kept by one of his brothers-in-arms who served with him in the 1st New York Volunteer Engineer Corps. Edited by Anita Palladino, the diary been reprinted and is available for purchase today in bookstores and online. Riveting, it is not, but it IS a daily account by a REAL Civil War soldier who fought and built (bridges, lookout towers, etc.) alongside my ancestor, William, a stone cutter by trade in his civilian life before and after the war. Locations he passed through, generals he served under, and even the monotony of  a soldier’s life, are reflected on throughout the diary giving credibility to all those other Civil War books that focus on facts and statistics. A keepsake for me and all the descendants of my great-grandfather William Donar of the 1st NY Volunteer Engineers.
  • Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman. There are hundreds if not thousands of books on Lincoln but this one is memorable to me as I picked it up last fall  at Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington D.C.,–the  Camp David of the era for that American president–when  he needed a retreat from the White House during the Civil War. This Newberry Medal winner which was written for young people covers all the familiar ground: his log cabin upbringing in the backwoods of Kentucky and Indiana to his arrival in New Salem, Illinois; his moves to Springfield and Washington;  his leadership throughout the Civil War; and of course, his assassination and its effects on the nation. Not in-depth, but a good primer on the man and his times. Photos, documents and illustrations every few pages keep the reading moving.
  • On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M.Poole.  I’m about halfway through this book.  All I can say is “Fascinating.” Who would have thought a non-fiction book about a cemetery could be so engrossing!  A must-read for Civil War buffs.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It’s been said that when the author of this classic Civil War novel was introduced to President Abraham Lincoln his comment to her was: “So you’re the little woman that wrote the book that started this great war.” Truth or legend, there’s no doubting the impact the book had in fueling the flames of hatred across the nation that pitted the North against the South. I considered reading this book decades ago (as in “I ought to read this book someday.”)  My new found interest in the Civil War due to personal connections to two Union soldiers though has shot this book to the top of the “to be read very soon” list for me.

Copyright © 2011 Patricia Desmond Biallas

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