A Currier & Ives political cartoon (Library of Congress).
Yes, I know “sesquicentennial” is a $5 word – hard to say and to spell. It simply means the 150th anniversary of something, and in this case it pertains to the American Civil War. On April 12, 1861, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, marking the first battle in a four year-long war that would see over 620,000 American soldiers dead, slavery ended, and a huge change in the way Americans thought of themselves and their country.
The Civil War is one of the most popular subjects in publishing; some reports say that there are over 800 books published on the war each year! In just our Library catalog, a search for “civil war” comes up with almost 1300 items (granted, that includes childrens’ books and anything with both those words, but you get the gist…). So, we’ll spread the wealth and tackle a different subset every so often. Today, we’ll begin with the causes. (Annotations are courtesy of Novelist Plus unless noted.)
1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See by Bruce Chadwick
- Offers a close-up study of a pivotal year in American history and of seven noted American leaders who will play key roles in the the battle over slavery, the secession of the Southern states, and the events of the Civil War.
At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union by Robert Vincent Remini
- Recounts the events surrounding the Compromise of 1850 and the part Henry Clay played in its passage by Congress.
Border War: Fighting over Slavery Before the Civil War by Stanley Harrold
- Harrold covers the many fights across the North-South borders, as well as newspaper writing that fanned the flames on both sides.
The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards
- Reassesses the role of the California gold rush in the events leading up to the Civil War, analyzing the squabbling over bringing California into the union as a slave state, the political maneuverings and battles, and the economic factors involved.
Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War by Marc Egnal
- Challenging popular beliefs about the moral aspects of the Civil War, an assessment of what the author believes to be economic causes for the conflict demonstrates trade and production pattern changes in the second half of the nineteenth century brought about by failures in farming and government diplomacy.
Cry Havoc!: The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 by Nelson D. Lankford
- Describes the eight weeks preceding the Civil War in the United States, discussing Lincoln’s inauguration, the attack at Fort Sumter, and Lincoln’s call-to-arms proclamation, in an account that also considers if the conflict could have been peaceably avoided.
Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War by Maury Klein
- Examines events leading up to the Civil War, from Lincoln’s 1860 election, through Southern threats to secede, to the fall of Fort Sumter.
The Dogs of War, 1861 by Emory M. Thomas
- Thomas essays the decision making of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in bringing on war and concludes that neither leader, or side, appreciated the nature and costs of war and thus acted out of imagined results rather than informed assessment.
The Imperiled Union: Essays on the Background of the Civil War by Kenneth M. Stampp
- Amongst the subjects that Stampp tackles are the inevitability of the Civil War and the truth about why the confederacy actually died. The other essays are a mix of historiography and analysis of issues including Lincoln’s role in reinforcing Fort Sumter, the impact of psychology in trading slaves, and the role of racism in the Republican Party (from product description).
Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession by Russell McClintock
- Discusses President Lincoln’s decision to go to war with the seceded South, and highlights how citizens, party activists, state officials, and national leaders in the North responded to the political crisis.
Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 by Harold Holzer
- A chronicle of the four months between Lincoln’s election and inauguration evaluates the decisions he made regarding slavery, secession, and the possibility of a Civil War, in an account that also offers insight into the selections of his cabinet members.
Manifest Destinies: America’s Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War by Steven E. Woodworth
- Traces the monumental expansion of the American territories against a backdrop of pre-Civil War tensions, citing such contributing factors as the gold rush and the founding of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
The Road to Disunion by William W. Freehling
- A two-volume history of the events that led to secession of the South and to the Civil War focuses on key events and personalities on the road to war, including the Dred Scott Decision, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, and the violence in Bleeding Kansas, and reveals how a minority of Southern radicals drove the South out of the Union.
Slavery, Freedom, and Expansion in the Early American West by John Craig Hammond
- Hammond demonstrates that local political contests and geopolitical realities were more responsible for determining slavery’s fate in the West than were the clashing proslavery and antislavery proclivities of Founding Fathers and politicians in the East (from product description).
Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War by Douglas R. Egerton
- The center could not hold amid a flood of passionate intensity recorded in this illuminating study of the 1860 election campaign. Historian Egerton (Death or Liberty) chronicles the year’s chaotic political wranglings, from the fractious party conventions that threw up four presidential contenders (two from minor parties) to the search for a congressional compromise to save the Union on the eve of Lincoln’s inauguration (from Publisher’s Weekly).
And we couldn’t leave out the book that “started” it all:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Uncle Tom’s master sells him, separating him from his wife, and he becomes attached to the gentle daughter of his new owner, but after her death, he is sold to the evil Simon Legree.