From the author of nine books on the U.S. Civil War, including Cavalryman of the Lost Cause and A Glorious Army, this volume puts the spotlight on the capitalists behind the war effort—men of vision, organizational talent, and capital, who took advantage of the opportunity to create and market products that sustained Union troops, affected military strategy and tactics, and made the killing fields even deadlier.
Inasmuch as these figures normally get short shrift in the history of the period, it is commendable that Wert has undertaken to describe how their inclination, proclivities, persistence, motivation, and ambition laid the foundation for our nation’s postwar industrial expansion in the Gilded Age ... Wert has properly footnoted and cited his sources and included the traditional bibliography with sources from the electronic to contemporary newspapers, journals, and other documents. A highlight is the extensive photographic section, which has portraits of many of the subjects of the book as well as period photographs, illustrations and engravings of their products and contributions to Union success. Taken in sum, it is not hard to understand why the industrial and agricultural capabilities of the North could not be overcome by the Confederacy.
The most enjoyable anecdote in Mr. Wert’s book describes President Lincoln personally testing the rapid-fire, breech-loading repeating rifle invented by Christopher Miner Spencer ... Mr. Wert’s stories of innovation and economic accomplishment don’t tie into a narrative of the Civil War’s military and political progression, but rather assume that readers already grasp the basic outline of the war. The author also plays down the war-profiteering of many of his barons. Though they no doubt helped free slaves and preserve the Union, most gained great benefit from the war ... The history doesn’t lack for...examples.
Civil War Barons builds its case with punchy profiles of nineteen men, combining household names like Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt with others of dimmer memory like iron maker Edward Cooper and gun manufacturer Thomas Parrot. Much of the book's appeal lies in the variety of its subjects ... Wert clearly admires the men about which he writes, partly for their acumen and partly for their military importance, but he documents their foibles and failures, as well. Or at least he mentions them. As a result, a darker subtext familiar to twenty-first-century readers emerges in the crevices between the triumphs, though Wert leaves it largely unexamined ... Despite holding the cronyism at arm’s length, Civil War Barons offers a brisk gallivant through nineteen biographies in two hundred pages, and Wert's eye for the telling detail makes it an entertaining romp. Though most likely to engage those new to the story of Civil War business, it’s a solid paean to Northern innovation that is at least willing to peek at a darker narrative.