One of the most quoted untruths is Thomas Carlyle’s assertion that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” The Civil War encompassed far more than the political or military feats of a few celebrated figures. It was history made by the American people as a whole.
Some who achieved greatness during the war were leaders of common origin like Abraham Lincoln who inspired Americans to perform uncommon acts of heroism and self-sacrifice. Such inspiration came not just from statesmen or generals, but also from men and women on the home front whose pens were as mighty as swords. On the battlefronts, warriors often achieved distinction or notoriety not because they were great but because they were good, dutiful, dedicated officers – or in some cases because they were vain, vicious, or reckless men, whose deeds would live in infamy.