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Book image from goodreads.com

Legendary Heroes of U.S. History—As You’ve Never Seen Them Before!
Secret Lives of the Civil War features irreverent and uncensored profiles of men and women from the Union and the Confederacy—complete with hundreds of little-known and downright bizarre facts. You’ll discover that:
     •  Mary Todd Lincoln claimed to receive valuable military strategies from ghosts in the spirit world.
     •  Jefferson Davis once imported camels for soldiers stationed in the American southwest.
     •  Ulysses S. Grant spent much of the Vicksburg campaign on a horse named “Kangaroo.”
     •  James Longstreet fought the Battle of Antietam wearing carpet slippers.
     •  William T. Sherman was the victim of two shipwrecks on the same day.
     •  Harriet Tubman experienced frequent and bizarre hallucinations.
     •  Stonewall Jackson was a notorious hypochondriac (he always sat up straight, fearing that
        slouching would compress his vital organs).
With chapters on everyone from William Quantrill (a guerilla leader whose skull later ended up in the basement of a fraternity house) to Rose O’Neal Greenhow (perhaps the South’s most glamorous spy), Secret Lives of the Civil War features a mix of famous faces and unsung heroes. American history was never this much fun in school!

(Book synopsis from goodreads.com)

I had bought Secret Lives of the Civil War by Cormac O’Brien as a book to possibly use in my classroom. While I do not teach History or Social Studies (I teach English) I was thinking of possibly using the different chapters in this book to allow my students to delve further into the Civil War. However, after reading the book, I have realized that I will not be able to use it in the classroom; there are too many swearwords that would not be acceptable in the community that I work in. Despite this fact, I do think that this is a great book for those who are history buffs or are simply interested in the Civil War.

The book is divided into two main sections: “The Union” and “The Confederacy.” Each one of the sections has 13 different people that played a major role in the Civil War and neat little facts that make each person even more interesting than they were even before reading Secret Lives of the Civil War. Each “chapter” is focused on one specific person, although (as to be expected) the experiences of each person overlap with other main players during the Civil War.

While there are plenty of interesting facts presented at the end of each one of the chapters in Secret Lives of the Civil War, the majority of each chapter is an overview of the role that each person played during the Civil War. This is most obvious with the military figures that are discussed, with very detailed information as to their rankings, how they reached that rank, their background and what their jobs were before, during, and after the war. The information presented was very interesting, but I found the chapters about the non-military figures during the Civil War to be the most fascinating. I loved being able to read and know more about people such as Rose O’Neale, Sarah Emma Edmonds, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. I found their stories engrossing and I wanted to learn even more about their lives and their involvement in the Civil War.

I found Secret Lives of the Civil War an easy to read book, especially because each chapter featured a different person so being able to stop after each one did not interrupt the flow of the book. It was also easy to take a moment to read a chapter here and there when I had the opportunities. It is a great book for those who want more information about the Civil War and who are interested in the key players during this part of American history. Cormac O’Brien did a fantastic job of presenting the facts about each person and he does not pass (much) judgement about the people that he was writing about. I would be interested in exploring his other books as well.