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The Series

Brother Against Brother is the first of twenty-eight volumes in the Time-Life Civil War Series.

For years I wanted this series of books on my bookshelves. Last year, my wife made this dream come true! When I first received the series, I thought they’d make nice reference material, but did not intend to read them cover-to-cover. I considered them nice volumes with good illustrations and pictures, but thought the narrative would be shallow.

Nevertheless, I picked up the first volume in December and discovered that there is actually depth and substance between those guilded covers. So, I have determined that I want to read all twenty-eight volumes this year—a little over two a month. I’m through with volume one and I’ve read the one on Gettysburg and the final volume is an index—only the author (or perhaps the writer of the book of Numbers, Moses) would read that one, so I have twenty-five to go.

Brother Against Brother

brotherThe author of this volume is William C Davis, a respected author in Civil War literature.

The book begins by looking at the roots of the conflict and talking about two Americas—the industrial north and the agricultural south. The two

“were interdependent—perhaps inseparable. Southern plantations provided raw materials for the industrial North, and Northern factories made most of the finished goods consumed by the South. ‘In brief and in short,’ concluded Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, ‘the two halved of this union were made for each other as much as Adam and Eve.'” 1

The South was further dependent  on slavery to produce the amount of crops (chiefly cotton) to support their way of life. Plantations were fiefdoms where the owner was lord.

Opening Chapters

In the opening chapters we learn about the history of slavery, the south’s dependence on it and, most enlightening, the reason the South fought so hard to have new states admitted as “slave states.”

Aside from concerns over the balance of power between Southern and Northern congressmen, there was another issue: fertile soil. Even though they were told to rotate their crops, most Southerns refused and thus their soil became less and less fertile. Like the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Southerns looked upon new land “with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans”2 to expand their way of life. They needed new soil.

Avenging Angel and Lincoln

The author devotes two chapters to two key figures in the advent of the Civil War: John Brown and Abraham Lincoln—they could not have been more different.


John Brown (before he grew a beard)

John Brown was crazy; the man was driven by a anti-slavery fervor that became his religion. He was a 19th century terrorist—he could have sported a t–shirt: I was a terrorist before it was cool. John Brown lead a raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia); he wanted to capture the guns there and lead a slave rebellion. He was defeated (ironically) by Colonel Robert E. Lee of the U.S. Army—present also, was J.E.B. Stuart who would later rise of fame as a Confederate Calvary leader. Perhaps most ironic is the fact that John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, was present at John Brown’s hanging.


Abraham Lincoln–clay model

Abraham Lincoln, while hating slavery, was more concerned about preserving the Union. Back in that day politicians became known by their words—their words, not the words of an evening news anchor or reporter. Speeches would be quoted in their entirety in newspapers nationwide. People would read (or if they were fortunate, attend) the speeches and make up their minds on a candidate. Imagine, no reporter spinning what they said, no 5 second sound-bites. Just the words of the candidate. All of that to say that Lincoln rose in prominence from his speech at Cooper Union and became the Republicans nominee for President in 1860.

The Democrats were in such disarray that they could not agree on a candidate, Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge, the current Vice President, while Northern Democrats rallied behind Stephen Douglas and thus Lincoln, without a single vote from the South, won and became President.


In brief that lead to Southern states (South Carolina being first) to vote to leave the Union. The lame-duck President, James Buchanan did little to preserve the union and Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina became the tipping point. Southerns wanted it (it belonged to South Carolina), the North refused to hand it over.

Scrabbles erupted on both sides and by the time Lincoln was sworn in as the sixteenth President the nation was on the verge of war. Lincoln, stating in his inaugural address, “in your hands, my dissatisfied fellow–countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war,”3 refused the fire the first shot. And so on April 12, 1861, Confederate cannons opened fire on Fort Sumter. Sumter fell on April 144 and the war began (with the only death occurring in the Federal (Union) salute to the flag upon it’s lowering).

“The guns had spoken. Like the sword that cut the Gordian knot, the Confederate cannon had sliced through the tangle of issues that reasonable men had failed to unsnarl.”5
1 William C. Davis, The Civil War: Brother Against Brother—The War Begins (Alexandria, Virginia: Time–Life Books, Inc., 1983) p. 9
(Aside: can you imagine a politician using such a reference today? He/She would make the evening news with outrage over offending other faiths with an illustration from the Bible.
2 H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004) p. 9
3 Davis, p. 132
4 Ironically, Lincoln would become one of the last casualties of the war exactly four years later on April 14, 1865.
5 Davis, p. 161