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Civil War Sesquicentennial Observance at Ruth Keeler Library

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - It has been 150 years since the first shot was fired in the American Civil War. In recognition of the anniversary, the Ruth Keeler Library is planning a succession of events, including display case exhibits, lectures, and book discussions.

The first event will be a series of book talks led by esteemed historian and local resident, John Steele Gordon.

"My expertise is in American history, with a concentration in financial history," said Mr. Gordon. "I've been reading history all my life." He has been writing about history for much of his life, too. One of his popular titles is "The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Erie Railway Wars", which takes place in the post-Civil War era.

For the discussion group Gordon has chosen:

"1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart (Sept 22, 7:30 p.m.)

"Stars in their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign" by Shelby Foote (Oct 23, 7:30 p.m.)

"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane (Oct 27, 7:30 p.m.)

"April 1865: The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik (Nov 17, 7:30 p.m.)

Library Director Carolyn Reznick described Goodheart's 1861 as "a very readable book" that received "excellent reviews. Focusing less on political history and more on personalities, it captures the emotions and enthusiasm at the start of the war."

"The Red Badge of Courage", she said, "is generally regarded as the greatest novel of the Civil War." Ms. Reznick called Winik's "April 1865" an "engaging account of the final month of the Civil War leading to Appomattox -- storytelling at its best." She described Shelby Foote as "a novelist as well as historian," and said his chronicle, "tells the story of Gettysburg as a deeply human narrative."

Mr. Gordon chose the Goodheart and Winik books because, "they deal with the opposite ends of the war. I am a great admirer of Shelby Foote, but his Civil War book is three fat volumes, so I extracted the middle one because it dealt with the turning point of the war.

"And Stephen Crane, who wasn't born until 1871, takes you right onto the battlefield -- the food, people losing limbs and dying from wounds. The Civil War was the most defining war in our history," Gordon continued. "It was the biggest war we've ever fought. We lost more men in that war than all the others put together. 600,000 people were killed, from a population of 30 million. That would be like losing 6 million people today. All wars are brutal, but the civil war was particularly brutal. The Civil War remade everything. We became a new nation. Before the war, people used to say, 'the United States are...' After the war, they said, 'the United States is...'"

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