The Civil War is a perennial staple for publishers of war and military titles and, with the 150th anniversary of the start of that war occurring in April, publishers are gearing up to offer even more books on the topic.
After 150 years the Civil War still holds a central place in our history and national self-understanding," says Library of America publisher Max Rudin. "It's our greatest national drama—our Iliad, but also our Bible, a story of sin and judgment, suffering and despair, death and resurrection in ‘a new birth of freedom.' "
In 1990, Ken Burns's nine-week PBS series The Civil War attracted 40 million viewers and was honored with more than 40 film and TV awards; it will be rerun beginning in April. And in March, Knopf will reissue its companion volume to the series, The Civil War: An Illustrated History. The title sold 1,131,000 copies—more than 800,000 of those in hardcover—during its first go-round.
Also coming from Knopf is a new title, 1861: The Civil War Awakening (Apr.), which is slated for a 35,000-copy first print. Author Adam Goodheart has been blogging for the "Disunion" blog on the New York Times Web site (opinionator
.blogs.nytimes.com/category/disunion/) since fall 2010. There, his posts and those of the other bloggers routinely elicit dozens, sometimes hundreds, of responses—an additional indicator of this topic's significant market.
A Serious Commitment
Indeed, interest in the Civil War is running so high that two publishers, Oxford University Press and Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, are publishing four new titles apiece to mark the sesquicentennial of the start of the conflict.
Timothy Bent, Oxford executive editor, trade, says that the interest in this particular war "seems an expression of the recognition that the Civil War truly was the crucible of the American identity." The publisher already has 10 backlist titles on the subject (including four by James M. McPherson, among them Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1989). One of the OUP quartet is The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union by John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood (Mar.). Bent asserts, "Of course there will be new books on Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation. But there will also be some surprises"—like this look at the first two weeks after the fall of Sumter, when it was widely believed that the capital would fall to the Confederacy. In The Dogs of War: 1861 (Apr.), Emory M. Thomas examines misunderstandings on both sides of the conflict, including the belief that the war would end quickly. Also new from Oxford are The Civil War: A Concise History by Louis P. Masur (Jan.) and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Civil War by William L. Barney (June).
Steve Culpepper, executive director of editorial at Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, says, "Why is the Civil War so fascinating to us? Well, for one, it's our very own war, ours and ours only. And the land where this all happened isn't in old Europe or the South Pacific—it's right under our feet and all around us. We can't get away from the Civil War, and we won't."
Generals South, Generals North: The Commanders of the Civil War Reconsidered by Alan Axelrod (Lyons, Mar.) highlights 24 figures. Explains Culpepper, "Each general is ranked with a movie review–like one- to four-star rating, ranking them from ‘a losing commander' to ‘a standout commander.' It's not a gimmick, however. The rankings are the result of the author's assessment of each general's reputation at the time, his impact on the war, and the opinions of today's Civil War historians and researchers."
According to Culpepper, The Big Book of Civil War Sites: From Fort Sumter to Appomattox, a Visitor's Guide to the History, Personalities, and Places of America's Battlefields, edited by Cynthia Parzych (Globe Pequot, Feb.), is "a literal road map of the war," complete with hotel and restaurant recommendations. Also in the pipeline are Brady's Civil War: A Collection of Civil War Images Photographed by Matthew Brady and His Assistants by Webb Garrison (Lyons, Mar.) and The Civil War 150: An Essential To-Do List for the 150th Anniversary by the Civil War Trust (Lyons, May.
An Ambitious Project
Library of America associate publisher Brian McCarthy calls The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It, "perhaps the most ambitious project in our 30-year history." Edited by Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, the work—which went on sale February 3—is the first volume in a four-volume series, published with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Four years in the making, it offers first-person narratives of the war years drawn from diaries, letters, speeches, newspaper articles, and other sources. In the February/March issue of Bookforum, Pulitzer Prize–winner Daniel Walker Howe wrote, "The emphasis on primary sources goes a long way toward answering questions that posterity has debated about the Civil War during the past 150 years."