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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Book Review - Storm Over The Land

If you notice in my sidebar the books I am presently reading have changed. I did not read all of A History of Western Civilization. I never really intended to although if the book had been compelling I would have finished it. I did read through the Medieval time period which was the part of the history that I wanted to acquaint myself with. I think at a later time I may do some more reading on the Peloponesian War if I can find a good narrative history about that time period. The book will now go to the shelf as a reference book.

I also did not finish reading Eusebius' Church History. I read over a hundred pages of it and found it to be boring. There were a few interesting things along the way but I had other things I would rather be I am! The book will go to the shelf for reference purposes.

We should finish John Wesley Servant Of God this week in family devotions. We just read a short portion at devotions, not even a chapter, the chapters are medium length. We are in the last chapter. It has been an interesting book chronicling the origins of the Methodist church. The Wesley's were clearly very influential in England and America. We all found his romantic life to be somewhat of a mockery, filled with uncertainty and drawn to very unstable women. Next week we will begin a book I found on Ebay entitled, Fighters For Freedom by Austen Kennedy de Blois. The subtitle is Heroes Of The Baptist Challenge. It was published in 1929 by the Judson Press. It is basically a compendium of brief biographical histories of 17 Baptist men. I am looking forward to starting the book.

I am also reading a book of Great American Speeches. I anticipate reading two to four of them a week. I will be sharing some of what I read there as the days go by.

I just started last night Mornings On Horseback by David McCullough. This will be my sixth David McCollough book. He, much to my regret, only has two more. I have them both. Mornings On Horseback is about the early life of Theodore Roosevelt.

Today I want to review a book I finished yesterday, Storm Over The Land by Carl Sandburg. The book is 429 pages long and is actually a condensed version of Sandburg's larger four volume work, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. If you make it a habit of perusing the history sections of used book stores you have probably seen the four volume work. Four volumes are a little overwhelming, even for an area where I have interest. But after reading the book I may try to get the expanded version at some point if I can find it at a reasonable price.

It is a book dealing with the war between the states. I find that epic event to be beyond interesting. It certainly was a watershed moment for our republic in which the character of our nation was dramatically changed forever. Some of the change was good (removal of the curse of slavery) some of the change was bad (increased centralization of power at the Federal level).

One reason too I am intrigued by the event is because there is more to it than meets the eye. In our government schools we are given an overly simplified view of what happened. The train of thought usually runs something like this: The South was bad because it embraced slavery, the North was good because it was against slavery, thus the South fought to maintain slavery and the North fought to abolish slavery. While there is a sense in which this is true these simplified conclusions do not do justice to all of the realities that existed in the mid 1800's. The whole issue of the war between the States could rightly be characterized as a national enigma.

The events are as complex as the people who shaped them. The war between the states is a national event that begs second guessing and asking the question what if???

What if Lee had accepted the commission from President Lincoln to be the top general of the Union Forces? The war would have ended much sooner, possibly.

What if Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan had been placed at the top of the armies from the beginning? The war would no doubt have ended sooner, no???

If the war had ended sooner would the slaves had been freed? The Emancipation Proclamation was an instrument of war, those who would take the time to read the document would know that. The slaves were only freed in the states that were in rebellion. Slavery was maintained in the border states that had not left the Union. Slavery did not come to an end until the war was over. The Proclamation had no force unless the Union was victorious. The Proclamation was a shrewd and calculated political move by Abraham Lincoln to win the sympathies of Europe. It was a bold move and one that should have been made. Of course it outraged the South and caused them for a time to fight even more zealously. It seems that Abraham Lincoln made it clear on numerous occasions that the primary reason for the armed conflict was to preserve the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation was simply a tool to effect that end.

People say if only Jackson had lived?? Well, he didn't being shot by friendly fire. But even had Jackson lived who unquestionably was a great warrior and invaluable to Lee's army of Northern Virginia the South would not have won. It could not win. Sam Houston of Texas knew this and tried to warn his fellow Texans to no avail.

The North had more manpower, they could win by simple attrition, and they did. The North actually lost 100,000 men more than the South and they had plenty more where they came from.

The North was the industrial section of the country, the South was the agricultural section. You could not make guns, cannon, gunpowder, etc, from cotton! The South's only hope was to be able to import these necessary items from Europe. In fact Jefferson Davis took to calling England the mother country. The problem here is that the North has a vastly superior navy and consequently all throughout the war tightened the noose around the South with an ever more effective blockade of Southern ports.

