'The Real War Will Never Get in the Books'

'The Real War Will Never Get in the Books' : Selections from Writers During the Civil War

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"These thousands, and tens and twenties of thousands of American young men, badly wounded, all sorts of wounds, operated on, pallid with diarrhea, languishing, dying with fever, pneumonia, &c. open a new world somehow to me, giving closer insights, new things, exploring deeper mines than any yet, showing our humanity, (I sometimes put myself in fancy in the cot, with typhoid, or under the knife, ) tried by terrible, fearfulest tests, probed deepest, the living soul's, the body's tragedies, bursting the petty bounds of art." So wrote Walt Whitman in March of 1863, in a letter telling friends in New York what he had witnessed in Washington's war hospitals. In this, we see both a description of war's ravages and a major artist's imaginative response to the horrors of war as it "bursts the petty bounds of art." In ..".the real war will never get in the books", Louis Masur has brought together fourteen of the most eloquent and articulate writers of the Civil War period, including such major literary figures as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Henry Adams, and Louisa May Alcott. Drawing on a wide range of material, including diaries, letters, and essays, Masur captures the reactions of these writers as the war was waged, providing a broad spectrum of views. Emerson, for instance, sees the war "come as a frosty October, which shall restore intellectual & moral power to these languid & dissipated populations." African-American writer Charlotte Forten writes sadly of the slaughter at Fort Wagner: "It seems very, very hard that the best and noblest must be the earliest called away. Especially has it been so throughout this dreadful war." There are writings by soldiers in combat. John Esten Cooke, a writer of popular pre-Revolutionary romances serving as a Confederate soldier under J.E.B. Stuart, describes Stonewall Jackson's uniform: "It was positively scorched by sun--had that dingy hue, the product of sun and rain, and contact with the ground...but the men of the old Stonewall Brigade loved that coat." And John De Forest, a Union officer, describes facing a Confederate volley: "It was a long rattle like that which a boy makes in running with a stick along a picket-fence, only vastly louder; and at the same time the sharp, quiet whit-whit of bullets chippered close to our ears." And along the way, we sample many vivid portraits of the era, perhaps the most surprising of which is Louisa May Alcott's explanation of why she preferred her noon-to-midnight schedule in a Washington hospital: "I like it as it leaves me time for a morning run which is what I need to keep well....I trot up & down the streets in all directions, some times to the Heights, then half way to Washington, again to the hill over which the long trains of army wagons are constantly vanishing & ambulances appearing. That way the fighting lies, & I long to follow." With unmatched intimacy and immediacy, ..".the real war will never get in the books" illuminates the often painful intellectual and emotional efforts of fourteen accomplished writers as they come to grips with "The American Apocalypse."show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 320 pages
  • 126 x 202 x 20mm | 358.34g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones
  • 0195098374
  • 9780195098372

Review quote

"This book is a welcome addition to my list of Civil War volumes. It provides students with the perspectives of participant observers. It will be part of the required reading for my Civil War course."--Gregory B. Padgett, Ph.D., Eckerd College"This is an excellent and eclectic collection of important perspectives on the Civil War. The editor has achieved a careful balance in the tone and content of the works included in this very useful volume."--Professor Kenneth M. Startup, Williams Baptist College"Readers with a genuine interest in the Civil War have already made this title something of a bestseller. It adds a new dimension to a familiar story, gives new insight into well-known thinkers, and introduces a few who are less famous."--KLIATT"An excellent contribution to Civil War literature...Helps to evoke that rare fullness that historians have been trying to create for over a century. His careful selection of writers and perceptive use of literary analysis will provide historians of the Civil War with new points of departure."--The Civil War News"An illuminating sampling of the Civil War writings of 14 of the most respected and influential literary artists of that period...By including selections from a racial, regional, and sexual cross section of the Civil War population, Masur has attempted to provide a balanced overview of a crucial point in America history. Since this anthology is limited exclusively to writings penned during the course of the Civil War, the reader is treated to intimate and immediate impressions of that schismatic conflict. Highly recommended."--Booklist"In this handy volume, Masur brings together the wartime prose and poetry of several prominent authors to set forth a literary dimension to the American Civil War. Excerpts of letters, articles, diary entries, and poems from figures ranging from Henry Adams, Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, and William Gilmore Simms to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Walt Whitman reveal that writers did set down their thoughts abut the war....Makes available to a wide audience some of the best contemporary writing about the conflict."--Library Journal"Louis Masur does us a real service in compiling this collection, which takes us backstage into the more or less private lives of fourteen major writers of the Civil War period. Sections from their diaries, letters, and occasional essays go far toward explaining why so little creative work got done by most of them, tossed about as they were by what Hawthorne called 'the hurricane that is sweeping us...into a Limbo where our nation and its polity may be as literally the fragments of a shattered dream as my unwritten Romance.' I for one am thankful for having all this rich amterial gathered at last within easy reach."--Shelby Foote, author of The Civil War: A Narrative"Louis Masur's anthology illuminates the 'real' Civil War as perceived by fourteen sensitive and gifted writers, some of them neglected or forgotten, who observed it close at hand or from the domestic front. His discriminating selections and concise introductions give this engrossing book a special distinction."--Daniel Aaron, author of The Unwritten War: American Writers & the Civil War"We see the war intimately and with a degree of startling, sometimes shocking, immediacy that is not found in historical texts...A valuable literary assessment...Distinctive, honest, personal, and eminently readable."--United Methodist Reportershow more

About Louis P. Masur

Louis Masur is Associate Professor of History at City College of New York. He is the author of Rites of Execution: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, 1776-1865 (Oxford, 1989).show more

Rating details

21 ratings
3.8 out of 5 stars
5 19% (4)
4 52% (11)
3 24% (5)
2 0% (0)
1 5% (1)
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