I guess it’s important to start with a list of what this book is and isn’t. It’s a narrative history of the US Civil War starting with the months prior to the war and moving through the first years of the war ending leading up to the release of the Emancipation Declaration. Because a lot of different things happen on a given day, there’s often multiple threads happening at the same time. It’s clearly based on primary documents (in much of what we get here) and there’s a lot of direct references to the things said, printed, and journaled, especially by the primary characters — which are mostly Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and various generals. To get more general impressions newspapers and soldiers’ letter and journals are brought in for added color and effect. It’s not a novel, especially not in the since of something like Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, but it is novelistic in the way of many narrative histories.
It’s not either polemic or apologia. It’s not unsympathetic with Southern causes, though it doesn’t give in to Lost Cause ideology (at least yet; we’ll see I guess), but it does take Southerners at their word. It’s not a teaching tool, and it’s not for newcomers. This last point basically means, you need to know a bit about the geography and general outline of the war, and you also need to know something about war equipment, war terminology, and some war tactics to get along.
So with that established the book is very much concerned with the minutia of military maneuvers in the war. There’s some detailed description of many of the battles, and some since of the day to day life of the soldiers and other figures, but it’s not the focus. This is a generals and politicians book mainly. The level of detail then, given the scope here (a year and a half of combat) is both impressive and highly readable.