Book Review – Battle Lines : A Graphic History of the Civil War

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War  is a novel written by award-winning historian Ari Kelman which was written to express in graphic detail the horrors of the American Civil war and all those it affected directly. This is a unique litany of all those who were affected by this war from the soldiers who fought in the battles, the farmers who stayed behind to support the economy of the Confederate states in the South and the African slaves who were caught up in this battle for their emancipation.

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Issues pertinent to the war ranging from the history of the war, the frontlines, the political rhetoric, various battle strategies by both warring parties to the dark era of the Reconstruction period that followed after the end of the war in 1865. The does an exceptional job in the amalgamation the personal narratives of those affected by the war with the overall theme of war as the human element is usually ignored while telling a general war story. Moreover, the multi-layered approach of telling this story provides the reader with a deep understanding of all the various facets of this conflict, illuminating the rather complex history of this tumultuous era of American history.

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The novel is divided into chapters that each start with a summary of all the crucial moments and the turning points that culminated to the start of this skirmish. Various articles from the period are present here with the important headlines that mentioned the Civil War and in some way acting as a prologue or an abstract to the story that is to follow. It is also important to note the visual aspect that this book possesses, with the story being allowed to proceed with the visuals that have been elaborately drawn being allowed to tell a visual story of what really transpired during this period of bloodshed for America. The visual aspect of this book is responsible for showing the story in a more reinforced manner with the personal stories of those affected being told and their thoughts intimated expressing their personal feelings about the war from a regional to a national perspective.

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Kelman deftly tells the story of the war that span four years concisely without leaving any important historical information from this narrative to ensure that she captures the real situation during this period by involving the human aspect. Personal stories and feelings of those affected by the ravages of the war are so emotional and moving that one gets a feeling of empathy for those victims. This is one of the strengths of the novelist, as people can better relate with people and the suffering they went through during this period with her use of objects such a bricks, a rail road spike and ink to represent various aspects of the war.

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In the fourth chapter a set of leg irons known as “Leg Irons ” is used as a symbolic object to tell the story of George Washington who was a runaway slave from North Carolina. He comes into contact with two Union Soldiers who are quick to tell him that they are there to protect him and force him to go back with them to their camp. Still in shackles, George meets a blacksmith and pleads with him to free him from his shackles. The blacksmith asks for payment, something he knew slaves were incapable of this forcing George to dig trenches in the camp. Although having escaped the shackle of being his masters slave in the South, George now finds himself a victim again of a racist society where he is not viewed as worthy of freewill.

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In the seventh chapter dubbed “The Bug”, there are red spotted lines that permeate the drawings. The various social clusters are expressed through the dots and the issue of the malady that had spread throughout the country .At the end of this chapter, a doctor gives his last dose of medicine to a woman at the brink of death while a red line is shown near the medical doctor who has a mosquito perched on his neck. This aims at showing the reader how the individuals in the 19th Century knew little about how the malady that was malaria, spread from one individual to the next.

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The various Battle Lines and war strategies that were there during this war are also expressed in this book, albeit in a comical sense by the various visual representations available. A younger audience that is inquisitive about the war and its history would find this book very helpful in their history research probes as it seeks to make students more aware of the events that happened in a graphic sense. An overview of this book thus expresses a war story, told through an unusual story form to bring the story to life chronologically with a human element to it.

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