Magazine July 9, 2012, Issue

America’s Iliad

A Union soldier looks out towards the battlefield during the re-enactment of the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run in Manassas, Va., July 23, 2011. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction, by Allen C. Guelzo (Oxford, 592 pp., $19.95)

Every generation christens its own favored Civil War book, almost by clockwork. Twenty-five years ago, James McPherson brought forth his richly awarded and eminently readable Battle Cry of Freedom, just as — some 25 years earlier — the Bruce Catton volumes were scaling the bestseller lists, and just as — a couple of decades before that — Stephen Vincent Benét’s epic poem John Brown’s Body treated the years between 1859 and 1865 with sweep and lyricism for a more literary readership. All three labors garnered a Pulitzer Prize. When it comes to the Civil War, we Americans have chosen not

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