The aim of this book is to tell the story of the American Civil War through the voices of the participants and their relatives, using sources that were intended for use at the time - letters, speeches, newspaper articles - or that were private such as diaries - rather than post-war memoirs, often written with a different audience in mind or to justify someone's wartime performance. The aim is to filter out that post-war distortion and get back as close as possible to people's genuine feeling at the time.
This is an ambitious project, and there isn't enough space to cover every aspect of the fighting. Instead the narrative focuses on the fighting in Virginia, with other theatres given much less space. I can understand this decision - it gives Ural the space to include sizable sections on the home front, North and South, and an interesting chapter on the assassination of President Lincoln and its aftermath.
One major absence is Sherman's march across the heart of the Confederacy, to Atlanta and then to the sea. This campaign extended the fighting into areas that had believed themselves to be safe, and it would have been interesting to see how both sides reacted to that expansion of the war.
The first chapter, looking at the build-up to secession and the start of the fighting in 1861, helps demolish any idea that the war wasn't fought over slavery. Abolition may not have been the United States' official war aims at first, but it was very clear that the defence of slavery and the unwillingness to compromise over it was at the heart of the secession movement. That isn't to say that every southerner fought for that reason - it is also very clear that many simply felt more loyal to their state than to their country, but it was the motivation for the original leaders of secession.
This is an interesting read, giving us a different view of the American Civil War - a compelling read that paints a more in-depth picture of the impact of the war on its participants and their families, and their very different perspectives on their role in the war.
1 - Preparing for a war to the death
2 - A war for Union and Freedom
3 - Yet another season of war
4 - The war's darkest hour
5 - The final act
Author: Susannah J. Ural