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I shall proceed from the simple to the complex. But in war more than in any other subject we must begin by looking at the nature of the whole; for here more than elsewhere the part and the whole must always be thought of together… Karl Von Clausewitz

1858 : Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and the war they failed to see    Naperville, Ill. : Sourcebooks, Inc., c 2008  140220941x Bruce Chadwick United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Causes Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. x, 355 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [301]-307) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

This is the story of seven men on the brink of a war that would transform them into American legends, and the events of the year that set our union on fire. Readers seeking to understand how individuals are agents of historical change will find Chadwick’s account of the failed leadership of President James Buchanan especially compelling in that far from being a passive spectator, played a major role in the drama of his time.

As 1858 dawned, the men who would become the iconic figures of the Civil War had no idea it was about to occur: Jefferson Davis was dying, Robert E. Lee was on the verge of resigning from the military, and William Tecumseh Sherman had been reduced to running a roadside food stand. By the end of 1858, the lives of these men would be forever changed, and the North and South were set on a collision course that would end with the deaths of 630,000 young men.

The book is an almost accurate recounting of the events. We say almost accurate because it misses one central point – the north wanted war. The abolitionists wanted it as a biblical punishment to purge and renew the nation. The western oriented business interests wanted it to displace the old political power of the south with the new power of the west. Finally the unionists wanted it because they had a vision of an imperial America with a huge army that would demand a place at the head of the table of nations.

If fault is to be apportioned among these men – and their cohorts on either side – it should be placed for failing to prevent the war before it began, by respecting the mechanisms in place and allowing the problems to resolve themselves by progress rather than pugnacity, and by failing to be prepared to such a degree that neither side could have launched an aggressive war.

Going from the general to the particular there is one libel that must not be allowed to stand. In chapter two the impression is created that Jefferson Davis suffered from herpes and that it was the result of an illicit sexual congress. A far better biography of Davis [ Jefferson Davis, American: A Biography by William C. Cooper, Jr.] suggests that the ophthalmologic manifestations of Herpes Simplex Keratitis was simply a case of the same affliction that causes cold sores and fever blisters that have plagued many who have never enjoyed an illicit sexual congress. It is an old trick to reveal the maladies of leaders and blame them on improper moral behavior and it is a selective one – Hitler is accused of being a syphilitic while the inconvenient fact that pater patria died of complications of syphilis are carefully concealed – ad victorem spolias.

The larger questions are that if the author is this careless in his research what else is to be questioned in the work? The alternative being if it is not a question of inaccuracy but one of bias of what value is any of the work?


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