David Detzer’s new book “Dissonance” completes his trilogy about those fateful weeks and months of 1861, when the American republic was beginning to tear apart.
The most notorious atrocity of the Draft Riots was the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum, located on 5th Ave and 43rd street. Of the “50 Objects” from the New-York Historical Society, none is more poignant than a charred Bible from the Colored Orphan Asylum, “the sole, improbable artifact to endure the sacking and destruction of the orphanage.”
A sampling of new or recent books on the Civil War suggests that this bygone conflict is still relevant to the lives, hopes and fears of the American people in the twenty-first century. If anything, some of the new research and analysis of the Civil War shows that the terrible ordeal of 1861 to 1865 is more meaningful than it has ever been.
As expected, Day-Lewis breathes life into Abraham Lincoln. And, as expected, he’s fantastic to watch, even if this isn’t a “call the Academy Award race for Best Actor over!” performance. From his work alone, Day-Lewis gives a humility and humanity to the ex-President that the script by Tony Kushner simply cannot achieve.
The determination to end slavery may not have figured initially as a Union war aim for most of the young men in Blue who did the fighting and dying. But Masur quotes from numerous soldier letters and diaries to prove that many Union troops were horrified by the conditions that they found in the south, particularly the enslavement of children fathered by their own “masters.”
Troy’s novel has much to recommend it, including sensitive character delineation and powerful narrative set pieces. But all Civil War fiction is faced with the almost insuperable task of trying to heal wounds that just go on festering, of finding some sort of redemptive meaning for unparalleled carnage. From the first great Civil War novel, John De Forrest’s Miss Ravenel’s Conversion, published in 1867, the problem for the Civil War novelist is to find a middle ground of hope and harmony upon which the survivors can rebuild their battered lives.
The escalating one-upmanship led to some truly bizarre innovations, such as casting famous boxers in the lead roles. Reynolds described how Peter Jackson, a famous black boxer, figured into the entertainments: “Uncle Tom, between acts or just before dying, would momentarily trade his slave costume for boxing trunks and spar for three rounds with another actor before resuming his tragic role.”
This collection of the Times‘ news coverage during the war is a must-have for Civil War enthusiasts and other American history buffs. It contains the power to astonish modern readers with its lofty rhetoric, constant editorializing in news stories and decisions on what was important to its audience. Those decisions are, in many cases, not what a modern newspaper would choose.
These are not merely newspapers, letters, transcripts of speeches and official reports from the 1850’s through the first major battles of the war in 1861. To a very significant degree, the words inscribed on these timeworn documents actually influenced the outbreak of the Civil War.
The image of Dr. Gross evoked memories of scenes of carnage which Americans, north and south, were trying to forget. Many were not happy to be reminded. In a controversy lasting over the next few years, newspapers and art journals weighed in, with a growing body of negative judgments deflating Eakins’ hopes of a major triumph. The Art Interchange editorialized that “although vigorously treated…” The Gross Clinic “ought never to have left the dissecting room.” “Power it has,” the New York Times proclaimed, “but very little art.”
In 1850, the best that Clay could do was to coax Southern politicians to agree to halt the selling of slaves in the District of Columbia. The payback was the Fugitive Slave Act. Nicknamed the “Bloodhound Law,” it legally bound law enforcement officers in the North to assist in the seizure of escaped slaves, punishing anyone who assisted the runaways.
Never perhaps has there been such a masterful account of the man’s failures—and successes—in this country’s most taxing job. Look what Burlingame says he did in just his first hundred days in office: “…he raised and supplied an army, sent it into battle, held the Border States in the Union, helped thwart Confederate attempts to win European diplomatic recognition, declared a blockade, asserted leadership over his cabinet, dealt effectively with Congress, averted a potential crisis with Great Britain, and eloquently articulated the nature and purpose of the war.”
Lincoln came to the Presidency without any real military experience. He had been an Illinois militia captain in the Black Hawk War of 1832 but as he said in self-deprecation to his fellow Members of Congress in 1848, his combat record amounted to “charges upon the wild onions” and “a good many struggles with the musketoes.”
What is heartening is that, as Professor Michael Vorenberg stresses in his essay, Lincoln’s thinking about race did evolve, especially during the war.