Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Civil War: An Illustrated History

The Civil War: An Illustrated History

Catherine Clinton
For ages 10 and up
Scholastic, 2004   ISBN: 0439531721

The reasons behind what caused the American Civil War are many and the picture of the United States before the war broke out is a complicated and interesting one. Certainly slavery was a key issue; the South wanting to retain the "peculiar institution" and the North for the most part wanting to do away with it. Tied to this was the question of who decided what a state could or could not do. Could the Federal government determine how a state should govern itself? Could a Southern state refuse to pay tariffs on Northern goods?

There were numerous battles before Fort Sumter was fired upon on on April 12 1861. There were fights in the new territories about whether the new lands should be free or not, in other words if slavery should be permitted or not. There was a terrible uprising in Harpers Ferry between soldiers and abolitionists who were led by the famous, or infamous, John Brown. There was even a fight on the floor of one of the Capitol buildings where a Congressman from South Carolina beat up a senator from Massachusetts due a disagreement about the slavery issue.

The tension kept on building over the years, with presidents trying to defuse the situation as best they could. In the end they were merely putting off the inevitable, and it was in the winter of 1860 that the friction that existed between the Northern and the Southern states reached a head. On December 20th South Carolina declared its independence. Then the South Carolinian 'government' decided that they would not allow federal ships to re-supply the federal Fort Sumter which lay on an island in Charleston harbor. For months the two sides negotiated and wrangled with one another. Finally South Carolina informed the troops on Fort Sumter that they would be fired upon if they did not evacuate the fort. The "Union" troops refused to leave and the "Confederates" fired upon them. Thus the American Civil War began.

In this fascinating book the author gives us the whole story of the American Civil War in a chronological form. The events leading up to the war are discussed and then each year that the war lasted is described in detail. There are eye-witness accounts, "Did you Know" fact boxes full of interesting details about the war, and "Point of View" quotes from some of the people who were involved in, or touched by, the war. In addition to the main text there are numerous boxes which contain information on a variety of subjects, many of the topics being more obscure and most interesting.

The book is full of illustrations, maps, and photographs which compliment the text to give us a very in-depth and well rounded picture of the entire war period. This includes the aftermath, with President Lincoln's assassination and the process that came to be known as "The Reconstruction."

An excellent book for both the new-comer to this period in American history and to the reader who already knows a certain amount about the conflict.