Publisher’s Note Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Defining Documents in American History series, produced by Salem Press, consists of a two-volume collection of essays on important historical documents by a diverse range of writers on a broad range of subjects in American history. Defining Documents in American History: Civil War (1860–1865) surveys key documents produced during the Civil War with special attention devoted to the war-time policies of President Abraham Lincoln and the 37th US Congress. A special feature of the volumes is the inclusion of letters and diaries by soldiers and civilians writing about their experiences. These documents provide a compelling view of the extraordinary difficulties endured in battle and the home front. The two volumes are organized into several chapters that cover the progress of the war beginning with early debates on secession, through wartime events on the political and battle fronts and concludes with a look toward the issues of race and reconstruction. Designed for high school and college students, the aim of the series is to advance historical document studies as an important activity in learning about history.

Essay and Volume Format

Civil War contains 67 complete and excerpted primary source documents and analytical essays. Each essay is approximately 6,000 words, consisting of a 4,000 word analysis and a 2,000 word primary source. Readers will appreciate the diversity of the collected texts, including journals, letters, speeches, and political sermons, among other genres. Critical essays, written by historians and teachers, begin by introducing readers to the historical period, followed by a brief biography of the author and the events that occasion the composition of the document. An important feature of the essays is a close reading of the primary source that develops evidence of broader themes, such as author’s rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. In addition, essays are organized by chapter themes, highlighting major issues in the period, many of which extend across eras and continue to shape American life. Each chapter begins with an introduction that will explain the questions and problems, in some cases the dilemmas, underlying the subjects in the historical documents. A brief glossary highlights keywords important in the study of the primary source. Each essay offers a section of Additional Reading for further research.

Special Features

Historical Images appear at the beginning of each section. These include actual documents and relevant newspaper reports and posters.

Historical Timeline and Chronological List of titles will support readers in understanding the broader events and subjects in the period.

A Bibliography lists helpful supplemental readings for further study.


Salem Press would like to extend its appreciation to all involved in the development and production of this work, especially renowned Civil War historian James M. McPherson, PhD. The essays have been written and signed by scholars of history, humanities, and other disciplines related to the essay’s topics. Without these expert contributions, a project of this nature would not be possible. A full list of contributor’s names and affiliations appears in the front matter of this volume.

Categories: History