“Strong Enough To Float An Iron Wedge”

How coffee helped win the Civil War

In the waning daylight of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, a tremendous cheer suddenly resounded from the 23rd Ohio Volunteers arrayed across a cornfield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. The tired men could see the figure of their 19-year-old-commissary sergeant driving his mule team through shot and shell to their front lines bearing barrels of hot coffee and food. Every man in that regiment received a cup of hot java—and a second wind—courtesy of young William McKinley, who would later become the 25th president of the U.S. Read more »

What Happened At Fort Pillow?

Trying to understand the Civil War’s ugliest incident


Andrew Ward, a frequent contributor to these pages, has just completed River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War (Viking). The editors asked him why he had chosen to spend years studying this very grim subject.

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“Ride With The Devil”

How Bruce Chadwick (“Actor Against Actor,” August/September 2004) could include movies whose plots are post-Civil War (The Searchers, The Ox-Bow Incident) and omit the excellent Ride With the Devil from his list of the 10 greatest Civil War movies is a mystery. Ride With the Devil is a superb portrayal of the guerrilla war along the Missouri-Kansas border as seen from the perspective of young Confederate bushwhackers.Read more »

1855 150 Years Ago

Humvees With Humps


On March 3 Congress appropriated $30,000 for the U.S. Army to import camels form the Levant and put them to work in the desserts of the Southwest. The law was a pet project of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who as early as 1851, when he was still a senator, had suggested using camels as a way to ease communication with California. Along with Maj. Henry C.

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General Longstreet And The Lost Cause

One of Lee’s greatest lieutenants is slowly winning his reputation back after losing it for daring to criticize his boss

What are we to make of James Longstreet, lieutenant general, Confederate States Army? Longstreet’s newest biographer subtitles his work “The Confederacy‘s Most Controversial Soldier.” Not the most controversial during those four years of war, surely.

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The Civil War 1861 To 1865

No one has ever come up with a satisfactory count of the books dealing with the Civil War. Estimates range from 50,000 to more than 70,000, with new titles added every day. All that can be said for certain is that the Civil War is easily the most written-about era of the nation’s history. Consequently, to describe this 10-best list as subjective is to stretch that word almost out of shape. Indeed my association with 2 of the 10 may be regarded as suspect. My reply is that this association made me only more aware of the merits of these titles. Read more »

Actor Against Actor

What are the 10 greatest movies ever about the Civil War?

Since movies began, less than 40 years after the guns had fallen silent at Appomattox, Hollywood has churned out more than 700 Civil War-related films—nearly three times the number of movies about World War II. Most of them have stressed reunification, honoring the bravery of the soldiers on both sides, assigning no guilt, and declaring no true winner.

Creating The Ultimate Civil War Resource

Richard Dobbins has made it his mission to gather every single record of every single soldier into one huge, organized, searchable Internet database.

Family legend had it that your great-great-great-uncle Hiram Spooner, a Massachusetts farmer, died from wounds suffered at Cold Harbor, Virginia. How can you retrace his short life? You might pick through the Massachusetts state archives and slowly assemble a narrative from a patchwork of published induction rosters, military-service diaries, and death certificates, but your search might suffer from spotty record keeping. Some battle details, for instance, might be buried in federal archives.

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Secrets Of The ‘hunley’


With a 90-pound explosive charge attached to an iron spar protruding from her bow, the Confederate sub H. L. Hunley looked like a lopsided hypodermic needle. On the night of February 17, 1864, off Charleston, South Carolina, she gave the Union sloop Housatonic a lethal injection.

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Fragments Of A War

“The Cold War is over,” said Paul Tsongas, campaigning for the Presidency in 1992. “Japan won.”

Well, maybe. It takes a long time to sort out a war; Americans are still debating what the Civil War was actually about, and we’re not entirely sure how World War I could even have happened. Read more »