The Study of Man: The Human Element in History
The Civil War is a theme of unfailing attraction to the American historian; and if the sales of such books as Gone With the Wind and House Divided are an index of popular appeal, it is no less fascinating to the layman. The deaths of the political giants Webster, Calhoun, and Clay after the Compromise of 1850; the spectacle of adolescent America at the mercy of the political mediocrities who dominated the scene in the decade preceding the war; bleeding Kansas and martyred John Brown; the fanaticism of Abolitionists and anti-Abolitionists; the emergence of a national savior in the figure of Lincoln; the whole spectacle of American society turned against itself—all this is drama of irresistible appeal.
For the historian, moreover, the war itself has the advantage of a certain clarity: it was a modern war—almost what we have come to call a “total” war—without yet being a mechanized war. The purely military spectacle of the Civil War and the personalities of its generals—Lee, Sherman, Grant, Jackson—retain the vividness of life, while the still living leaders of the two World Wars are overshadowed by the very instruments they wielded.
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