Monday, May 07, 2007

CWL --- The Story That Jackson Would Not Have Read: Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War

Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War: A Compendium, Thomas P. Lowry, 337 pp., index, endnotes, appendices, illus., Xlibris, 2007, $22.99.

Prostitution, rape, masturbation, homosexuality, bestiality, bad language and even a short history of illegal sexual behavior before, during and shortly after 1863 in Adams County, Pennsylvania are presented in 1,036 true stories gathered by Thomas Lowry. Delving into the National Archives, the Library of Congress and sundry other state and local libraries, Lowry has previously produced books on military justice, medical malpractice and sexual behavior. He has established a database of 90,000+ court-martial records of the Civil War era.

Reading this manuscript before its publication James I. Robertson, noted author of a biography of Stonewall Jackson, and Robert K. Krick, esteemed author of books on Stonewall Jackson's strategy and tactics, are enthralled with 'Sexual Misbehavior in the Civil War. "No historical endeavor delights me nearly as one that displays rich original material," blurbs Krick and this book for him is a significant contribution to the field of Civil War history. Robertson crows that Lowry's new book is "a necessary conpendium for any serious student of Civil War history." Possibly, 'Sexual Behavior in the Civil War' is the book that Stonewall Jackson wouldn't have read. Lowry addresses prostitution and rape in 19 chapters and covers it by state and region. Masturbation, homosexuality, bestiality, bad language, and Adams County are addressed with individual chapters.

The last chapter, A Vast Miscellany, contains a truely ghastly photograph of a victim of syphilis, clever horseshoe art, detailed minie ball sculptures, and casual coin disfigurement. As with any compendium, the reader should ask, "Is this trivia or is this obscure information?" Trivia is entertaining; obscure information is a detail that speaks to a larger and pertinent truth. Taken anecdote by anecdote, 'Sexual Behavior in the Civil War' presents trivia; yet, organized as it is, 'Sexual Behavior in the Civil War' presents obscure information that reveals that passion leads men to commit acts that are unlawful, stupid, and dangerous. Working from courts-martial records and surgeon general reports, Lowry has discovered that there were 183,000 reported cases of venereal disease in the Union army and that California regiments had infection rates of about 50%. Most prostitutes died in their mid-twenties as sufferers of alcoholism, syphilis and morphine addiction.

Lowry states that "it is apparent that the author (Lowry) has offered little in the way of comment, analysis or editorializing. This book is not a book of analysis, nor would the sheer volume of material allow for such pontificating." (p. 14) What value the book gives, is directed to academicians and graduate students. He sees it as a type of Rosetta Stone, a "vast finding aid for future research, a beginning point for monogpraphs, dissertations and other learned works." Lowry quoutes Lincoln (p.7), "sexual contact is a harp of a thousand strings." This book will play many melodies for many casual readers and diligent researchers.

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