The first-ever oral history of the attack that started the Civil War that combines illuminating historical narrative with intense first-hand accounts.
On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops began firing on Fort Sumter, beginning the bloodiest conflict in American history. Since that time numerous historians have described the attack in many well-regarded books, yet the event still remains overlooked at times in the minds of the public.
The Cannons Roar seeks to remedy that. Rather than providing a third-person, after-the-fact description, acclaimed author Bruce Chadwick will tell the story of the attack from the people who were in the thick of it. In so doing, readers can hear from people themselves, telling a compelling story in a new way that both draws readers in and lets them walk away with a better understanding and appreciation of one of the most dramatic and important events in our nation’s history. The Cannons Roar will not only provide portraits of the major players that are more descriptive than those offered by historians over the years, it will give voice to dozens of regular people from across the country and socioeconomic spectrum, to provide readers with a true and complete understanding of the mood of the country and in Charleston.
Using letters, newspaper articles, diaries, journals, and other written sources, Chadwick describes in vivid detail the events preceding the attack, the attack itself, and its aftermath. While we hear from historic pillars like Abraham Lincoln to PGT Beauregard to Jefferson Davis, Chadwick also features Charleston merchants and Northern farmers, high society doyennes and “the dregs,” South Carolina’s new governor Francis Pickens, who was the blustery former Minister to Russia. Collectively, readers will obtain a fuller understanding of the politics and thinking of political and military leaders that influenced their decisions or lack thereof. The book will also capture both the South and North’s expectations regarding England entering the war (as well as letters from England’s leaders showing their reluctance to do so), as well as an expectation on both sides of a quick resolution.
Skillfully combining traditional history with the in-the-moment ethos of an oral history, The Cannons Roar to bring this historic moment in American history to new and vivid life.
In this ingeniously constructed account, historian Chadwick (Law & Disorder) stitches together speeches, letters, diary entries, Cabinet meeting records, and more to recreate the Fort Sumter crisis as it unfolded. Though construction of the fort—located on an artificial island off the coast of Charleston, S.C.—commenced in 1814, it was still unfinished when South Carolina seceded in December 1860 and demanded that all federal forces—including the 85 men stationed at Sumter—leave the state. The tense standoff pitted Union Army major Robert Anderson against his friend and former West Point student, Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard, who began positioning cannons for a bombardment of Sumter in March 1861. Among other sources, Chadwick excerpts Anderson's letters to Union Army commanders pleading for reinforcements and supplies; the diary of Southern socialite Mary Chesnut; public and private statements by Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis; and Secretary of State William Seward's messages to Confederate representatives falsely claiming that Fort Sumter would be evacuated, which invigorated the Southern cause. Though some perspectives feel more marginal than essential, they add up to a comprehensive study of the spark that set the Civil War aflame. It's a noteworthy feat of scholarship.