Finding the right book to read before bedtime is always a little challenging. Knowing that I will read for only a couple minutes before dozing off, I don't want anything long or complicated. Nor do I want to read a book with much of a narrative because taking one and two page bites from a book doesn't do justice to the storytelling or storyteller. But certain books can work well that way.
Currently this has not been the problem as I read n' snooze through The Untold Civil War: Exploring the Human Side of War by James Robertson (and edited by Neil Kagen). The publisher National Geographic graciously provided me a copy in advance of Robertson's visit to the Carter Library & Museum here in Atlanta last month, but Christmas time is a busy time and I missed the event. Robertson is a well respected Civil War historian most noted for his biography of Stonewall Jackson.
This gorgeously printed book (like a National Geographic magazine) is so big and heavy that it wouldn't fit on my nightstand, but that is my only criticism. In between the almost 500 photographs and images, the book contains 132 brief stories about 800 to a 1000 words in length, covering some of the nuances of the Civil War. Even a self-proclaimed Civil War buff such as myself (type in “Civil War” in the blog's search box) has learned many things about The War Between the States that I previously knew little about such as: the mail service, the not-so pleasant aspects of camp life, and the recruitment by the Confederacy (yes, it is true). Robertson and Kagen include anecdotes about the generals (Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Pickett), but important noncombatants as well (Frederick Douglass, Louisa May Alcott, and Julia Ward Howe).
The Untold Civil War is an impressive, mammoth collection of stories, photographs, maps, and quotes. It even includes the musical notation of “Taps” (written during the 1862 Pennisular Campaign) thus making it a worthy addition to any buff's library or nightstand.
Photo credits: Both photos are courtesy of and copyrighted by the National Geographic.The mail wagon photo is an Army of the Potomac's II Corps mail wagon photographed at Brandy Station, Virginia in 1864. The troops shown at the right are the men of Company E, Fourth U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment who fought in Petersburg, the Bermuda Hundred and Forts Fisher and Harrison.