THE CIVIL WAR: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It. Edited by Stephen W. Sears. Library of America. 873 pages. $40.
The Civil War sesquicentennial (2011-15) is in its second year. It will see numerous anniversary events, seminars, conferences, battle re-enactments, marker and memorial dedications and other events commemorating the struggle between those who advocated independence and those who wished to preserve the union.
Noted Historian Stephen W. Sears has released the second book in his four-volume series examining each year of the war.
“The Second Year” reveals the war in 1862. Each of the 139 entries appears chronologically and includes official government reports, speeches, proclamations, military reports and correspondence, newspaper articles, poetry, personal correspondence, diary entries and reminiscences.
The authors range from famous political, military and social leaders to common soldiers and everyday civilians. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; Gens. Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman; and writers Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson are among those whose words Sears quotes. Frederick Douglass’ words on the equality of men and the demand for emancipation is the book’s first entry, and the release of the Emancipation Proclamation is the last.
Between these chapters is a wealth of political, military and social information about a country in the turmoil of a war broadening quickly with no clear end in sight. Like Sears’ first volume, this book provides keen insight into the lives and motivations of the people involved in the events of 1862.
Sears once again displays his gift for capturing the mood of the time. The work will find its greatest appeal among the serious readers of the 1861-65 era and will provide a ready reference for those seeking succinct accounts of the events of 1862. Although the book might resonate most strongly with those who are conversant with the people and events referenced in these accounts, those who are not should not hesitate to pick up this volume and, perhaps, to collect the series.
To read the written words of the players in this grand drama is to glimpse into the past and experience a personal connection to our history.
Reviewer Richard W. Hatcher III, the historian at Fort Sumter National Monument