The Civil War was not only a stunning event in military history; it defined the American people by forcing them to grapple with the founding principles of the nation. Rachel Seidman brings together an array of primary sources from the antebellum period, the war, and Reconstruction to provide a well-rounded account of this pivotal era. Political debates and military developments may occupy the historical foreground, but it is the letters, diary entries, memoirs, and testimony of blacks, Native Americans, women, children, farmers, and foot soldiers in the richly textured background that bring the Civil War to life. Ex-slave Frederick Douglass's abolitionist speeches and writings contrast with Southern magazine editor James DeBow's defense of the slave system to set the political conflict in a national context. Northern traveler Caroline Seabury's heartbreaking letter about a slave auction and Southern slave mistress Ella Thomas's conflicted diary entries about her servant Isabella detail the daily brutality of slavery. Confederate general James Longstreet's report of the Battle of Gettysburg and Union general William T. Sherman's letter to the leaders of Atlanta document tactics introduced in the Civil War, while letters between soldiers and their families record the anguish and the courage on the battlefield and at home. A picture essay entitled "Images of War" graphically demonstrates the devastation wrought by the war through photographya new medium in the 1860s that profoundly changed American attitudes about warfare.
Despite the South's surrender, violence and conflict continued during Reconstruction. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, but state-sanctioned Black Codes limited African American freedoms. At the cost of some 620,000 lives, the battles had ended, but America's struggle with the legacy of slavery was only beginning.