Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Civil War: Strange & Fascinating Facts" by Burke Davis

Despite the title, these strange and fascinating facts may interest Civil War buffs, and not many others.

Davis, the author of several history books, takes the little stories and factoids he has collected in research and put them all here in small episodes. To appreciate the value of these stories, the reader should have more than a passing knowledge of the Civil War. Many names, dates, battles, and the like are tossed around by an author who knows his subject, and requires his readers to know some, too.

The stories here are very entertaining, covering subjects as varied as can be imagined. The Civil War was full of "firsts." Firsts include: successful submarine, hospital ships, tobacco and cigarette taxes, and presidential assassination. The book also mentions Confederate States president Jefferson Davis more than Abraham Lincoln, possibly because Davis is barely a footnote in high school history books today. Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses Grant, and Robert E. Lee are also profiled. One entertaining chapter debunks many myths surrounding Grant's drunken war behavior.

Davis also gets serious, writing about widespread venereal disease on both sides, and the atrocities committed on civilians, which was evident on both sides as well.

Davis' book was published in 1960, and once again the publishers have decided to reprint the book many times without updating it. Davis mentions the upcoming centennial of the war, and mentions descendants of the major figures of the war and what they are doing today, or at least today forty years ago. Another drawback here is the lack of an index, leaving a serious researcher to have to skim the book looking for useful information. The author also mentions prices for Civil War memorabilia at current auction prices...forty years ago. Davis writes that more people lost their lives in the Civil War than in all the wars from the Revolution to our most current conflict...Korea.

I will recommend this book as a cursory page turner. As a displaced Texan who descends from three Confederate soldiers (that I know of), I appreciated Davis' balanced view of both sides of the conflict. Too often today we lose sight of the fact that over 600,000 people lost their lives in this war, and not many people know much about it. (* * * *) out of five stars.