Synopses & Reviews
A major new collection of modern commentary-- from scholars, historians, and Civil War buffs--on the significant events of the Civil War, culled from The New York Times' popular Disunion on-line journal
Since its debut on November 6, 2010, Disunion, The New York Times' acclaimed journal about the Civil War, has published hundreds of original articles and won multiple awards, including "Best History Website" from the New Media Institute and the History News Network. Following the chronology of the secession crisis and the Civil War, the contributors to Disunion, who include modern scholars, journalists, historians, and Civil War buffs, offer ongoing daily commentary and assessment of the Civil War as it unfolded.
Now, for the first time, this fascinating and historically significant commentary has been gathered together and organized in one volume. In The New York Times: Disunion, historian Ted Widmer, has selected more than 100 articles that cover events beginning with Lincoln's presidential victory through the Emancipation Proclamation. Topics include everything from Walt Whitman's wartime diary to the bloody guerrilla campaigns in Missouri and Kansas. Esteemed contributors include William Freehling, Adam Goodheart, and Edward Ayers, among others.
The book also compiles new essays that have not been published on the Disunion site by contributors and well-known historians such as David Blight, Gary Gallagher, and Drew Gilpin Faust. Topics include the perspective of African-American slaves and freed men on the war, the secession crisis in the Upper South, the war in the West (that is, past the Appalachians), the war in Texas, the international context, and Civil War-era cartography. Portraits, contemporary etchings, and detailed maps round out the book.
THE NEW YORK TIMES DISUNION: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation
Edited by: Ted Widmer
Widmer, a Brown University historian, is joined by New York Times op-ed staff editors Risen and Kalogerakis in the masterful compilation of more than 100 short essays based on the award-winning Times Disunion blog (begun in 2010), which chronologically traces and reconsiders the War between the States, an event he believes still remains "a ghostly presence in American life."
The collection sequentially launches with the secession crisis and moves through the Emancipation Proclamation, and the offerings are wonderfully multifarious. History scholar Louis Masur's insightful essay factors Lincoln's presidential election into the fray as deftly as Susan Schulten ably explores the war from a geographical perspective. War historian Adam Goodheart's contributions are consistent standouts and include a rich sketch of Harriet Tubman and pensive words about slaves at Christmastime. William Freehling considers the secession's impact through Confederate Gen. George Wythe Randolph's eyes, journalist Cate Lineberry offers an outstanding profile of Confederate spy Rose Greenhow and a jarring piece on juvenile soldiers, and military historian C. Kay Larson provides an article on the oft-overlooked presence of female wartime volunteers. Uniform in tone and thought-provoking content, the articles are supplemented by actual diary entries, artifact images, letters, pertinent cartography, photographs and poetry. The mood of the era is captured best through Carole Emberton's harrowingly detailed commentary on the scourge of war-borne smallpox, Terry L. Jones' deliberation on black militiamen and Widmer's own examination of Lincoln's portraiture, carefully manipulated "to give the Union a face--his own." Each of the assembled scholars, historians, academics and journalists crafts unique insights and viewpoints and through their collective dialogue, artistically contemplates the heft and enduring relevance of the Civil War.
American history meets the "snap, crackle and pop of lively online writing" in this outstanding serialization. Kirkus Reviews
In November 2010, the New York Times opened a website, Disunion, in which Civil War scholars, journalists, and amateur historians have continued to contribute hundreds of essays, biographical sketches, and general commentary about our greatest national trial. Widmer, a historian at Brown University, has selected 106 of these articles, which proceed chronologically from the election of Lincoln to the Emancipation Proclamation. In the first grouping of essays, various aspects of the secession crisis are examined, including a searing portrait of President Buchanan and an often neglected view of antisecession Southerners. In another grouping, a particularly intriguing essay explores Lincoln's "audacious plan" to use government bonds to eliminate slavery in the border states. As a whole, the essays are well written, wide ranging and very informative, even for many Civil War specialists. This work will be an ideal addition to Civil War collections for both public and academic libraries.
From the annals of the New York Times Opinionator column and timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Brown University historian Widmer has pieced together a selection for readers both mildly and deeply interested in the Civil War. Did you know that four slave-holding states remained in the Union after the Civil War began? That President Lincoln was elected without a single electoral vote from the South? Or that West Virginia came into existence when the western part of Virginia "seceded from secession"? Tidbits like these populate pages culled from brief essays in the paper's online column, and the book's format allows for smaller, captivating stories to be told--the kind that are often over-looked in epic histories--like Lincoln's last visit with his step-mother or how Nick Biddle, an African-American servant to a captain in the Union Army, might have been the first to shed blood in hostility during the war. Well-known historians such as Ken Burns, Stephanie McCurry and Adam Goodheart are all represented in this absorbing and important series. B&W photos.
In his autobiographical "Specimen Days & Collect" (1882) Walt Whitman observed that the Confederates' firing on Fort Sumter sparked "the volcanic upheaval of the nation" and "at once substantially settled the question of disunion." Whitman's book consisted of brief, titled fragments on his war experiences, what readers in the digital age might term blogs.
Whitman would have welcomed "The New York Times: Disunion," edited by Brown University historian Ted Widmer. His book includes 106 articles gleaned from more than 400 original blogs from the Times' Opinionator website.
The posts collected by Widmer disseminate scholarship more dynamically, less elaborately than academic journals do. They feature "the snap, crackle and pop of lively online writing," he notes, "with quick links, illustrations and a spirit of experimentation."
The blogs - now print essays - underscore contingency, unpredictability and variety during the first two years of America's bloodiest war. They examine its international impact, its innumerable personalities, its rich social and technological history, and also many obscure aspects of the war.
