No era in the history of the United States has been so scrutinized as the four years when brother fought brother over the issues of self-government and slavery. So it’s fair to ask whether journalist S.C. Gwynne’s new book, “Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War,” is really necessary.
My answer is yes. Too many Civil War books drill so deeply into the conflict that one can lose sight of what it all means. That’s not the case with Gwynne’s lucid and gripping account, in which he strings together a series of vignettes and profiles of wartime figures in novelistic fashion to tell the story of the war’s tumultuous closing months, through Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and Jefferson Davis’ humiliating capture in Georgia.