REVIEW: Exploring the American Civil War through 50 Historic Treasures (2021)

A Book by Julie L. Holcomb

It’s been a few months since I went on my whirlwind tour of Missouri and Kansas Civil War sites, but I just knew I hadn’t left it behind all year! It was such a big part of my 2021, I still have so many books and other items to go through. I had this book in my list and realized I hadn’t cracked it open as of yet, which is a shame because it was an awesome book. BBC used to have a number of podcasts like this, chronicling a series of historic artefacts and their significance. Usually, they would go for obscure pieces, which was always cool for me because certain popular items are too played out. This book is very similar, because it was refreshing right from the get-go. Rather than show us things like endless Gettysburg Hats or something (I can’t think of a boring Civil War artifact, oh well lol), we got items from the early 1800s regarding slavery, items from Indian Wars and interactions, and artifacts from the Trans-Mississippi theater of the war. These were all items I was not expecting to see.

“Exploring the American Civil War through 50 Historic Treasures brings together historic objects, documents, artwork, and the natural and built environments to tell the full story of this important event in American history. The American Civil War still matters. It matters because the war ¾ its causes and its consequences ¾ continue to influence America as a nation. At its core, the Civil War was about slavery. Began as a fight to secure the future of slavery, the Civil War resulted instead in the abolition of slavery. The complex racial issues at its core, however, remain with us today.”

The book is split into chapters, and under each are a handful of items with a few pages of description for each. The items are shown in full color photographs, and everything is captioned and footnoted well. As the title suggests, there are 50 items in total, and these are spread across the entire expanse of the conflict. The fact that most of the items were pieces of artwork, literature, diaries, and even seemingly mundane things like product labels made the stories that much more interesting. For example, a label from a cotton bundle from a Quaker abolitionist group that advocated for people to not purchase slave products. Almost like the “made in USA” tag of its day, the labels were to show that the people creating the product were compensated for their work. This item would likely never be mentioned in other Civil War books, but none can argue it’s significance on showing the Quaker viewpoint on slavery.

As stated, I was glad the author discussed the significance of ALL parts of the Civil War and not just the handful of major battles we always hear about. You can tell the book was curated with the goal of showing the reader a full view of the socio-political status of the United States during the time, versus just highlighting cool guns or bullets.

If you are looking for an easily digestible, somewhat less dense Civil War book that packs every bit of the punch of those huge, dry books most stay away from, do yourself a favor and take a look at this. You could make it a nightly regime to read a chapter and slowly work your way through each item. I’ve done that with a few other “list” books like this, and it makes reading them very fun. It’s not a typical Civil War book due to it’s multi-faceted view of the war from other viewpoints including the Homefront and other unlikely sources, and will likely ruffle a few feathers because it gives slavery the importance it deserves when talking about the topic. This was a big surprise for me, and I loved it!

If you are interested in this book, click HERE

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

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