Civil War and Reconstruction

Civil War and Reconstruction

Civil War and Reconstruction

Civil War and Reconstruction


A rare first-hand glimpse of the Civil War through the words of those who were there This exciting new addition to the American Heritage American Voices series offers young readers insights into the culture and ideas of the Civil War era through a variety of primary sources. The book includes major historical documents, such as the Gettysburg Address, as well as more personalized accounts of the war and of the popular culture of the times found in diaries, advertisements, and magazine and newspaper articles. Throughout, the readings are supplemented by introductions, period illustrations, sidebar information, and vocabularies. David C. King (Hillsdale, NY) is the author of Wiley's American Kids in History series of U.S. history activity books as well as Colonies and Revolution and Westward Expansion in the American Heritage American Voices series. American Heritage is the premier American history magazine and is well known for its reference books.


For more than four hundred years of our nation's history, Americans have left a long paper trail of diaries, letters, journals, and other personal writings. Throughout this amazingly vast collection, we can often find intriguing information about the events that make up that history. A diary entry, for example, can help us feel we are on the scene, as in this army officer's entry on the eve of a critical Revolutionary War battle: “It is fearfully cold, and a storm setting in. The wind is northeast and beats in the faces of the men. It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes.”

These firsthand accounts can also present us with surprises. In 1836, for instance, Narcissa Whitman was warned that hardship and possibly death awaited her on the rugged Oregon Trail. But from the trail she wrote: “Our manner of living is preferable to any in the States [the East]. I never was so happy and content before. Neither have I enjoyed such health.” And personal writings can also take us inside the minds of people caught up in events, as in the case of Clara Barton, who became famous as a battlefield nurse in the Civil War but first had to wrestle with doubts about whether it was proper for a woman to tend wounded soldiers. “I struggled long and hard, ” she wrote, “with the appalling fact that I was only a woman … [but] thundering in my ear were the groans of suffering men dying like dogs [to save the society] that had protected and educated me.”

Intriguing fragments like these make up our nation's history. Journals, letters, diaries, and other firsthand accounts are called primary sources. In addition to letters and journals, other voices from the past emerge from newspapers, books, and magazines, from poems and songs, from advertisements, pamphlets, and government documents. Added to the written records are “visual documents” such as sketches, diagrams, patent designs, maps, paintings, engravings, and photographs.

Historians have the fascinating work of sifting through these fragments, searching for the ones that will add a special touch to their reconstruction of the past. But historians are not the only ones who can appreciate these details. America's huge storehouse of primary materials offers a great opportunity to make history more interesting, exciting, and meaningful to everyone. History textbooks are useful for providing the bare bones of history, but firsthand accounts add the muscle and sinew, fleshing out the story with the experiences of real men and . . .

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