Hearts Touched by Fire: The Best of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

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The most enduring entries from the classic four-volume series Battles and Leaders of the Civil War have now been edited and merged into one volume. Here are the best of the first-person accounts originally published in "The Century Magazine" more than 100 years ago.

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Nov 26, 2017

A New Edition Of A Civil War Classic

The sesquicentennial of the American Civil War is producing many new studies of the conflict together with reissues of earlier works. "Hearts Touched by Fire" belongs in the latter category. Although it is lengthy, thick book of over 1200 pages, it is an edited, abridged version of a much longer work: the "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" series published initially in the Century Magazine between 1885 -- 1887. The Century series consisted of 99 articles and shorter memoranda written by leading Civil War figures, North and South. Generals and other key figures contributed many of the articles, while others were written by soldiers in the ranks. In 1888, after the magazine series concluded, the Century Company published a four-volume book edition which included the magazine articles together with substantial additional material. This edition sold well and became a treasured keepsake to Civil War veterans and their families. I have seen heirloom copies of the original publication which is still available in used book stores.

The new edition makes the best of "Battles and Leaders" available in a single volume. Harold Holzer, a leading contemporary scholar of the Civil War, conceived of and edited the project, and prepared and informative introduction. Leading Civil War authorities James McPherson, James Robertson, Jr. Stephen Sears, Craig Symonds, and Joan Waugh assisted Holzer in the selections. These scholars also contributed brief introductions to the volume, which is arranged chronologically from 1861 -- 1865.

The book includes nine articles covering 1861, together with an introduction by Symonds. It begins with two articles on Fort Sumter, one from the Union and one from the Confederate perspective. There are three articles on early preparations for the War on both sides, followed by two articles by Beauregard and Joseph Johnston on First Bull Run, and two articles on the Battle of Wilson's Creek.

Steven Sears wrote and introduction to the 16 articles discussing 1862 in the "Battles and Leaders" series. There are three outstanding contributions from Henry Walke and Lew Wallace on the critical Union victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Grant's article on the Shiloh has become a classic and two additional articles on Shiloh are included as well. Three articles consider the Monitor-Merrimac encounter from varying perspectives while an excellent article by William Meridith continues the focus on the Navy with its treatment of Farragut and his capture of New Orleans. The Peninsula campaign, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg receive sustained attention in articles by John Imboden, a Confedarate Cavalry commander, McClellan, Pope, Longstreet, and Jacob Cox.

James McPherson wrote the introduction for the pivotal year of 1863 and its nine Century articles which begin with a Union and a Confederate account of the Battle of Chancellorsville. There are five good articles on Gettysburg, beginning with Longstreet's account of the purposes of Lee's move north, and continuing with three articles by Henry Hunt, the Union artillery commander, on each day of the battle. A final article by Imboden convers the Confederate retreat. Grant's lengthy article on Vicksburg covers this crucial campaign together with two additional articles detailing the Navy's contribution. Confederate General D.H. Hill's article on Chickamauga and Grant's article on Chattanooga conclude the discussion of this eventful year.

Joan Waugh introduces 1864 and its 16 Century articles which begin with four detailed examinations of Grant's Wilderness campaign through Cold Harbor. There is also an overview by Grant of his plans for 1864 when he was named Union General-in-Chief and two articles on Petersburg, including a rare series article on the role of African American soldiers. Farragut's important victory at Mobile Bay is the subject of an article by John Kinney, and Jubal Early describes his march on Washington, D.C. Other articles describe Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign and Sherman's campaign for and taking of Atlanta. An excellent article by John Brown considers the famed fight between the Confederate "Alabama" and the Union "Kearsarge" off the coast of France. Articles by Confederate General John Hood and Colonel Henry Stone, of the staff of Union General Thomas, discuss the Battles of Franklin and Nashville.

James Robertson introduces the nine Century articles for 1865, the concluding year of the war. I learned about the capture of Fort Fisher in an article by U.S. Navy Captain, Thomas Selfridge. There are important articles by Union General Horace Porter on Five Forks, sometimes called the "Confederate Waterloo" and the surrender at Appomattox. Short articles, Union and Confederate, describe the fall of Richmond. Other articles discuss Sherman's march through the Carolinas, Fort Stedman, and the concluding days of the War.

The volume includes the original illustrations, etchings, and maps of the Century series, which are worth having for themselves. There is a great deal to be learned from this book about the Civil War itself and about the different ways it has been remembered and written about over the years. Because it is an abridgement, it would have been desirable to include an appendix, consisting of a table of contents of the materials left out. The book will have greatest appeal to readers with a serious interest in the Civil War who have a familiarity with at least some of the many standard histories.

Robin Friedman

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