We mark the continuing commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial with two more special programs this fall. The first, on Monday, September 26, rings UGA Professor John Inscoe to the Tucker Library to discuss his new book, “The Civil War in Georgia,” a collection of materials drawn from the online New Georgia Encyclopedia. And on Monday, October 10, we’ll host a pair of noted historians, John Fowler and David Parker, at the Decatur Library as they discuss their new collection of essays, “Breaking the Heartland: The Civil War in Georgia.”
The release of many books about the Civil War in connection with the 150th anniversary is hardly unexpected. The centennial observance of the war in 1961 generated thousands of volumes over the next four years. This time around, however, what we seem to be getting are books that attempt to look well beyond the battlefields, to examine the war’s impact and legacy on all segments of society — from women to slaves to immigrants to children — while exploring a much wider range of issues, from the effect of deaths and suffering on morale to expectations about emancipation. The results have been, for the most part, serious and welcome. The flag-waving that accompanied so much of the 1961-65 observance — so intertwined with the nation’s racial strife — has subsided.
In occasionally trying to keep tabs on the flood of new Civil War-related book, I’m eager to pass along reports of worthy entries. One such is “The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Civil War” prepared by William L. Barney, a vetreran historian at the University of North Carolina. The book is a concisely written paperback and lists for only $18.95, putting in within reach of most interested persons, I suspect. It has the virtue of being surprisingly comprehensive given its length (less than 400 pages) as well as being infused with an overview of the war years — from medicine to prisons, from social reform to weaponry — that appears more inclusive than earlier, somewhat similar projects.
Readers, regardless of their level of interest, should find it useful. Each entry is followed by a brief listing of books/articles for further reading. The entries themselves cover the basics well, though the book’s concision perhaps can make it difficult to track down certain specifics. For instance, there is an entry for Sherman’s March to the Sea across Georgia in late 1864, but it’s almost impossible to find an account of Sherman’s 1865 destructive movements across South Carolina (when the city of Columbia was burned). There is no listing for Columbia or South Carolina in the abbreviated index, and it is only by discovering the section headed “Bentonville” that the war’s final days are covered including South Carolina’s experience.
Cavils aside, there is much to learn from this book, and picking it up and reading at almost any point will likely provide new information. It is a welcome addition to those groaning shelves of Civil War books.