Friday, January 27, 2012

An interview with Stephen W. Sears about 1862 and America’s “path to emancipation”

Stephen W. Sears, historian and author of Gettysburg, recently spoke with us about The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived it, which he edited for The Library of America. The books, which shipped from the printer today, will arrive in the LOA warehouse early next week and will be available in bookstores in March.
What about the Civil War year 1862 do you think is especially interesting and important? Did this period pose any special/particular challenges for you as editor?

Militarily, 1862 was a roller coaster year, with the fortunes of North and South rising and falling from one battlefield to the next. What was a rebellion becomes a full-fledged war, but fortunately for those of us who try to chronicle it, Civil War soldiers were the most literate of any war up to that time. Not only generals but rear-rank privates put pen to paper.

What were your main criteria in choosing pieces for the book?

Only participants or eyewitnesses are represented here, in whatever format they selected—letters to home folks, soldier or civilian diaries, memoirs, state papers and correspondence, and the like, taken from published and in some cases unpublished sources.

As a leading Civil War historian, you’ve spent many decades with this subject. Did you make any discoveries or gain any new perspectives from your work on this book?

A core theme of 1862 is, of course, the path to emancipation. In assembling these documents and fitting them into the context of events, I gained a new respect for the way Lincoln wove his way through thickets of complexity and opposition to achieve his goal.

Do you have a favorite author or piece?

My personal favorite of all these pieces is the letter of Emily Dickinson’s treatment of the soldier’s death of a hometown boy she had known. The latest research suggests three-quarters of a million deaths in the Civil War. This commemorates one of them, memorably.

1 comment:

  1. My personal favorite of all these pieces is the letter of Emily Dickinson’s treatment of the soldier’s death of a hometown boy she had known.

    Does anyone have a hyperlink to this document? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete

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