Book Review: American Civil War: The Essential Reference Guide


by James R. Arnold & Roberta Wiener, editors

Santa Barbara, Ca. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Pp. xxii, 432. Illus., maps, documents, append., biblio. $85.00. ISBN: 1598849050

American Civil War: The Essential Reference Guide is a useful new work from two scholars who have written several introductory works on the Civil War, among them Divided in Two: The Road to Civil War, 1861 and Lost Cause: The End of the Civil War, 1864-1865.

Reference books come in all shapes and sizes, from folio size atlases to smaller, thicker volumes.  This one comes in a very handy textbook size, which will make it ideal for high school and college libraries.  The book is well organized.  It begins with three short essays by Steven Woodworth; the first is a very quick overview of the war itself, followed by one on the causes of the war, and one on its consequences.  The main section consists of reference entries in alphabetical order dealing mostly with people and events.  There are also a number of more topical entries, such as infantry combat, prisoners of war, medicine, and so on. 

The entries on people are confined to only the most top level figures on each side.  Thus one will not see any entries on Richard Ewell or Winfield Hancock.  The entries themselves are good, although there are a few errors.  The essay on James Longstreet, for example, implies that he became Robert E. Lee’s senior subordinate only after the death of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, when in fact Longstreet had always been Lee’s second in command.  Such errors, however, are relatively few in number.  Each entry is also accompanied by some suggestions for additional reading.

The final section of the book consists of a number of original documents.  These include Frederick Douglass’ essay on what the 4th of July means to a slave, South Carolina’s ordinance of secession, Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address, and, of course, the Gettysburg Address.  Each document has a short introduction to provide context.  Finally, the book has a timeline covering the course of the Civil War, and an extensive bibliography.  The book is also adorned with a number of maps and lots of photographs. 

Like most reference works, this one will not be of special impotance for established scholars and students of the war.  For the novice or those seeking an introduction to the Civil War, which amounts to most students in American secondary and university education, however, this will be a most valuable aid.


Our Reviewer:   Richard L. DiNardo, who teaches at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, in Quantico, is the author or editor of several works in military history, among them Breakthrough: The Gorlice-Tarnow Campaign, 1915,Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse, andJames Longstreet: The Man, The Soldier, The Controversy.

Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo   

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