The Civil War: A Concise History

The Civil War: A Concise History

The Civil War: A Concise History

The Civil War: A Concise History

Synopsis

One hundred and fifty years after the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, the Civil War still captures the American imagination, and its reverberations can still be felt throughout America's social and political landscape.
Louis P. Masur's The Civil War: A Concise History offers a masterful and eminently readable overview of the war's multiple causes and catastrophic effects. Masur begins by examining the complex origins of the war, focusing on the pulsating tensions over states rights and slavery. The book then proceeds to cover, year by year, the major political, social, and military events, highlighting two important themes: how the war shifted from a limited conflict to restore the Union to an all-out war that would fundamentally transform Southern society, and the process by which the war ultimately became a battle to abolish slavery. Masur explains how the war turned what had been a loose collection of fiercely independent states into a nation, remaking its political, cultural, and social institutions. But he also focuses on the soldiers themselves, both Union and Confederate, whose stories constitute nothing less than America's Iliad. In the final chapter Masur considers the aftermath of the South's surrender at Appomattox and the clash over the policies of reconstruction that continued to divide President and Congress, conservatives and radicals, Southerners and Northerners for years to come.
In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley wrote that the war had "wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations." From the vantage of the war's sesquicentennial, this concise history of the entire Civil War era offers an invaluable introduction to the dramatic events whose effects are still felt today.

Excerpt

On April 12, 1861, at around 4:30 in the morning, Confederate guns opened fire on Fort Sumter, situated in the harbor outside Charleston, South Carolina. A war began that lasted four years, claimed more than six hundred thousand lives, and forever transformed the nation.

The shooting may have started that day, but the conflict’s origins came much earlier. Just when, of course, is impossible to say. Perhaps it was with the election of Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, a western lawyer and politician who came to office without any Southern support. Or perhaps it was with the bloodshed in Kansas in the mid1850s, a rehearsal of sorts for the Civil War, which captured the nation’s attention and reopened with a vengeance the thorny issue of slave expansion into the territories. Or back farther, to the Compromise of 1850, which settled little, or the Mexican War of 1846–48, or the fears and actions of abolitionists and slaveholders who parsed every event through a conspiratorial lens. Or farther still: the Nullification Crisis, Nat Turner’s rebellion and the Virginia debate over abolishing slavery, or the Missouri Compromise. Looking back, some citizens contemplated the Constitution and blamed the framers for failing to resolve the tensions between state and nation, slavery and freedom. Sectional strain had all been building for a long time until, suddenly, the recurring threat of disunion became a stark reality.

Perhaps no event in American history has invited more speculation about whether it could have been avoided, or turned out differently, than the Civil War. It is an intriguing thought experiment to pose such questions as what if Lincoln had acquiesced on Southern secession, or what if a settlement guaranteeing slavery had been reached in the winter of . . .

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