Build-down

After every war in the nation’s history, the military has faced not only calls for demobilization but new challenges and new opportunities. It is happening again.

Not many people appreciate a military base closing. Like the shutting of a factory, it can devastate nearby towns, throwing thousands of people out of work. Merchants face losses and even bankruptcy as sales fall off. Home-owners put their houses on the market at distress prices and sometimes simply walk away from their mortgages. Even long-established military centers are not immune; the current round of closings includes the Mare Island Naval Base near San Francisco, which has operated since 1854. Read more »

The Civil War In Review

Your March issue on the Civil War is of great interest to me. My father served for three years in the 16th Illinois Regiment of Volunteers. He was wounded in the Battle of Chickamauga, was hospitalized on Lookout Mountain, and walked home—back to Atlas, in Pike County, Illinois, where he had been born in 1840.

Lee’s Greatest Victory

During three days in May 1863, the Confederate leader took astonishing risks to win one of the most skillfully conducted battles in history. But the cost turned out to be too steep.

The ability of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. (“Stonewall”) Jackson never showed itself more vividly than during three days of battle in May 1863 around a rustic crossroads called Chancellorsville. At the battle’s denouement, which might be considered the highest tide of the Confederacy, the two Virginians capped a reversal of fortunes as dramatic as any recorded in more than three centuries of American military affairs. Read more »

The Rock Of Chickamauga

Lee. Grant. Jackson. Sherman. Thomas. Yes, George Henry Thomas belongs in that company. The trouble is that he and Grant never really got along.

Of all the great commanders in the Civil War, the most consistently underrated and overlooked is Gen. George H. Thomas, the big Virginia cavalryman who fought for the Union. From January 1862 at Mill Springs, where he won the first major Federal victory of the war, through December 1864 at Nashville, where he destroyed the Army of Tennessee, Thomas never lost a battle when he was in command. Read more »

A War That Never Goes Away

More than the Revolution, more than the Constitutional Convention, it was the crucial test of the American nation. The author of Battle Cry of Freedom, the most successful recent book on the subject, explains why the issues that fired the Civil War are as urgent in 1990 as they were in 1861.

McPherson’s Basic Reading List

 

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The Civil War’s Greatest Scoop

In September 1862 the New York Tribune ran a masterly account of the Battle of Antietam. Here were no vague claims of “Great and Glorious Victory” or “Great Slaughter of the Rebels.” Instead, the paper offered six columns of accurate, forceful prose—and got it to the readers less than thirty-six hours after the fight.

New York throbbed with the usual breakfast-hour bustle on September 19, 1862, apparently undisturbed by the recent Confederate invasion of Northern soil. But when a bunch of newsboys burst from Park Row’s Tribune building, barking “Extra!,” the response revealed the tension on the streets. Weary of newspaper rumors about a great battle in Maryland, New Yorkers crowded about the newsboys, hoping for some real information. They got it. Read more »

The Children Of Gettysburg

The storm broke over their small town and changed their lives forever

Beside [our] little front porch … lay two dead Union soldiers. I had never before seen a dead man, yet I do not recall that I was shocked, so quickly does war brutalize.” Charles McCurdy of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was ten years old in July 1863 when he came upon those corpses.Read more »

The Terrible Price Of Freedom

The bloodiest day’s fighting in our nation’s history took place on ground that has hardly changed since 1862. Antietam today offers a unique chance to grasp what a great Civil War battle was actually like.

During the recent Third Battle of Manassas—the struggle in northern Virginia between a shopping-mall developer and the Manassas National Battlefield Park—I noticed among the flying brickbats a letter to the Washington Post from a William Heyman. Mr. Heyman wanted to see the shopping mall built on ground where the Second Battle of Manassas was fought for what struck me as a novel bit of reasoning. “Battlefields glorify death,” he wrote. “Shopping malls celebrate life.” Read more »

The South’s Inner Civil War

The more fiercely the Confederacy fought for its independence, the more bitterly divided it became. To fully understand the vast changes the war unleashed on the country, you must first understand the plight of the Southerners who didn’t want secession.

Americans tend to think of the Civil War as a titanic struggle between two regions of the country, one united in commitment to the Union, the other equally devoted to its own nationhood. Yet neither North nor South was truly unified. Lincoln was constantly beset by draft resistance, peace sentiment, and resentment of the immense economic changes unleashed by the war. Internal dissent was, if anything, even more widespread in the wartime South.Read more »

God’s Chosen Instrument

In the Republic’s direst hour, he took command. In the black days after Bull Run, he won West Virginia for the Union. He raised a magnificent army and led it forth to meet his “cautious & weak” opponent, Robert E. Lee. Why hasn’t history been kinder to George B. McClellan?

Gen. George B. McClellan possessed a particular talent for dramatic gesture, and on the afternoon of September 14, 1862, at South Mountain in western Maryland, he surpassed himself. Before him on the smoke-wreathed mountaintop, his army was locked in combat with the Confederate enemy. Nearby artillery batteries added their thunder to the roar of musketry, and columns of reinforcements in Federal blue could be seen winding their way up the mountainside.Read more »