For example, in "From San Marino, With Love," Don H. Doyle rescues from obscurity President Abraham Lincoln's diplomatic communiqués during the secession crisis with the leaders of the tiny nation San Marino. Perched atop the Apennine Mountains on the Adriatic side of the Italian peninsula, San Marino, founded in 301 A.D., was the oldest surviving republic in the world.
"We are acquainted from newspapers with political griefs, which you are now suffering," wrote San Marino's Regent Captains, "therefore we pray to God to grant you a peaceful solution of your questions." Touched by the regents' letter, Lincoln responded: "You have kindly adverted to the trial through which this Republic is now passing." Anticipating the language of his Gettysburg Address delivered 1 1/2 years later, Lincoln added, "It involves the question whether a Representative republic, extended and aggrandized so much as to be safe against foreign enemies can save itself from the dangers of domestic faction. I have faith in a good result."
Once the war erupted, Lincoln also had to hone his diplomatic skills at home. When, in August 1861, Gen. John C. Frémont issued what Michael Fellman terms "The First Emancipation Proclamation," unilaterally subjecting the Union Western Department to martial law and emancipating Missouri slaves, Lincoln countermanded the general's edict. More than "a duel between a buffoonish maverick general and an ever-patient and sagacious president," Fellman explains, Frémont's decree constituted "an important precedent." He "articulated the previously unthinkable, employing means that were, as Lincoln emphasized, extra-constitutional under ordinary circumstances." Ironically, more than a year later Lincoln followed Frémont's path.
In "Boxers, Briefs and Battles," Jean Huets examines how underwear for Civil War soldiers was always scarce and became coveted spoils of war. She insists that "the humble suit of underwear highlights the Civil War soldier himself: his endurance and fortitude, his ability to make do with whatever conditions and supplies came along and his sense of humor."
Though seemingly comical, the U.S. Army's Camel Corps, as Kenneth Weisbrode explains, dated back to the 1850s when two Southern secretaries of war, Jefferson Davis and John Floyd, championed camels as fuel-efficient pack animals along the western frontier. In February 1861, Texas Rebels captured Camp Verde, where most of the camels resided, but the Confederates never employed them, and Lincoln's government ultimately abandoned the experiment with dromedaries. "Would the camels have made a fine American cavalry?" Weisbrode asks. "Would they have become as ubiquitous a symbol of the Wild West as the horse and cowboy?"
Though Whitman worried that "the real war will never get into the books," Widmer's "The New York Times: Disunion" makes a good case for high-quality blogs as accurate, entertaining Civil War history.
John David Smith is the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at UNC-Charlotte. His latest book is "A Just and Lasting Peace: A Documentary History of Reconstruction." Booklist
Did you know that regiments from the North and South kept pets--including bears, eagles, badgers, even a camel--as mascots? Or that a significant percentage of Civil War soldiers were under the age of 18? In this eclectic collection of modern commentary on the Civil War (culled from the New York Times' blog of the same name), scholars and historians explore the conflict from new angles. Their subjects include the roles of women in the war (at home and on the battlefields), as well as the experiences of African Americans, both slaves and freed man. There's an essay with excerpts from Walt Whitman's diary that convey his pride in the swelling Union ranks; another details Lincoln's failed plan to purchase all the slaves in Delaware with government bonds. The book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the in war in all its complexities. John David Smith - Raleigh's News - & - Observer / The Charlotte Observer
A major collection of modern commentary from scholars, historians, and Civil War buffs on the significant events of the Civil War, culled from The New York Times' popular Disunion on-line journal.
Since its debut, The New York Times' acclaimed web journal entitled 'Disunion' has published hundreds of original articles and won multiple awards, including "Best History Website" from the New Media Institute and the History News Network. Following the chronology of the secession crisis and the Civil War, the contributors to Disunion, who include modern scholars, journalists, historians, and Civil War buffs, offer contemporary commentary and assessment of the Civil War as it unfolded chronologically.
Now, this commentary has been gathered together and organized in one volume. In The New York Times: Disunion, historian Ted Widmer has curated more than 100 articles that span events beginning with Lincoln's presidential victory through the Emancipation Proclamation. Topics include everything from Walt Whitman's wartime diary to the bloody guerrilla campaigns in Missouri and Kansas. Esteemed contributors include William Freehling, Adam Goodheart, and Edward Ayers, among others.
The book also compiles new essays that have not been published on the Disunion site by well-known historians such as David Blight, Gary Gallagher, and Drew Gilpin Faust. Topics include the perspective of African-American slaves and freed men on the war, the secession crisis in the Upper South, the war in the West (that is, past the Appalachians), the war in Texas, the international context, and Civil War-era cartography. Portraits, contemporary etchings, and detailed maps round out the book.
A major new collection of modern commentary-- from scholars, historians, and Civil War buffs--on the significant events of the Civil War, culled from
About the Author
The New York Times is regarded as the world's preeminent newspaper. Its news coverage is known for its exceptional depth and breadth, with reporting bureaus throughout the United States and in 26 foreign countries. Winner of 112 Pulitzer Prizes, The Times has the largest circulation of any seven-day newspaper in the U.S.
Ted Widmer is a historian at Brown University, where he is Assistant to the President for Special Projects. He has served as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library, and Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. He has written or edited many works of history, including, most recently, Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.
Clay Risen is an op-ed staff editor at The New York Times and the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination.
George Kalogerakis has been a deputy op-ed editor at The New York Times since 2006. He is a co-author of Spy: The Funny Years.