“Epic Battles of the Civil War” (Marvel Comics – Memorial Day Special)

“Early July, 1861. The war has started, and the first major battle is about to take place. The Confederate Army, under General Beauregard, is camped on the west bank of Bull Run, a stream in Virginia that flows into the Potomac River. The plan is to prevent the Union Army from getting to the railroad center of Manassas Junction… and the direct road to Richmond, the Confederate capital…”

So begins the first of four volumes of Epic Battles of the Civil War, a joint venture by Marvel Comics and the Historical Souvenir Company. Each volume is dedicated to a major battle of the American Civil War, including First Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg.

First published in 1998, each volume is a 44-page graphic novel format, though a few pages at the end are dedicated to biographical information of some of the historical figures involved including Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. While historically accurate, the books aren’t merely a cold recounting of troop movements. The writers break between the battlefield action to other political figures such as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In addition, readers sometimes get to view the battles through the eyes of soldiers on the ground or civilian onlookers, giving the books more of an emotional appeal.

epic battles of the civil war-marvel-the splintering-general grantThere are different creative teams behind each volume, including artists Richard Rockwell, Gary Morrow, Angelo Torres and George Woodbridge and writers William Messner-Loebs, John Ford, and Will Shetterly. The variation in creative teams means all four books have their own separate look and tone. Each book also begins with a thorough introduction page, so readers who read just one volume or read them out of order shouldn’t feel lost.

The Epic Battles of the Civil War graphic novels are available at national military parks. Whether you want to pick up the full series or focus on a particular battle, the price of entry is quite reasonable (I picked up mine this year for just six bucks each). If you’re interested but can’t make it to a Civil War battlefield, you can order the series online from the American Civil War Museum, but be careful if shopping on Amazon – some of the prices there aren’t nearly as affordable.

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If you’re a comic book fan and you’re looking for a patriotic activity this Memorial Day, picking up the Epic Battles of the Civil War series isn’t a bad way to go. The subject matter is addressed with respect, including to the questions of slavery, secession, and to the soldiers who lost their lives on both sides. The Civil War was the bloodiest war in American history, and it’s a stark reminder of how badly things can go if we don’t find ways to address our differences by peaceful means.

Happy Memorial Day

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