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Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  672 ratings  ·  122 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell comes “a masterwork of history” (Lawrence Wright, author of God Save Texas), the spellbinding, epic account of the last year of the Civil War.

The fourth and final year of the Civil War offers one of the most compelling narratives and one of history’s great turning point
Published October 29th 2019 by Simon Schuster Audio
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Feb 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, overdrive
I liked the fact that this book dealt with a limited time period, however I enjoy political and sociological history more than military history, so I skimmed over some of the descriptions in this book of battle strategy. I was really drawn into the last third of the book describing Sherman’s March, the final battles of the war, Lee’s surrender, Lincoln’s assassination, the collapse of the Confederacy and Barton’s attempt to identify the Union soldiers who died at Andersonville. There were also i ...more
Two weeks ago (November 8, 2019), I had the opportunity to hear the author, S.C. Gwynne, speak about this book at a local bookstore. While I have at best a layman's interest in the Civil War, I was impressed with Gwynne's presentation, so much so that I put in a request with my neighborhood library to check out a copy of the book.

"HYMNS OF THE REPUBLIC" provides an apt and well-written summation of the final year of the Civil War and how it impacted upon the nation (North and South) militarily,
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-stars, nonfiction
I was initially disappointed when I heard that Gwynne's latest book would only cover the final year of the Civil War. Gwynne has written some of my favorite nonfiction over the last decade so the thought of him pounding out a doorstopper covering the entirety of the war appealed to me greatly.

Having finished this last night, I understand why he decided to focus on that final year. With 'Hymns of the Republic', we start with the arrival of Grant as the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. Wi
Tad Davis
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I have a lot of problems with the book. Gwynne takes a dim view of virtually every decision Grant makes. For example, Grant made much of the fact that to defeat the Confederacy they had to destroy the opposing armies, not the cities. And Grant at Spotsylvania said he would “fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” Shortly afterwards he pulls the army out of the line and heads south. Gwynne interprets this as a “whim,” a capricious change in strategy. Grant was going to Richmond after a ...more
Scott Resnik
Dec 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Solid survey of the final year of the Civil War. However the author’s extreme Southern bias detracts from narrative.
A beautifully written account of the last year or so of the American Civil War, with a focus on some of the major personalities and events. Four stars; I found it gripping, though it did touch lightly on some important events or skip over them entirely. Not a military history, though not without a fair amount of military history; Gwynne spends a good deal of time focusing on politics, women (in the form of Clara Barton, who in my mind vies with Lincoln as the most impressive figure in the entire ...more
Casey Wheeler
As with other books that I have read by the author this one is well written and researched. He takes a very different viewpoint from others that I have read about this same time period during the American Civil War. He chooses to basically state that the well known leaders of the year Grant, Lee, Sherman and Lincoln were all seriously flawed and nowhere near the heroes that they have been presented by others. A reader must remember that this is the author's opinion and reality is most likely som ...more
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a pleasant surprise. I had read several other books describing the last year of the war, but this book was original and thought provoking. The author debunks several myths that have cropped up in Civil War literature and details how the war really was fought in its final twelve months. I found this book to be highly informative and interesting. A very enjoyable read.
Christina Dudley
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Another wonderful book from S. C. Gwynne. I knew, from reading EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON 3x that Gwynne is a great storyteller, insightful and even-handed and humorous, even, and these qualities showed up again. (Lincoln's description of Genl Phil Sheridan had me giggling.) If you find all things Civil War fascinating, which I pretty much do, this is more than a worthwhile read.

As the subtitle makes clear, the book covers roughly the last 14 months of the war, kicking off with Grant's arrival i
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An accessible and compelling work.

There’s not much new material, and Gwynne seems to have relied mostly on secondary sources. The narrative mostly focuses on the eastern theater (especially Virginia), opening with the Overland Campaign and ending at Appomattox. He ably covers a broad range of subjects, such as trench warfare, the horrors of Civil War medical practices, the experience of civilians, the politics of slavery, policies toward the border states, the evolution of “hard war,” the impact
Tom Brennan
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Gwynne is quickly working his way onto a very select list of must-read-everything-he-writes kind of historian. I've read more books than I can count/remember about the Civil War but I found this one passing along aspects I had never considered or heard of, and doing so frequently. His discussion of Lee's physical/emotional struggles the last year of the war was enlightening. His description of the fall of Richmond from the standpoint of the people in Richmond is something I will never forget. Hi ...more
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’m a big fan of Erik Larson, but S.C. Gwynne has joined him atop my leaderboard. His work is a perfect balance of narrative history & character sketches of the players that made that history. You really feel as though you have met these figures. Loved this work and look forward to what comes next. Would love to see Mr. Gwynne write about the period of reconstruction. Perhaps the last page is teasing that? Still relevant to discussions and problems we are tackling today in my opinion. ...more
Kayla Mckinney
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for allowing me to read this ARC!

Those readers who gravitate toward Civil War history always welcome the sight of a new book about the era – but may also approach said book with considerable wariness, wondering what can be left to say. Happily, S.C. Gwynne’s Hymns of the Republic not only creates new connections between familiar episodes of the struggle but creates them in beautiful and accessible language. Students, especially, will benefit from the s
Jul 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
(Note: I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley)

Admittedly it is difficult to divorce S.C. Gwynne’s newest book from his previous best-selling work. “Empire of the Summer Moon”, which introduced a wide audience to Quannah Parker and the impressive Comanche Empire, was always going to be a difficult act to follow, and Gwynne makes things even more challenging by picking a topic that already has such an extensive amount written upon it. With all that being said, “Hymns of the Republic”
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
Kind of typical Gwynne book. Highly uneven. Not as bad as Rebel Yell, but not good.

