Before it people said “the United States are …” and afterward they said “the United States is . …” The American Revolution determined that the country wouldn’t be British; the Civil War determined what it would be, for better or worse, for all time to come. Its continuing hold over our imagination is confirmed in everything from movies to reenactors—that amazingly large body of people who dress up in scrupulously accurate blue and gray uniforms and squeeze off blank rounds in each other’s faces—to the recent success of James McPherson’s history of the contest, Battle Cry of Freedom .
With that in mind, and with the 125th anniversary of the conflict’s end close at hand, the editors asked McPherson to explore the reasons his book found so large an audience. Around his essay we have fashioned a special issue devoted entirely to the Civil War. Among the features:
The head of the national park that includes Chancellorsville battlefield dissects what is perhaps the most daring piece of generalship in the war.
By all rights, he should have been as famous as Sherman and Grant and Phil Sheridan. But Gen. George Henry Thomas has been slighted in the Union pantheon. Peter Andrews tells us why.
Mum Bett, the slave who sued for freedom two hundred years ago … the ludicrous Union naval disaster at Norfolk … a newly discovered life portrait of Abraham Lincoln … and, because the reverberations of this event are all but limitless, more.