Hymns of the Republic
From the New York Times bestselling, celebrated, and award-winning author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell comes the spellbinding, epic account of the dramatic conclusion of the Civil War.
The fourth and final year of the Civil War offers one of that era’s most compelling narratives, defining the nation and one of history’s great turning points. Now, S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic addresses the time Ulysses S. Grant arrives to take command of all Union armies in March 1864 to the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox a year later. Gwynne breathes new life into the epic battle between Lee and Grant; the advent of 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army; William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea; the rise of Clara Barton; the election of 1864 (which Lincoln nearly lost); the wild and violent guerrilla war in Missouri; and the dramatic final events of the war, including the surrender at Appomattox and the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
Hymns of the Republic offers angles and insights on the war that will surprise many readers. Robert E. Lee, known as a great general and southern hero, is presented here as a man dealing with frustration, failure, and loss. Ulysses S. Grant is known for his prowess as a field commander, but in the final year of the war he largely fails at that. His most amazing accomplishments actually began the moment he stopped fighting. William Tecumseh Sherman, Gwynne argues, was a lousy general, but probably the single most brilliant man in the war. We also meet a different Clara Barton, one of the greatest and most compelling characters, who redefined the idea of medical care in wartime. And proper attention is paid to the role played by large numbers of black union soldiers—most of them former slaves. They changed the war and forced the South to come up with a plan to use its own black soldiers.
Popular history at its best, from Pulitzer Prize finalist S.C. Gwynne, Hymns of the Republic reveals the creation that arose from destruction in this thrilling read.
I have a new book coming out in October 2019 entitled “Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War.” After spending a number of years writing “Rebel Yell,” my 2014 biography of Stonewall Jackson, I had become very invested, emotionally and intellectually, in the Civil War. Also, because Jackson died in the middle of the war, I just had to find out what happened to all those interesting people! In view of the national conversation we have been having about race recently, understanding the Civil War and its relationship to slavery and emancipation is more important than ever.
Probably the most surprising part of my research focused on the 180,000 black soldiers—more than half of them former slaves—who fought for the Union and tipped the numerical balance of power in critical ways. Even more surprising was the movement in the Confederacy to enlist its own black troops in the conflict. Though the first black rebel units were actually organized, the war ended before they could fight. What I have mainly tried to do in this book is present a fresh look at what happened as well as a history that is accessible to people who might not be Civil War buffs or even fans of military history. There are fresh and interesting looks at all sorts of people, from Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee to Clara Barton and rebel guerrilla John Singleton Mosby. In that sense, I suppose the book is more like my history of the Comanche Indians, “Empire of the Summer Moon."