Widmer, a Brown University historian, is joined by New York Times op-ed staff editors Risen and Kalogerakis in the masterful compilation of more than 100 short essays based on the award-winning Times Disunion blog (begun in 2010), which chronologically traces and reconsiders the War between the States, an event he believes still remains “a ghostly presence in American life.”
The collection sequentially launches with the secession crisis and moves through the Emancipation Proclamation, and the offerings are wonderfully multifarious. History scholar Louis Masur’s insightful essay factors Lincoln’s presidential election into the fray as deftly as Susan Schulten ably explores the war from a geographical perspective. War historian Adam Goodheart’s contributions are consistent standouts and include a rich sketch of Harriet Tubman and pensive words about slaves at Christmastime. William Freehling considers the secession’s impact through Confederate Gen. George Wythe Randolph’s eyes, journalist Cate Lineberry offers an outstanding profile of Confederate spy Rose Greenhow and a jarring piece on juvenile soldiers, and military historian C. Kay Larson provides an article on the oft-overlooked presence of female wartime volunteers. Uniform in tone and thought-provoking content, the articles are supplemented by actual diary entries, artifact images, letters, pertinent cartography, photographs and poetry. The mood of the era is captured best through Carole Emberton’s harrowingly detailed commentary on the scourge of war-borne smallpox, Terry L. Jones’ deliberation on black militiamen and Widmer’s own examination of Lincoln’s portraiture, carefully manipulated “to give the Union a face—his own.” Each of the assembled scholars, historians, academics and journalists crafts unique insights and viewpoints and through their collective dialogue, artistically contemplates the heft and enduring relevance of the Civil War.
American history meets the “snap, crackle and pop of lively online writing” in this outstanding serialization.