Was Gettysburg a tactical success, or was the outcome determined by a far more mundane factor: access to fresh water? How did the need to spread information about the dead and wounded give rise to the U.S. Postal Service? Did President Lincoln really age so dramatically during the course of the war, or was a rare disease to blame for the shocking difference in images of him from before and during the war? From overlooked elements, such as the role of weather, health, and high emotions, to the world-changing effect of the rise of female workers, to the many "firsts" including the introduction of standard time, pre-sized clothing, canned goods, toilets, and Santa Claus, The Untold Civil War reveals new facets of a seemingly well-known slice of American history, just in time to commemorate its 150th anniversary.
Dramatically illustrated with archival images and objects and compelling contemporary photography, this book delivers a surprise on every page: from precious personal mementos to forgotten battle sites; from newly recovered glass-plate negatives that reveal long-obscured photographic details to long-lost documents; this book adds a new dimension to our understanding of the Civil War and is a must-have for anyone with an interest in American history.
Six thematic chapters—such as "Characters," "Connections," and "A War of Firsts"—present a short introductory essay followed by approximately 30 self-contained stories that detail surprising, little-known, and fresh aspects of the war. Themes both large and small will be explored and contextualized, painting a fascinating portrait of our national character and showcasing the enduring impact of the Civil War.
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About the Author
Neil Kagan heads Kagan & Associates, a firm specializing in innovative illustrated books. During his career at Time-Life Books as Publisher-Managing Editor and Director of New Product Development, he spearheaded multiple historic series. For National Geographic he has produced Eyewitness to the Civil War and Atlas of the Civil War.
Read an Excerpt
One of the most lasting contributions Civil War to American life is the simple melody that remains our most famous bugle call.
The time was July 1862. The place: the Virginia Peninsula in the aftermath of George McClellan’s failed offensive against Richmond. Two Union soldiers of different rank were the only actors in the drama.
The first was Gen. Daniel Butterfield, a 30-year-old brigade commander with a heavy, drooping mustache. Butterfield was a New York attorney and an executive with the American Express Company when the war began. Despite a lack of military training, he entered service as colonel of a militia regiment and was promoted to brigadier in late 1861. Gallant action on the Peninsula brought Butterfield a wound, elevation to major general, and eventually the Medal of Honor.
The other participant was Butterfield’s brigade bugler. Pvt. Oliver Norton was from northwestern Pennsylvania. He too was a valiant soldier who had been wounded in the recently concluded campaign. Ultimately, Norton would gain an officer’s commission.
At that time, two bugle calls ended the activities. The first, “Tattoo,” summoned the men for roll call. A half hour or so later came the second call, signaling soldiers to extinguish lights in camp and cease all loud conversations and other noises.
Butterfield, a man with a good ear for music, disliked that second melody. “It did not seem to be as smooth, melodious, and musical as it should be,” he stated. A better tune, he felt, would instill in men a sense of peace at the end of the day and put them at rest.
One afternoon in the war’s second summer, the recuperating general summoned the recuperating bugler. Butterfield whistled a tune and asked Norton to play it. Neither man was pleased with the initial effort, but after repeated trials and refinements general and bugler completed the composition to their mutual satisfaction.
Butterfield ordered the new tune substituted at once in his camp for the original melody used to signal lights-out. That night the haunting strains of the bugle call drifted across the land for the first time.
The following morning, buglers from nearby brigades came to inquire about the new song. They copied the music, returned to their camps, and used it at day’s end. Soon the tune was standard throughout the Army of the Potomac. When two corps from that army went west the following year, they took the melody with them. The bugle call known as “Taps” was readily adopted by the postwar U.S. Army and was played at camps as far away as Hawaii and the Philippines by the time the 19th century ended.
The tune is short and simple. It still sounds the end of the day. Yet it serves another purpose as well. Whenever someone is buried with military honors, the bugle notes of “Taps” form the climax of the service. Occasionally some sing the words: “Day is done, gone the sun / From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky / All is well, safely rest / God is nigh.”
Bugler Oliver Norton wrote late in his life: “There is some- thing singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its notes have ceased to float through the air.”
“Taps” is as immortal as the memory of those it honors.
What People are Saying About This
"The book … is a beauty and should make any recipient very happy. Although large, it isn’t one of those cumbersome coffee-table books but rather the right size to properly display a great selection of photographs." The Washington Post
Civil War Q&A with James Robertson
Author of The Untold Civil War: Exploring the Human Side of War
You've been telling stories about the Civil War for a long time. What types of stories do you find have the most resonance with your audiences?
The best stories touch the heart. Too much of modern life stresses percentages, statistics, and raw facts. History is most appealing when it underscores human experiences and their accompanying emotions. You can never understand the Civil War unless you comprehend the deep emotions of that time.
In your book, The Untold Civil War, we see that a lot of critical changes in American society were forged in the crucible of war. Can you describe a few that you see as the most significant?
Among the greatest changes triggered by the crucible of war were an end to slavery, the sharp rise in equality for women, the impetus of the Industrial Revolution, and the firm establishment of a central government for the reunited states.
In the course of selecting and preparing the stories for the radio programs and this book, what surprised you? Was anything "untold" in your eyes?
The Civil War was the largest event in the nation's history. Three million men served in the armies, which was a sizable portion of the population. Since the war was fought inside America, the respective home fronts played vital roles. Involvement was widespread and unusual. Searching for the "little known" was sometimes easy but always fascinating.
Who do you consider to be the most interesting character from this period of history? Abraham Lincoln's spirit looms over this nation. His is the story of a poor boy who clawed his way to the very top, led the country through its fiercest ordeal, and suffered a martyr's death. Many consider him the greatest of all Americans. I also find Robert E. Lee an extraordinary figure. His lifetime of devotion to duty to family and country remains inspiring.
Why does the Civil War loom so large in American memory?
The America we know was born in 1865. More Americans died in that struggle than in all of our other wars combined. No other period in national history contains more unforgettable figures. Preserved battlefields are like magnets, attracting tourists of all ages to see where, and how, men fought and died to give us the country we so often take for granted.
After 50 years of study, what most fascinates you about this period of American history?
What most fascinates me about Civil War history are the common folk of that time. Living in an age when medicine and other fruits of life were still in the Dark Ages, facing one adversity after another, those generations of the 1860s weathered an incomparable storm with such fortitude and endurance that, 150 years later, we still marvel at what they gainedand lost.
In 150 years, how will we remember the Civil War?
Like all historical periods, the Civil War will slowly recede into the grayness of the past. Yet the very existence of a nation of united states will keep that war alive for as long as America still breathes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very nice book. Would be a great gift for a Civil War enthusiast. Pictures and stories are nicely done.