The South could not win. The South should not have won. The issue (slavery) they had staked their claim on undermined their principle (state's rights).

The book although a condensed version of a much larger work is well done. This is the result of some rewriting on the part of Sandburg to give the story continuity and direction. It is a narrative history thus easier to read. It is like a story and a compelling one at that. Mr. Sandburg, in my estimation, does a wonderful job of giving us a clear picture of the major players. Lincoln, McClellan, Grant, Sherman, Davis, Lee, Jackson and others. When the characters are introduced you are given a good, concise overview of who they are and why.

Mr. Sandburg also does a good job of describing the major battles again in concise form. All the different battles are difficult to track, at least for me! Again this is an area where most people have very little knowledge, including myself. But there was a western theater of action, a southern theater of action and then a northern theater of action. Most people are slightly aware of the action that took place between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. Some people are aware of Sherman's march to the sea through Georgia, the burning of Atlanta and then through South Carolina that hotbed of rebellion where secession began.

This book makes it clear that Sherman was determined to make the deep South feel the devastation of war, consequently Georgia and South Carolina suffered under his aggressive style of warfare. I'm inclined to believe there are some things that can be learned from Sherman! His army saw to it that the southern people (citizens) suffered. They had voted for secession they would suffer the consequences. Most don't realize that there was a Southern army opposing Sherman. First under the command of Joseph Johnston and then John Bell Hood. They were both ineffective in dealing with the masterful Sherman.

People who know about Sherman's infliction of suffering on the southern population are inclined to think him a monster. This is probably not a fair characterization. He wanted to see the war end. He knew this was the best way to end all suffering North and South. In fact as the war was drawing to a close he expressed sentiments that the South should be dealt with benevolently in peace. Likewise this was the view of Grant and Lincoln. Unfortunately it was not the view of Johnson who would become President upon the assassination of Lincoln.

I never read about Grant at Appomattox without feeling a sense of respect for his treatment of a defeated foe. The terms of surrender were more than generous and of such a nature that the South should have been grateful. Lee was! Others no doubt were bitter and it was a bitterness that they would pass on for generations. Of course the bitterness of defeat was not alleviated by the burdensome Reconstruction requirements laid down by Northern politicians. At the same time the South should have borne patiently the requirements and humiliation. They had taken up arms and lost, humility was required. It just goes to show that humility does not always follow being humbled.

One of the things that always strike me with a sense of awe about the war between the States is the unbelievable courage and bravery of the men in blue and grey. Often when charging an entrenched army they were basically marching to their deaths. This reality leaves me shaking my head at the casualty reports.

Union lost 13,047 in killed, wounded, or missing.
Confederate lost 10, 694

The Seven Day's Battles
Union 16,000
Confederate 20,000

Bull Run Creek
Union 14,000
Confederate 9,000

Union 12,000
Confederate 12,000

Corinth, Mississippi
Union 2,000
Confederate 7,000

Union 11,000
Confederate 10,000

Union 23,000
Confederate 28,000
Joseph Revere was killed here, the grandson of Paul Revere.

Union 16,000
Confederate 18,000

Union 26,815
Confederate did not release information
In this battle one tree of 22 inches diameter and another by two inches less were gnawed and cut down clean by bullet fire. I have actually seen one of these trees in the Smithsonian museum of American History. That is a lot of led flying!

Cold Harbor
Union 7,000
Confederate 12,000 to 15,000

Union 10,000
Confederate 5,000

Battle of Atlanta
Union 29,219
Confederate 25, 341

Union 2,300
Confederate 6,000

All total 620,000 Americans died in the war between the States. From the North 360,000 and from the South 260,000!

The book is well written and provides a great, true story. One that has shaped our national character more than any of us probably realize. I enjoy reading about the war between the States because you always run across bits of information that make you wonder at the event. There are so many inconsistencies, contrasts, comparisons, personalities, ironies, and surprises. This book has it share of them! For example the little piece of trivia that Paul Revere's grandson was killed in the Union army at Gettysburg. Grant owned slaves at one time, Lee never did. Lee was not in favor of secession, he was against slavery, yet he fought on the side of the confederacy because of his loyalty to Virginia. While that (loyalty to one's State) seems inconceivable to us today it was a more understood position in 1861 in the North and South.

In fact this book informs us that Fernando Wood, mayor of New York tried to get the city to secede from the Union and set up as a free city.

For those that have an interest in the Civil War, Storm Over The Land, is a good overview and an easy read.

Rating ****
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