In the first 30 pages, he has:
1. Twisted Lincoln’s slave-related actions of the first two years out of context, including trying to make him into an abolitionist at the start of the war;
2. Absolved, or at least partially absolved, Forrest of Fort Pillow, when the truth is that, by the laws of war, Forrest, as commander of troops in the field, was responsible for the massacre by failure to prevent it even if he did
Gregory Jones
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because I had read Gwynne's work on the Comanche Empire and wanted to see what he had to say about the Civil War. This was, in a word, superb. Gwynne writes with clarity and precision that is quite rare in Civil War historiography. His use of anecdotes is sparing enough to keep the prose interesting, while his incisive commentary cuts right to the heart and meaning of these iconic moments.

Far too often with books like this, the reader either ends up skimming the surface of
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've read well over a hundred books about the Civil War -- and yet I learned new facts and gained a whole slew of new insights from this one.

Although it is billed as a book about the last year of our four-year Civil War, Gwynne seamlessly weaves in enough background about the years leading up to that final year that even those who don't know a lot about the Civil War will not find it hard to follow. Indeed, the book reads like a novel and was so hard to put down that I read it in one weekend.

Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good book, providing a social and political history of the final year of the Civil War, from the start of Grant’s Overland Campaign to the capture of Jeff Davis. The book is not a military history, individual tactical actions are barely discussed. However, the author goes to great lengths to explain the “why” for many of the critical decisions made in that crucial year. The overriding cultural and political themes so important to the war’s story, but usually treated as side-bars in most histor ...more
Paul Hosse
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There are lot of books available about the American Civil War, and it's little wonder. It was the bloodiest chapter in American History. More Americans died between 1861 and 1865 than in any war before or since. Interest in the Civil War has never waned. Its repercussions are still felt to this day, some 155 years after the cannons and rifles fell silent.

A few of these book have become classics. "Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War" by S.C. Gwynne is dest
Bjoy Davidson
Sep 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I would have to call this book "an achievement". I certainly learned more about the Civil War than I had ever thought I could; it had previously been a jumble of dates and names and places I couldn't relate to. Now I have property and a cabin just a few miles from Appommatox Court House and have visited the graves of soldiers on both sides of the terrible conflict, walked up the hill that Lee rode up to meet Grant as the surrender was unfolding. This book brought it together for me in a very coh ...more
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, nonfiction, history
"Hymns of the Republic" is my third book by S.C. Gwynne. This one, like the previous two ("Empire of the Summer Moon" and "Rebel Yell") is superb, 5 stars (plus). He has the ability to bring history and historical figures to life.
As the book jacket describes, "Hymns of the Republic is the story of the last brutal year of the tragedy of the Civil War. Even if you, as I, have read quite a bit on the subject, this book is well worth your time. Seeing well-known events like the Siege of Petersburg,
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved reading this book. SC Gwynne’s voice is excellent: straightforward, capturing the spirit and character of key individuals with a spot on, sardonic analysis. Beyond that, this book is deeply researched, allowing Gwynn to bring pivotal moment of decision and battles to life for the reader. He reveals the brutal, slogging, harsh final year of this war, when all pretense of glory and valor was swept aside in an effort to ensure Lincoln remained in the White House and that this con ...more
Mark Miano
Dec 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m a big fan of S.C. Gwynne’s nonfiction. EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER is an epic retelling of the forty year conflict between Comanche Indians and whites for control of the American West, told partly through the story of the abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker. REBEL YELL is the biography of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, and perhaps my all time favorite book about the U.S. Civil War. I love the way Gwynne inhabits his characters in these books, bringing them to life on the page the way few histor ...more
Mark Harden
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: civil-war
I was concerned that this would be a top level summary for a general audience, but I got it because Gwynne’s earlier books were so well written. This one is no exception. And while he does not cover the military actions in detail, he offers vignettes of personalities that are wonderfully drawn, from the giants - Lincoln, Lee, Grant, Sherman - to less familiar characters such as Clara Barton, John Mosby and Clement Vallandigham.

His central theme is the need, in that year of 1864, to attain the r
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was a joy to read. Systematically going over the last year of the war with highlights and anecdotes. The most enjoyable was how the book was laid out. Each chapter was a mini book. You could set it down at the end of a chapter and be good until time dictated time to sit down and enjoy more. But it was so good I was compelled to finish.
Jim Bullington
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book filled a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the last year of the Civil War and how it affected us as a Nation. It also filled in a gap for me of my Great-Great Grandfathers service. I had found most of the battles he participated in but I did not realize he was here in Bowling Green for a long stay. My family had a large farm in Tennessee at the time of the war.
Henry McLaughlin
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: top-10-to-read
A fairly accurate portrayal of the last year of the Civil War. Doesn't come across as overtly revisionist. Also, doesn't appear to break new ground. Seems to rely on secondary rather than primary sources.
I do like Gwynne's writing style. It makes his story readable and concise.
To me, it doesn't quite measure up to the quality of Empire of the Summer Moon.
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for those who may wonder what is the big deal about statues that honor Civil War "heroes". S.C. Gwynne is a great author and he does a masterful job. He made me imagine the unimaginable--how horrifying, brutal, and cruel the Civil War was. Read this book to learn more about the key historical figures and to understand this slice of time in our country.
Mary Koleno
May 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I ventured out with this one, so if anyone is looking to do the same, I highly recommend! This final year of the war was truly extraordinary and worthy of my and your reading time.
Daniel Nelles
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book about the final year of the Civil War. The level of detail in some sections was a little mind-numbing, but it was more than made up for by the stories about the key players.

I learned a lot of new information, but was mostly struck by the irony of encountering this book in the middle of our country’s current (and continued) struggle to overcome systemic racism. Gwynne’s portrayal of our nation’s failure (on both sides of the conflict-North and South) to show value to all people
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