||May 31, 2012
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This is a comprehensive history of the Civil War in a month-by-month summary.
The Civil War obliterated America’s past, along with many of the founders’ visions of what America should be. Replacing those visions was the America that we have today. Any true understanding of America, both past and present, must include a specific understanding of this conflict.
This work, with a thought-provoking introduction exploring the true causes of the war, traces the entire story of the conflict in a concise monthly summary. In addition to all the major events that shaped the war, key facts that have disappeared from most mainstream texts are also included, such as:
- Both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis lost young sons during the war
- The legendary Robert E. Lee faced intense southern criticism for military failures in the war’s first year
- U.S. forces battled the Sioux Indians during the war, leading to the largest mass execution in American history
- A former Ohio congressman was banished to the South by Lincoln for opposing the war
Facts are explored and myths are exposed as the conflict is put in its proper chronological perspective. For anyone seeking a general resource guide to the seminal event in American history, this is essential reading.
Anxiety was spreading throughout North and South. South Carolina had already seceded from the Union, and although President James Buchanan opposed the action, he declared that he had no right under the Constitution to stop it. In South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, the Federal garrison had been forced to abandon Fort Moultrie, withdrawing to the more secure Fort Sumter.
Buchanan sent a naval convoy to resupply the Federals at Sumter. State militia began mobilizing in Charleston as more southern states seceded. Congress scrambled to devise yet another compromise to preserve the Union. New York City threatened to secede, while “Bleeding” Kansas finally gained statehood. Most northerners still believed that the southern states would eventually return to the Union without bloodshed.
The Star of the West Mission
After weeks of deliberation, President Buchanan decided to dispatch the civilian merchant vessel Star of the West to reinforce and resupply Major Robert Anderson’s Federal troops at Fort Sumter. By this time, Anderson’s men were isolated in the harbor by South Carolina state militia. The Federals would eventually need supplies to remain in the fort, but the government of South Carolina had barred any assistance to them.
Star of the West was an unarmed steamer whose mission was intended to be secret. However, her departure from New York City on January 5 was printed in city newspapers that were forwarded by southern sympathizers to South Carolina. The two hundred soldiers of the 9th U.S. Infantry aboard Star of the West were ordered to hide below decks, but by the time the ship reached Charleston on January 9, the South Carolinians were expecting her.
Cadets from the South Carolina Military Academy, or The Citadel, fired on Star of the West from Morris Island. These were the first shots of the war, and artillerists on Fort Moultrie joined in the firing. The Federals at Fort Sumter, unaware of the ship’s presence or mission, did not assist Star of the West. After sustaining two minor hits, the ship withdrew and returned to New York.
Upon learning about the mission, Anderson threatened to fire on Charleston in retaliation. South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens responded that such an act would mean war. Anderson relented, but the incident galvanized extremists on both sides. Charleston Mercury editor Robert B. Rhett wrote that South Carolina “has not hesitated to strike the first blow, full in the face of her insulter. We would not exchange or recall that blow for millions! It has wiped out a half century of scorn and outrage.”
An editorial in the Atlas and Argus of Albany, New York stated, “The authority and dignity of the Government must be vindicated at every hazard. The issue thus having been made, it must be met and sustained, if necessary, by the whole power of the navy and army.”
New York Threatens Secession
Mayor Fernando Wood proposed that New York City secede from the Union and declare itself a free city so that it could continue trading with the South. Two-thirds of U.S. imports and one-third of U.S. exports came in and out of New York. This included southern cotton, which was traded more in New York than in any other Atlantic port.
Despite widespread fear that the lack of southern trade would devastate the New York economy, city officials rejected Wood’s proposal. In time, the loss of southern markets in New York ports was replaced by troop transport, Midwestern grain, and Pennsylvania petroleum.
The Crittenden Compromise
President Buchanan submitted a message to Congress stating that the southern secession was beyond his executive powers under the Constitution. He wrote that Americans should “pause at this momentous point and afford the people, both North and South, an opportunity for reflection…”
Buchanan urged Congress to quickly adopt a measure under debate in the Senate that had been introduced by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky. The bill was known as the “Crittenden Compromise,” and it contained four provisions intended to reconcile North and South:
- The original Missouri Compromise line (thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes) would be extended to the Pacific Ocean and slavery would be prohibited north of the line.
- Slavery would be permitted on Federal property in the South.
- Masters of fugitive slaves would be compensated with Federal funds.
- “Personal liberty” laws in northern states that nullified controversial Federal fugitive slave laws would be repealed.
A Senate committee approved the Crittenden Compromise bill, but it failed in the House of Representatives. In response, the Senate adopted a resolution declaring that the Constitution “needs to be obeyed rather than amended.” The bill failed largely because too many politicians in both North and South believed that it offered too little, too late.
Wonderful, with brilliant pacing
One of the things I love about the book is that it truly educates me. Everyone knows about the Civil War, right? Well, in a way, sure. We all know it had something to do with "slavery and stuff." I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I've always felt I was sort of short-changing the sacrifices of the past in not knowing more than that. Coffey's book, I'm happy to say, has helped relieve my ignorance and guilt, admirably.
Here's a book for history buffs and laymen alike. Mr. Coffey takes us through the entirety of the Civil War, starting from the initial secession until the war's conclusion and assassination of Lincoln. Other books have done this, sure, but Coffey's approach is nothing short of brilliant. What he does is take each month and drill down into each of them, allowing one chapter for each month, exposing the history-moving motivations and conflict with the care for detail and accuracy that it deserves. His pacing is superb. There's a sense of motion you don't often see in history books. I think if more history books were written with this consideration for the reader then they'd sell more.
To sum up, if you're interested in learning about the Civil War without a mountain of politically correct attention to certain parts, however valid, to the exclusion of others - also valid, but often ignored - you couldn't make a wiser decision than buying this book.
Good Book For Schools
This book is a very detailed, in-depth history of the entire war. Each chapter represents a month in the war, with the first chapter being January 1861 and the final chapter being May 1865. The details within each month are divided into nice sub-chapters, which make it a much easier read. This covers the entire history of the war, from the major battles, to the minor skirmishes, to the politics behind the scenes, to the home fronts, to the war on the high seas. The author has obviously done extensive research and is well versed in the conflict. I would recommend this not only to Civil War enthusiasts, but even to high schools and colleges as a textbook for studying the war.
An excellent, exhaustive analysis of the worst conflict in American history. Walter Coffey brings all the major characters to life, and highlights many little known facts as well, The monthly format in which the material is presented gives a nice chronological touch to the events. Many Civil War buffs know the major components of the war, but fewer know that while the Seven Days' Battles were taking place, Republicans in the northern Congress were moving ahead with thier political agenda at the same time. This book puts events in the proper sequence and allows readers to imagine how the war must have been in real time. Considering we're honoring the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, this is a good book for that occasion.
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