Tragic Years, 1860-1865: A Documentary History of the American Civil War - Vol. 1

Tragic Years, 1860-1865: A Documentary History of the American Civil War - Vol. 1

Tragic Years, 1860-1865: A Documentary History of the American Civil War - Vol. 1

Tragic Years, 1860-1865: A Documentary History of the American Civil War - Vol. 1


These two volumes tell the story of a profound social revolution. The vehicle of its birth was the bloodiest civil war the world had known, yet that war resulted from the angry act of headstrong men unable to agree why they fought. A sense of duty to family and home, of loyalty to tradition, of honor for principle -- these emotions soldiers of the North and South shared. Through four tragic years of bloodletting both parts of the warring nation were sustained by the same conviction of a just cause in the sight of God. So passionate was this belief that when at last an exhausted South could fight no longer, surrender was far more a physical necessity than a yielding of mind and heart.

That ending, ragged and grudging, had cost a staggering price. The Federal dead were counted at 360,222 and the Federal wounded at 275,175. The Confederate dead were put at 258,000 and no one could say how many had been wounded. At the close of the conflict there were perhaps a million Union soldiers in the field, and during the years from 1861 to 1865 at least twice that number fought for Mr. Lincoln. How many served under arms for the Confederacy remains unknown. A reasonable estimate is between 600,000 and 700,000.

Looking back on the war in an effort to decide why it was fought -- and for what purpose -- Americans can find no grounds for complete agreement. The North's contention that the war was justified because the Union endured was only a partial truth. Emotionally, politically, the war remade the Union. Unexpectedly, nearing the halfway mark in what Mr. Lincoln called "a people's contest," the Emancipation Proclamation foreshadowed a change in the fundamental fabric of the American nation. When the guns were stilled, the dead were buried, and when succeeding springs had spread gentle cloaks over the scars of the battlefields, the indisputable decision -- the Thirteenth Amendment -- could not be ignored.


Spring crept over the land. The year was 1860, the month April -- the last April, for five years, that the nation would be at peace. No reasonable person, North or South, wanted war or expected war. America, caught in the pull of a booming industrial revolution, was shaking off the disagreeable effects of a depression. No one yet understood economic cycles in the deep sense of their social and political impact. In a country still dominated by frontier traditions, long hours of hard work filled the average day; dead tired by nightfall, most people were too exhausted by the physical struggle of survival to care much about the torments of the mind. A few made agitation their business -- the abolitionists, professional secessionists like Robert Barnwell Rhett with his newspaper in Charleston -- and transcendentalists like Emerson made a career of philosophy. Still others sought Utopia by reading bumps on their heads.

Men worked at jobs peculiar to the age. A son of the border states, Sam Clemens, piloted a steamboat between St. Louis and New Orleans. An ex-Army captain, Sam Grant, ran a leather business in Galena, Illinois. Along the Texas border, Colonel Robert E. Lee chased Indians. Homesteaders, with strings of kids tagging along, pushed into the wilderness; some were found later, their scalps gone, their bones bleached by the sun, their wagons burned. The sensitive mind of Walt Whitman recognized the epic they were living:

Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping, Pioneers! O Pioneers!

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