Remembering the Civil War

August 21, 2013

At First Things today George Weigel recommends a set of good books on the American Civil War, the sesquicentennial of which we are currently living through. I always like book lists, and this one is particularly welcome.

For the past two years I have been reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, 20 pages each week, more or less keeping pace with the narrative as it unfolded 150 years ago. My knowledge of the war has been rudimentary, so I have had the pleasure of reading this superbly detailed history without really knowing what will happen next. I have spent the past two months reading the section on the battle of Gettysburg, and I am convinced that historical writing doesn’t get much better.

Weigel also gives top billing to James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, which I have on my shelves (or, rather, in a box near my shelves) and harbour a (fading) hope that I will read before the war ends in a couple of years. But he makes a number of other suggestions too, a few of which are going onto my wish list.

Alongside my reading of Foote, I’ve been trying to watch a few Civil War-related films. There was Lincoln last year, and at the moment I’m inching my way through the 1993 behemoth Gettysburg. Ken Burns’ documentary seems to be highly regarded, and I think I’ll watch it as a retrospective once I finish reading Foote. In the meantime, any other film recommendations?

I suppose the real way to mark the anniversary would be to visit some Civil War sites, but I don’t think that will be possible for me.

Incidentally, “sesquicentennial” is a word of American origin; in 2030 it will have its sesquicentennial.

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