This review is much different from others that I have done. While most books that I review on here are typical monographs, where an author is either presenting a history or an argument of some kind, the latest book from the Smithsonian on the Civil War is more of a picture/coffee table book.
That being said, don’t miss it. It is incredible.
The book highlights the best from the Smithsonian’s Civil War collection, as well as short pieces describing the artifacts and what their meaning or significance is to the larger war. I spent some time going through it with my wife the other night, and we were both hooked. It is a very well done book, with a fantastic hard cover exterior and clean, bright pages with great design and amazing photographs. These are high quality pictures of Smithsonian items. It is almost as if you have the item in front of you.
Among the high resolution pictures of Smithsonian items are an image of a shattered tree trunk from Spotsylvania, cut down by musket fire; the masks worn by the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment; the famed painting Grant and his Generals by Ole Peter Hansen Balling; the sword of Union Colonel Strong Vincent, mortally wounded at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863; a uniform coat, pistol, and chess set belonging to George McClellan; and the sword which Sherman wore at Shiloh.
I found these after just a few minutes of flipping through the pages.
The accompanying text is a nice addition, but for me, the artifacts pictured in the book, as well as its nice layout, are enough to make this an awesome addition to my library. Having recently moved in with Alison in our apartment in State College, I set up a few small book shelves in the living room with some nicer books that I like having out. This book is certainly one of them.
The book is a timely reminder of the most compelling artifacts from our nation’s most important war. During the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we need to look back and remember the war in its reality. Seeing dramatic photographs and artifacts such as these bring the war to us in a very real way. If you can’t visit the Smithsonian to see these items, buying the book is a great way to have them with you at home. Jon Meacham’s Forword for the book lays out a case for the importance of the Smithsonian’s Civil War collection, and this book, quite adeptly:
Americans of the twenty-first century need books like this and institutions like the Smithsonian, for without photographic images of the brutally scarred back of a slave or of the dead on battlefields and in trenches that we tend to associate more with the Somme than with our own land, the Civil War risks receding into fable rather than urgent fact.
If you need a Christmas present for the Civil War buff in your life, Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection, is a perfect choice.