Who Best Interprets the Coming of the Civil War?

I was hoping that yesterday’s post would not turn into another round of the same old back and forth over the cause of the war, but that is exactly what happened.  Unfortunately, most of what is usually offered in such discussions lacks any serious analysis and/or context.  I was hoping to encourage readers to share those books that have informed their understanding of the coming of secession and war.  For what it’s worth, here are a few of my favorites, though I could just as easily have chosen five others.

Feel free to add to this list.

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What Caused the Civil War in Less Than Two Minutes

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Indexing Tips

Well, I just finished reading through the page proofs for my Crater book.  Now all that stands between me and a finished book is the index.  I have the formatting guidelines in front of me, but I would love to know what is the best way to proceed from those of you who have done this before.  I was going to take the traditional route and use index cards.  One index card for each term and place them in alphabetical order.  Seems simple enough.  The only thing I would have to worry about is a surprise visit from Felix or Jeb.

This is likely the last time I will ask my readers for assistance with this project so thanks a bunch.  I assure you that if I thought there was anything glamorous about publishing a book before this week it is a distant memory.  Why exactly did I put myself through this?

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The American Civil War: Legacies For Our Own Time

To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and Emancipation, the Gilder Lehrman Center’s 2012 David Brion Davis Lectures on the History of Slavery, Race, and Their Legacies features a roundtable discussion with five major historians and writers, moderated by GLC Director, David W. Blight. The group takes up questions of the changing character and controversies over the memory of the Civil War and Emancipation over the past 150 years, as well as dwell on the place of the conflict’s legacies in our own time, nationally and internationally.

I thought Ta-Nahesi Coates stole the show.

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Do You Trust Those Lost Causers?

Union Army Entering Petersburg, April 3, 1865

I recently offered some brief thoughts about Robert K. Krick’s concerns about historians, who are supposedly weary of Confederate memoirs.  While I focused my remarks on a specific claim made by Krick about how historians interpret Robert E. Lee’s wartime popularity, his broader point about postwar accounts is worth a brief mention as well.

The wholesale tendency to dismiss Confederate accounts is inexcusable, Krick said. He blasted critics who hold that  Confederate memoirs are full of historical errors.  “Most of them were trying to tell the truth,” he said of veterans who penned recollections of their wartime experiences.

It goes without saying, that I can’t think of one historian who dismisses out of hand an entire collection of sources simply on the grounds that they were written after the fact.  This is just another straw man argument.  That said, I do agree with Krick that veterans were motivated to tell a truthful story about their wartime experiences.  That, however, does not mean that their accounts were not influenced by other factors as well.  I assume that most of you will agree that it is the historians responsibility to interrogate all sources for their veracity.

In my own research on the Crater and historical memory I found it helpful to think about individual accounts as reflecting what he/she believed to be meaningful to record rather than what was believed to be truthful.  In the case of Confederate accounts, for example, the presence of black soldiers was a salient aspect of the battle that was included in the overwhelming number of letters and diaries.  That clearly changed during the postwar years and I do my best to explain why.

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