The formidable task of marshalling the resources and experts necessary to create a multi-volume Civil War reference work probably rivals the logistical demands of that conflict's greatest battles. Perhaps that explains why few comprehensive Civil War encyclopedias have made their way onto the scene. But now this conspicuous void has been filled. Editors David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler undertook the challenge of producing a work of encyclopedic scope, and the result is a 2,733 page Encyclopedia of the American Civil War that distinguishes itself as the most exhaustively researched resource to have come out since the Encyclopedia of the Confederacy (Simon ∧ Schuster, 1993).
At the invitation of the Heidlers, noted Civil War historians such as Gary W. Gallagher, James I. Robertson, Jr., William C. Davis and Charles P. Roland composed the encyclopedia's 1,600 entries. Military subjects predominate, but the editors also survey political and social aspects, achieving a judicious balance of topics. Biographies compose the majority of articles; the likes of Joseph Bailey, Edouard de Stoeckl, Barbara Frietschie and countless other lesser known figures are presented in addition to all the more famous ones. Battles from Antietam to Yellow Bayou are also aptly treated. The entries reflect recent advances in scholarship and interpretation, and the editorial perspective throughout is evenhanded. As purely a reference work, the encyclopedia admirably fulfills its duty of facilitating further research on the Civil War. Cross-references that accompany each article make textual navigation easy; short bibliographies following each entry provide the reader with relevant sources. The Encyclopedia of the American Civil War is essentially functional in design. It is not a splashy picture book destined for the coffee table, but rather a research tool. Ample pictures and maps supplement the text, but there are no fancy graphics or color photos.
With a price that matches the heft of its pages, this fine set may be more affordable for libraries and academic institutions than for individuals.
Charles L. McCollum is a copy editor for the Civil War Book Review.