Monday, May 7, 2007

Dissonance: The Turbulent Days Between Fort Sumter and Bull Run

by David Detzer

From the publisher
April of 1865 has been referred to as the month that saved America but April of 1861 may have been just as vital if not more so. It was during this time that Washington DC sat completely surrounded by two states that were teetering on the verge of secession. Once Virginia did leave the Union only Maryland provided the federal government with a connection to the rest of the nation and it was a tenuous connection at best.

Abraham Lincoln was clearly out of his league in this early stage of the game and he leaned heavily on General Winfield Scott. For his part, Scott was keenly aware of the danger facing Washington and began to immediately call for any militia units that could get to DC quickly from loyal northern states. The problem was that these militia units would have to travel through Maryland, a slave state that might well consider these Yankee troops to be invaders and could easily be pushed into the Confederacy by such an affront to state sovereignty. It was also distinctly possible that these militia units might be attacked by not only the people of Maryland but also ultimately by the state militia.

In the meantime Virginia forces had seized the federal armory at Harper's Ferry and the Gosport navy yard near Hampton Virginia. Rumors are rampant in DC that the Virginia militia that had taken Harper's Ferry was preparing to move on Washington and many in the Federal City were in a state of panic.

The questions that arise from this drama involve the decision making process on both sides and the ultimate question is of course whether Washington DC was ever in any real danger. Did the Confederacy in fact lose it's only real chance for ultimate victory during this time period? David Detzer has done an admirable job in this book [Dissonance] of not only bringing this evolving drama to life but also of answering these questions in a clear and concise manner.

This book reads much like a great historical drama and the author's writing style is superbly readable. It is rare for the author of a history book to achieve such a sense of drama since the reader usually already knows the outcome. Detzer has accomplished this however and although I was keenly aware of what was about to happen at every turn I had a tough time putting the book down. This invigorating writing style is often derisively referred to as popular history but Detzer blows the sides off of that old mold by not only offering new information but also keen observations that cut directly to the heart of this eventful period of American history. No hero of American history is spared criticism when criticism is due and conversely even Ben Butler is praised when his actions merit it.

This is the story of those fateful days of April and May of 1861 and it is a story that is well told by this supremely able author. This book is well researched, very well written and the story is told from the point of view of both governments as well as the lowliest private in the Pennsylvania militia. It is a story upon which the fate of the United States once turned.

From CWBN:
David Detzer is one of those important new writers taking Civil War history out of the dreary conventions of the Centennial era (1960-1965); he does this by adding a fresh perspective to underlying primary sources neglected by most Civil War writers. This is vigorous writing in masterful English capable of changing your long-held views.

This is the pb reissue of a hb original.