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Posted on Feb 20, 2004 in Books and Movies

The Civil War on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites – Book Review

Jim H. Moreno

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Studying military history used to be so easy.You had a school report to do on U.S. Grant, or Gettysburg, or Appomattox, you simply went downtown to the library and leafed through a volume of Britannica. Maybe there were a few more written works you could check out and peruse for a few more details, but that was about it.You could write your report and turn it in the next day.

Of course, that was before the brothers ?Net and Web took us hostage and forced us into bondage in the Information Age.

On a recent MSN Explorer search, I typed in ?the Civil War’, and was returned about 1,800 items, in categories including battles, photos, and items dealing with the American and Spanish Civil War.Another search with the famed engine Google returned a whopping 3,550,00 web sites!Good thing it only took .08 seconds for the engine to find them, ?cause it would probably take me the next eight lifetimes to go through them all.

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So, the question begs to be answered, how does one gather information about military history in the world of today?How do you know if the information is accurate, detailed, and worthwhile, without reading every flippin’ site in its’ entirety and burning out your cornea? Fret not, young padawan, there is hope, and it starts with the book The Civil War on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites, written by William G. Thomas and Alice E. Carter.

"Any online search for "Civil War" reveals the intimidating scale and chaotic nature of the offerings ? and highlights the need for assistance in separating the meat of the grain from the chaff." So writes Gary W. Gallagher in the foreword of this Scholarly Resources Inc. published book, which also published a similar work about World War II on the Web. A giant mission for any author, no doubt, but superbly handled here.

If you are simply curious about some aspect of our nation’s saddest moment in time, or want to pay attention to detail to facts that can be found on the ?Net, this book is the beacon to follow through the vastness of cyberspace.

The William G. Thomas- written Introduction is an excellent read itself, as he ponders the state of Civil War history today, and how the Web has affected it.

While the authors didn’t sift through every single Civil War-related site known to man, they did find ninety-five that met criteria such as content, ease of navigation, and overall appearance, and gave them each a rating based on the ?five stars’ scale.

How did they reduce the above-mentioned 3 million site hits I got to only 95? By emphasizing high-quality content over quantity.Each site reviewed is certain to help historians, scholars, students, educators, and genealogists learn something about our Civil War.Author Alice E. Carter writes in the book’s User’s Guide that the content had to be "extensive, accurate, and well documented."

Another guiding factor for a site’s inclusion in the Guide was how well a site used the World Wide Web as a medium of release.Information that "could be found in most bookstores or public libraries did not qualify for a review", writes Carter.

Battles and Campaigns, Political and Military Leaders, Life of the Soldier, Naval Operations, The Experience of the U.S. Colored Troops, Slavery and Emancipation, Women in the Civil War, and Civil War Regiments are the eight chapters that form the Guide, keeping the site reviews in an orderly and concise format the ?Net could only hope to dream of.Each review is well written, with the sites’ name in bold letters, immediately followed by the web address and a brief site description. In a salute to the notion that print is not dead, every chapter finishes off with a suggested reading list of books consistent with the chapter topic.

Having said that, though, the book also gives a nod to the future by including a CD-ROM disk (IBM and MAC compatible) with the book.The disk has a .pdf form of the entire Guide, complete with hyperlinks to the URL of each web site, making it easier to get to them.Adobe Acrobat 4.0 comes with the disk, as well as a .pdf form with instructions for using the CD.

The Guide wraps up more than 400 Civil War web sites in the topical index found at the end of the book. These are sites that did not make the Best of the Web list, missing analytical detail, and not having the best site designs, but still having important historical content.Use of the CD-ROM is emphasized in order to navigate this section of sites.

While brick-and-mortar libraries may be a dying institution, and history merely a briefly touched upon school subject, you can bet the Internet is here to stay.For serious and lay Civil War historians, the Guide helps bridge two distinct and different worlds, and helps to clear the way and make the journey a desirable one.

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Stay Alert, Stay Alive!

Jim H. Moreno

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