With the help of a cast of thousands, including Hyslop (Contest for California: From Spanish Colonization to the American Conquest, 2012, etc.), Kagan—former publisher of Time-Life Books and editor of other Civil War titles (Great Battles of the Civil War, 2002, etc.)—has assembled a striking collection of images with some equally clear words to accompany them. The selections range from the expected to the surprising.
Among the former are entries on Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Clara Barton, George B. McClellan, J.E.B. Stuart and William T. Sherman—and, of course, Abraham and Mary Lincoln. But surprises appear almost everywhere. The pottery of slave David Drake, plaster casts of Lincoln’s hands and face (from 1860), messages scratched inside Lincoln’s watch, the various uniforms worn throughout the conflict, various surgical devices, a recipe (sort of) for hardtack, musical instruments, a lithograph of prisoners playing baseball, a violin carried by a soldier, images of early plans for winged aircraft, the chairs and tables used at Appomattox, the coffee cup Lincoln drank from the night of his assassination, the hoods worn by those convicted of and hanged for Lincoln’s murder, stunning photos of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman—these are among the many delights that await readers. Most grim are the devices and inventions whose functions were to maim and kill: firearms, mortars, the Bowie knife, the accouterments of slavery. There are also plenty of images of the wounded, the dying and the dead. With each turn of the page, there are countless grisly reminders of the things human beings are capable of doing to one another: enslavement, murder, riot, combat, bombing, and on and on.
For the 150th anniversary of the war, 150 lushly illustrated thematic essays about both the objects the various Smithsonian sites hold and the people associated with them.