The Civil War in 50 Objects

Harold Holzer and the New-York Historical Society. Viking, $36 (416p) ISBN 978-0-670-01463-7
Lincoln scholar Holzer and the New-York Historical Society scour the museum's archives to fashion an object-oriented Civil War history. Presented in chronological order, the objects serve as a means for Holzer to discuss the history of the war: he begins with "bilboes", shackles for child slaves, and moves to paintings, newspapers, buttons, and flag fragments. The most interesting moments arise when Holzer opens up little-known parts of history. The draft riots of 1863 are represented by the tumbler used to draw names for military service and a burnt Bible recovered from the ashes of an orphanage. There is a ticket to one of many fund-raisers for those injured in battle. On the whole, the objects are somewhat obvious: a drum, leaves from Lincoln's funeral, diary entries and letters. As a focal point, the book uses New York's fickle role in the war—the city tried to secede alongside the South before reluctantly siding with the Union—and offers a fresh take on a well-trod topic. However, most of these objects relate stories we already know and Holzer's short accompanying bios provide little new insight; it will be welcomed in classrooms and by those who know only the basics of the war. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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