Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Book Review: The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865

Stephen B. Oates, an author and teacher at the University of Massachusetts, portrays the Civil War from a very unique prospective, that of the first person. In The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865, he has taken people such as Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and Mary Chesnut, and has them tell the story of the Civil War from their own viewpoints.

The story begins with the attack on Fort Sumter (Charleston, South Carolina) and Lincoln’s reaction, labeling the Confederate States of America “so-called” and the Rebels “insurgents.” Robert E. Lee mentions both being offered the command of the entire Union war effort and his resignation. The reader is introduced to Mary Livermore, who would spend her time in the US Sanitary Commission, helping the soldiers. Jefferson Davis begins his narrative by calling Lincoln a “usurper” who wanted to force changes on the South with the point of a bayonet. The reader is also introduced to William T Sherman at the First Battle of Bull Run, being portrayed as a profane individual who had no use for “political generals” as well as African-Americans, this leading to the idea that Sherman was racist. Mary Chesnut tells of her social calls on the Davis’ in Richmond, Virginia as well as the time spent on the plantation in South Carolina. Ulysses S. Grant tells his story from when he commanded Union troops at Cairo, Illinois, through the Fort Henry and Donaldson campaigns.
The reader will also hear from Frederick Douglass, a former slave turned abolitionist, telling his frustration over what is seemed to be a slow movement by Lincoln to his point of view.

The book is arranged by the years of the Civil War, meaning that other characters will come in later, such as Cornelia Hancock and her nursing career from the camp hospitals at Gettysburg to the City Point, Virginia hospital, taking care of wounded Union troops until they were able to be transported north. Also appearing late in the book is John Wilkes Booth, who tells of his support for the Southern cause and the feelings that drove him to assassinate Lincoln, describing the assassination itself. Throughout the book, the war is brought out in great detail with the battles, the political dealings, the effort to secure rights for freed slaves, as well as the effort to comfort those at the front and in the hospital. The reader will see Lincoln’s struggle with McClellan, Sherman’s hatred of the press, Davis’ effort to keep things going despite internal struggles and personal illness, Lee’s struggle to keep his army together, Douglass’ growing respect for Lincoln, Grant’s elevation to command of all Union armies, Booth’s seething hatred and careful plotting, and the pride and anguish in Chesnut, Hancock, and Livermore. The last “voice” the reader hears is that of poet Walt Whitman, describing the assassination of Lincoln and its aftermath. This book is written in the style of a previous book, The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm 1820-1861, and a later book, The Aftermath of Fury, Voices of the Storm 1865-1877.

The Whirlwind of War is an excellent view of the Civil War and a book that I would recommend to others.

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