1863 by Joseph E. Stevens


The Rebirth of a Nation
Email this review


A highly accessible chronicling of the Civil War’s pivotal year. Prize-winning historian Stevens (Hoover Dam: An American Adventure, not reviewed) presents the important political and military developments of 1863, a year that crippled the Confederacy’s hopes for national independence. In January, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enabling the Union to seize the war’s moral high ground. With one stroke of the pen, Lincoln rendered the Confederacy an international pariah. On the battlefield, the Union began asserting its industrial and numerical superiority. In Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, Lincoln finally found commanders who would wage a relentless war of attrition, attacking the enemy and bleeding it (and themselves) dry. During his long siege of Vicksburg, Grant’s army dug miles of trenches, blazed away with heavy artillery, and waited for the starving city to surrender. On July 4, the Confederates raised the white flag over Vicksburg, giving Union forces complete control of the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee marched north into Pennsylvania, hoping to surprise the Union army. At Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War resulted in a second major Union victory. Lee’s battered army crawled back into Virginia. In just one disastrous week, the Confederacy had been split in half and its army beaten back to the suburbs of Richmond. While Stevens provides an excellent analysis of battlefield tactics, he’s less effective on the political front. Considering the plethora of Lincoln scholarship, Stevens’s portrait of the president lacks nuance and depth. We never sense Lincoln’s brilliant navigation between idealism and practical politics. Yet Stevens must be commended for including informative, colorful vignettes of Walt Whitman, Andrew Carnegie, Louisa May Alcott, and John D. Rockefeller. Throughout, the prose is simple and easily digested. A solid, largely successful history of 1863 aimed at the general reader. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 13th, 1999
ISBN: 0-553-10314-8
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999