Blow-by-blow accounts of battles and complex military strategy often pervade nonfiction Civil War books, but local historian Dennis Frye said he wanted to write an account of the war from the perspective of the people.
At the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau on Friday, Frye signed copies of “September Suspense: Lincoln’s Union in Peril,” a work he called a “social history” of the events of September 1862.
“It’s a brand-new contribution, not only to scholarship, but to encourage renewed public interest,” he said.
The first three weeks of that month were the most suspenseful period of the Civil War, when the Confederate forces were closest to victory, and the United States was in the greatest danger of being permanently divided, Frye said.
To capture that spirit of tension, Frye spent two years researching Civil War-era newspapers, the “last great untapped Civil War resource,” he said.
The reporters and editors of these papers did not know how the war would progress from one day to the next, and so their writing was suspenseful and dramatic — a style Frye said he adopted in his book, published two weeks ago.
“They don’t know what will happen on the morrow, and that’s how it’s written,” he said.
Frye said he examined hundreds of newspapers and thousands of pages of newsprint from all over the country. As a result, the book has nearly 500 endnotes, 90 percent of which are from period newspapers.
“I wanted to tell their story in their own words, not to intellectualize history, but to make people feel the history,” he said.
Many people who attended the book signing said they purchased the book as Father’s Day or birthday gifts.
Sandy Andrews of Hagerstown, who participates in re-enactments as part of the Confederate Military Forces organization, said he bought the book because of his interest in Civil War history, especially the Battle of Antietam, which took place on Sept. 17, 1862.
“We do a lot of living history,” he said. The book is “supposed to have a new, unique spin on it.”