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Hearts Touched by Fire: The Best of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

edited by Harold Holzer, Modern Library, 2011, $38

BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL War, first published in 1888, is the most valuable collection of firsthand accounts ever compiled on the Civil War. Every important battle and campaign was the subject of multiple articles, and narratives came from commanders, lower-ranking officers and occasionally common soldiers. Naval engagements and amphibious operations also received due attention, as did many lesser-known episodes.

Selecting the best articles from the original four-volume work, writes editor Harold Holzer, involved choices that “were not always easy or obvious.” To assist him, Holzer recruited five leading Civil War historians, who each selected content for one year of the war and wrote an introduction. The most useful introductions are to 1861 and 1862, which integrate historical overviews with commentary on articles and their authors. Those for 1863-65 are limited to summary narratives of key events.

For the most part, the editors chose articles that well represent the crucial actions of each year. The exception is 1862, for which there are three articles on Shiloh, two on the construction of the USS Monitor, but no articles on the Battles of Perryville or Stones River, or (excepting 10 pages in George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign essay), the Seven Days’ Campaign.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, Hearts Touched by Fire offers general readers a good starting point for a deeper study of the Civil War.


Originally published in the July 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here