“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” an ancient writer tells us.  In a sense, words inflamed the country and, in 1861, flared up into Civil War.

Like a good interviewer, Bob Blaisdell quotes many people in The Civil War:  A Book of Quotations.  The characters range from famous to common folk, and we encounter the intensity of those days through their eyes.

The quotations allow us to get at the personalities, the humanity, and the complexity of the whole affair.  Blaisdell aptly places the quotes within summaries of each stage of the war.

Changing opinions

Some characters had mistaken judgment, and others changed their minds.  For example, Robert Toombs advised Georgians (on December 24, 1860) that a vote for secession “will be your best guarantee for liberty, security, tranquility, and glory.”

Republican Senator William H. Seward said on January 12, 1861, before the war began, “I do not know what the Union would be worth if saved by the use of the sword.”   Seward and other Republicans drastically “changed their tune” after the first cannonballs smashed into Fort Sumter.

The nature of war

This book invites questions about the nature of the war.  For example, President Lincoln said, in the midst of a bloody campaign:

We accepted this war for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained.  Under God, I hope it never will until that time.

Three days later, on June 19, 1864, Mrs. Sarah Butler, wife of Union General Benjamin Butler, wrote her husband:

What is all this struggling and fighting for?  This ruin and death to thousands of families?  … What advancement of mankind to compensate for the present horrible calamities?

My recommendation

This book helped me look at the Civil War in a fresh way, and it stimulated my thinking.  I highly recommend The Civil War:  A Book of Quotations.  It has a little something for everyone.

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