Monday, May 21, 2007

Now Available: Three Books about Civilians on Both Sides of the Mason Dixon Line

Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War, A. Wilson Greene,
Hardcover, 384 pages, University of Virginia Press (Spring, 2007), ISBN: 0813925703

In the past ten years, the urban and civilian aspect of the American Civil War has started to be addressed. Gettysburg, Atlanta, New York City, Charleston, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Pittsburgh, and Knoxville have been received attention. Greene, historian working at Pamplin Park, Virginia and author of essays considering the character and memory Stonewall Jackson, addresses the urban wartime history of Peterburg, Virginia

Few wartime cities in Virginia held more importance than Petersburg. It's written history has lacked both an adequate military and civilian home front work. The noted Civil War historian A. Wilson Greene now provides an expertly researched and eloquently written study of the Virginia city that was second only to Richmond in size and strategic significance. Industrial, commercial, and extremely prosperous, Petersburg was home to a large African American community, including the state's highest percentage of free blacks.

On the eve of the Civil War, the city elected a conservative, pro-Union approach to the sectional crisis. Little more than a month before Virginia's secession did Petersburg finally express pro-Confederate sentiments, at which point the city threw itself wholeheartedly into the effort, with large numbers of both white and black men serving. Over the next four years, Petersburg's citizens watched their once-beautiful city become first a conduit for transient soldiers from the Deep South, then an armed camp, and finally the focus of one of the Civil War's most physically and environmentally damaging campaigns.

At war's end, Petersburg's antebellum prosperity evaporated under pressures from inflation, chronic shortages, and the extensive damage done by Union artillery shells. Greene's book tracks both Petersburg's civilian experience and the city's place in Confederate military strategy and civilian administration. Employing unpublished sources, the book weaves a uniquely personal story of thousands of citizen-free blacks, slaves and their holders, factory owners, merchants-all of whom shared a singular experience in Civil War Virginia.

A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, Scott R. Nelson and Carol Sheriff, Hardcover: 384 pages, Oxford University Press, $25.00 (Spring 2007)

Claiming more than 600,000 lives, the American Civil War had a devastating impact on countless numbers of common soldiers and civilians, even as it brought freedom to millions. This book shows how average Americans coped with despair as well as hope during this vast upheaval.

A People at War brings to life the full humanity of the war's participants, from women behind their plows to their husbands in army camps; from refugees from slavery to their former masters; from Mayflower descendants to freshly recruited Irish sailors. We discover how people confronted their own feelings about the war itself, and how they coped with emotional challenges (uncertainty, exhaustion, fear, guilt, betrayal, grief) as well as physical ones (displacement, poverty, illness, disfigurement). The book explores the violence beyond the battlefield, illuminating the sharp-edged conflicts of neighbor against neighbor, whether in guerilla warfare or urban riots.

The authors travel as far west as China and as far east as Europe, taking us inside soldiers' tents, prisoner-of-war camps, plantations, tenements, churches, Indian reservations, and even the cargo holds of ships. They stress the war years, but also cast an eye at the tumultuous decades that preceded and followed the battlefield confrontations. An engrossing account of ordinary people caught up in life-shattering circumstances, A People at War captures how the Civil War rocked the lives of rich and poor, black and white, parents and children--and how all these Americans pushed generals and presidents to make the conflict a people's war.

Scott Nelson is Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction and Steel Drivin' Man: The Untold Story of John Henry and the Birth of an American Legend. Carol Sheriff is Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. She is the author of The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862. (Text supplied by the publisher.)

Torn Families: Death And Kinship at the Battle of Gettysburg, Michael A. Dreese, McFarland Publishing, 232 pp. Spring 2007

The Battle of Gettysburg lasted only three days but involved more than 160,000 soldiers-Union and Confederate. Seven thousand died outright on the battlefield; hundreds more later succumbed to their wounds. For each of these soldiers, family members somewhere waited anxiously. Some went to Gettysburg themselves in search of their wounded loved ones. Some were already present as soldiers themselves. In this book are extraordinary-and sometimes heartbreaking-stories of the strength of family ties during the Battle of Gettysburg. Fathers and mothers, siblings and spouses all suffered together, even as they drew strength from one another. Their stories are told here with the help of excerpts from diaries, letters and other correspondence, which provide a first-hand account of the human drama of Gettsyburg on the battlefield and the home front. (Information taken from publisher)

Michael A. Dreese is the author of five books: 'The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg' (2002) and 'The 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers at Gettysburg' (2000), 'This Flag Never Goes Down!: 40 Stories of Confederate Battle Flags and Color Bearers at the Battle of Gettysburg' (2004), 'Never Desert the Old Flag!: 50 Stories of Union Battle Flags and Color-Bearers at Gettysburg' (2002) and 'An Imperishable Fame: The Civil War Experience of George Fisher McFarland' (1997).

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