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Book Review – The Untold Civil War

The Untold Civil WarTitle:  The Untold Civil War: Exploring the Human Side of the War

Author:  James Robertson; edited by Neil Kagan

Publisher:  National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 2011

List Price:  $40.00

Best Price/s: – $15.86+ (Hardcover)


James Robertson’s The Untold Civil War: Exploring the Human Side of the War is a fascinating book about little-known aspects and persons in the Civil War.  Combined with hundreds of great photographs, some rarely seen, this is a book for any Civil War history buff to add to their collection.

With 132 articles in 351 pages, the author divides these vignettes of a two-page average into six major sections:

  • The Human Side of War
  • The Life of Soldiers
  • Resources, Resolve, and Ingenuity
  • A War of Firsts
  • Warriors, Poets, and Scoundrels
  • Aftermath

The result is a very readable collection of stories with information that will not only enlighten you the reader but make excellent stories to share with others.

Some of the things I learned included:

  • How an 11-year-old girl was responsible for Lincoln’s beard (p24)
  • Where the term “…the better angels of our nature” originated (p30)
  • What happened to Stonewall Jackson’s favorite horse (p34)
  • The one time that Jackson got drunk (p38)
  • The most prominent woman in Washington was not Mary T. Lincoln (p44)
  • The only officer who dared to curse in front of Gen. Jackson (p50)
  • The “Bread Riot” in Richmond that emptied Jeff Davis’ pockets (p58)
  • The burial of an enemy by Masonic truce (p60)
  • The vengeful execution of 22 deserters by Gen. George Pickett (p66)
  • The regimental mascot who is remembered on a monument at Gettysburg (p80)
  • “The Silent Witness” to the surrender at Appomattox who came home 128 years later (p84)

And this is just a sample from the first section!

From overlooked elements, such as the role of weather, health, and high emotions, to the world-changing effect of the rise of female workers, to the many “firsts” including the introduction of standard time, pre-sized clothing, canned goods, toilets, and Santa Claus, The Untold Civil War reveals new facts about a seemingly well-known period of American history.

The combination of color photos of paintings and objects with the sepia-toned archival photos and black-and-white glass-plate negatives make for a visual feast.  Not a book of battles or generals, The Untold Civil War is about people who lived, and died, during this time and the impact that some of them had on events and other people.




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  1. I’m not a Civil War buff, but after reading this review, I want to read the book.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think you will really like this book and there are many other fascinating stories in books about the Civil War.

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