A history of the United States’ greatest archival project and how it has shaped what we know about the Civil War
Shortlisted for the 2024 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
The Civil War generated a vast archive of official records—documents that would shape the postwar era and determine what future generations would know about the war. Yael Sternhell traces these records from their creation during wartime through their deployment in a host of postwar battles, including those between the federal government and Southerners seeking reparations and between veterans blaming each other for defeat.
These documents were eventually published in the most important historical collection ever to have been assembled in the United States: The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and the Confederate Armies. Known as the OR, it is the ultimate source for generations of scholars and writers and ordinary citizens researching the war. By delving into the archive, Sternhell reveals its power to shape myths, hide truths, perpetuate rancor, and foster reconciliation. Far more than a storehouse of papers, the Civil War archive is a major historical actor in its own right.
Yael Sternhell teaches history and American studies at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South. She lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
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