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Two Books Aim to Teach About Civil War

Share This week, Education World examines two books that will enhance classroom study of the Civil War. The Scholastic Encyclopedia of the Civil War, by historian Catherine Clinton, offers a detailed, heavily illustrated, year-by-year account of the war. Civil War Artist, written and illustrated by Taylor Morrison, is a fictional account of an artist who drew battlefield illustrations for use in the country's newspapers. Included: Tips for using each book in the classroom!

This week, Education World examines two books that would make fine additions to the study of one of the saddest, but most compelling, events in American history.

Book Cover Image


In the Scholastic Encyclopedia of the Civil War (Scholastic, Inc.), historian and author Catherine Clinton provides a detailed, year-by-year account of one of the most heartbreaking conflicts in the nation's history. Starting with the first chapter, "Before the War: A Nation Dividing," the story of the war is told in a clear, easy-to-follow manner. Black-and-white illustrations include period photographs, maps, and drawings. Clinton also provides numerous sidebars containing such information as key events for each year, first-person eyewitness accounts, and other interesting facts.

The book is especially useful because of the engaging way in which the author explains the complex causes of the war; the vast cultural, economical, and ideological differences between the Confederacy and the Union; and the difficult aftermath of the Reconstruction Era. In a straightforward and non-judgmental way, Clinton covers such diverse topics as the unpopularity of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, the horrendous conditions in the Confederacy's Andersonville Prison, the difficulties encountered by both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in appointing -- and keeping -- cabinet members, and the Underground Railroad. Many topics examined in the text could form the basis of a classroom debate or provide the starting place for any number of research topics.


In Civil War Artist (Houghton Mifflin Company), writer and illustrator Taylor Morrison introduces readers to the fictional artist William Forbes. After arriving in New York City in the summer of 1861, Forbes answers an advertisement: "Artists will be paid handsomely for sketches of the great battle between the Union and the Confederacy."

Book Cover Image Morrison's primary focus is presenting the process of illustrating Civil War era newspapers. Such well-known photographers as Matthew Brady took pictures of battle scenes, but photography of that day was limited. It could not capture movement, and photographs could not be reproduced in newspapers. Showing the war in pictures fell became the task of illustrators.

Forbes's and other artists, photographers, and newspaper reporters tagged along behind troops of Union soldiers. In the midst of battle, the artists attempted to capture the images of war in pencil while trying to avoid being shot. Afterward, artists would redraw and refine their images, which were sent by courier to newspaper offices.

Morrison describes in detail the process of transferring the sketches to wooden blocks for engraving, utilizing several engravers to enhance the drawings with details that the sketch artists had not had time to include, and then using the engravings to create electrotypes that could withstand the pounding of printing presses. At the end of the book, Morrison returns to the character of William Forbes. Retired by the time of the Spanish-American war, Forbes sees the era of the sketch artist-wood engraver team replaced by photoengraving. He wonders about the incredible ways the public might see the news in the future.

Detailing a little-known, yet fascinating, aspect of the Civil War, Civil War Artist would be a useful tool to spur discussion about ways in which technological advances change the ways images of current events reach the public. An art teacher might tell the story or introduce students to some of the printing techniques used during the Civil War era.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate the book, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Related Articles from Education World

  • Special Theme Page: The Civil War
  • Originally published 06/07/2000
    Links last updated 03/28/2006