Next month will mark the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor, the opening salvo of the Civil War (1861-1865). Commemorative efforts are underway in many parts of the country. States have formed sesquicentennial commissions charged with planning events. Historical groups are staging reenactments of famous battles.
The National Park Service is doubling down on lectures, walking tours, and other programs at battlefield sites. Last month, the theme for Black History Month was "African Americans and the Civil War." In April, the National Archives in Washington, D.C. will unveil an exhibition presenting "the most extensive display ever assembled" of their Civil War holdings.
Publishers have ramped up their efforts as well. An army of new books on every aspect of the war has invaded bookstores and libraries in recent months. Listed below are a few of the more noteworthy titles. Students of American history and other interested readers may find them available on the shelves of the Newport Beach Public Library.
"The Civil War: A Concise History," by Louis Masur, is as insightful as it is brief. Masur covers the entire war era from Ft. Sumter to Reconstruction, all in 118 pages. He examines both the war's origins and its aftermath. Significant political, social, and military events are highlighted. Two major themes emerge: the transformation of Southern society by the shift from limited to total war; and the way in which the abolition of slavery became the war's purpose.
In "America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation," David Goldfield gives us a sweeping history of America from the 1830s through Reconstruction. Unlike previous historians, Goldfield considers the war to be a great failure rather than a triumph for freedom. He sees the spread of Protestant evangelicalism as responsible for transforming political questions into moral ones that could only be decided by war.
"The New York Times Complete Civil War, 1861-1865" is a compendium of over 600 articles published by the paper from reports of the first shot fired at Ft. Sumter to Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Edited by Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds, it's organized in chronological chapters, each with an introduction to help guide readers through the articles. Included are hundreds of political cartoons, illustrations, engravings, maps, and historical photographs.
In "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery," acclaimed historian Eric Foner follows Lincoln's passage through a political and social landscape marked increasingly by tension, strife, and eventual war. Foner argues that Lincoln's position on the "peculiar institution" evolved from his initial support for its constitutionality (though he was always personally opposed to slavery) to ultimately calling for its abolition and for the emancipation of all slaves.
Randall Fuller explores the profound impact of the war on writers such as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emily Dickinson in "Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature." Fuller notes that some writers drew creative inspiration from the conflict while others were stifled by the brutality of what they had witnessed.
War and remembrance, indeed.
CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at http://www.newportbeachlibrary.org. For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun