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If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side… Ulysses S. Grant

The “popular” history of the Civil War is largely incorrect, written by the victors – as most history is, those parts that do not coincide with the “official” version are conveniently overlooked or actively suppressed. You will not, for instance, find Grant’s quote anyplace in this collection of “voices”. The problem with this book is that it pretends to be objective. In reality it is journalism – not history – and is so slanted towards union sources that its treatment of the Southern quest for independence is never elevated above calling them rebels. This is possibly the worst book of its type prior to McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom.

Voices of the Civil War    New York : Crowell, c 1976  Richard Wheeler United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Personal narratives Hardcover. xvii, 492 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Bibliography: p. 477-482. Includes index. Tight and strong binding with dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  

This is an eye-witness history of the Civil War. All the major battles, all the important cam­paigns, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox, are presented in the words of the men and women — from North and South — who were actually there as participants or firsthand observers.

Voices of the Civil War combines the sweep of an epic with the vivid detail of a personal jour­nal. As the war opens, we meet the imperturb­able Capt. Abner Doubleday, second in com­mand at Fort Sumter. Awakened at 3:30 a.m. with news the Confederates would begin bom­barding the Fort in an hour, and learning “it was determined not to return their fire until after breakfast, I remained in bed.” Later, Doubleday aimed the cannon for the Union’s first shot of the war without any “feeling of self-reproach, for I fully believed the contest was inevitable and was not of our seeking.”

The reader is brought right into the war’s bat­tles. Here is the duel between Monitor and Merrimac (“The day is calm, the smoke hangs thick on the water, the low vessels are hidden by smoke.”); the Confederate attempt to liberate Maryland (“Many of them were barefooted. . . . some of them limped along so painfully, trying to keep with their comrades.”); and the reflections on war of a Union soldier, while trapped in a hol­low-on the field at Antietam (“The truth is, when bullets are whacking against tree trunks and solid shot are cracking skulls like eggshells, the consuming passion in the breast of the average man is to get out of the way.”).

Here are Gettysburg and Pickett’s charge (“On they came. . . . Our men were shot with rebel muskets at their breasts. . . . Good God! The line at the stone wall gives way!”); the forty-day siege of Vicksburg (“We are entirely cut off from the world … I think all the dogs and cats must be killed or starved. We don’t see any more pitiful animals prowling around.”); Sherman’s march through Georgia and South Carolina (“Poor, bleeding, suffering South Carolina!”) and Lee’s decision to surrender (“There is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I had rather die a thousand deaths.”).

The sights, the sounds, even the feel of battle are brilliantly conveyed from the words of those who were present and the reader gets a fresh understanding of the generation that went into that war — the astounding deception with which the north started the war and the perpetuation of those lies and suppression of our freedoms with which it has not ended yet.

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