Library Notes: Studying the American Civil War
Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2022
By Paul Birkhead
Rowan Public Library
I have been fascinated by the American Civil War since I was a young boy. I grew up in Florida and checked out my elementary school library’s copy of “The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War” more times than I can count. Something about the maps inside drew me in as I tracked the movements of blue and gray troops across the illustrated landscapes of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. Today, I still enjoy studying aspects of the Civil War and am fortunate to have so many resources available to me courtesy of Rowan Public Library.
Thousands of books are written about the American Civil War each year. You might think there would a shortage of new topics to discuss or argue, but there always seems to be another perspective or subject to focus on. A few titles that have been added to Rowan Public Library’s collection in the past year or two include: “Exploring the American Civil War Through 50 Historic Treasures” by Julie L. Holcomb is a newer title in the Exploring American Historic Treasures series. The complex story of the Civil War and its participants is told through carefully selected artifacts, documents and artwork.
“An Environmental History of the Civil War” by Judkin Browning gives insight on a fresh topic: the Civil War’s impact on Americans and the surrounding natural world. Weather, topography and animals not only influenced individual battles and perhaps the entire outcome of the war, but the understanding of those subjects was also affected. In fact, some influences from the war continue to be felt today in the study of weather, animal care, and cartography.
“A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War” by James P. Byrd examines the relationship between the Bible and participants on both sides of the conflict. With North and South each claiming God and the Bible were on their side, soldiers and citizens used scripture for warmongering, justification, inspiration and comfort.
“Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln’s Vital Rival” by Walter Stahr is one of the newest biographies of a member of Abraham Lincoln’s inner circle. Salmon P. Chase was an American abolitionist and politician who helped established the Republican Party but was passed over being nominated to represent them in 1860. The party’s nominee, Lincoln, respected Chase and asked him to serve as his secretary of the treasury. Chase’s talents ensured the Union stayed financially solvent during the first four years of the Civil War before he eventually resigned. Lincoln then nominated Chase to fill a Supreme Court Chief Justice vacancy because he knew Chase would make sound decisions regarding economic and racial issues that were sure to come before the court during Reconstruction.
These books and others have added to my understanding of the American Civil War. Until I reached adulthood, I could rattle off statistics of famous battles, but knew very little about the horrors of Civil War prisons. Who could have guessed that I would come to work for a library just blocks away from one of the deadliest prisons for Union captives — Salisbury Prison. If you are interested in learning more about this piece of Civil War history in our back yard, check out “The Salisbury Prison: A Case Study of Confederate Military Prisons, 1861-1865” by Louis A. Brown or “Junius and Albert’s Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey” by Peter Carlson.
Due to the prison’s location in the heart of Salisbury with its numerous burial trenches nearby, the Federal Government established a National Cemetery on the site shortly after the end of the war. In subsequent years, monuments were dedicated to soldiers from Maine and Pennsylvania as well as a large obelisk to honor the large number of unknown soldiers interred there.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, at 10 a.m., join me as Rowan Public Library hosts a photowalk at the Historic National Cemetery at 202 Government Road in Salisbury. This free program lasts an hour and includes walking the beautiful grounds together, taking photos and learning basic photography principles. Registration is requested. Visit the registration link at bit.ly/Photowalk-NationalCemetery.
Paul Birkhead is a librarian at the Rowan Public Library.