Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Other Voices: The Real War Is Getting Into The Books

People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854-1877, Scott Reynolds Nelson and Carol Sherriff Oxford University Press, 345 pages, black and white photographs, maps, index, notes, bibliography. 2007, $28.00.

While reading People At War, a review of it by Randall M. Miller, of Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, came across my desk. Here it is.

"In a crowded field of books on the Civil War era. Nelson (Steel Drivin' Man) and Sheriff ( Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862), historians at the College of William and Mary, give us something new—an engaging, informed portrait of two peoples at war, with an emphasis
on how common soldiers and noncombatants adjusted to and were changed by the war.

The authors spend more time in recruiting halls, military camps, hospitals,and prisons than in battle to observe what moved men to war and some to flee it, as
well as how the physical and emotional demands of living away from home affected their sense of self and their national identity. At the same time, they discuss how the war came home to civilians, with the raids of armies and partisans, the demands of mobilization, the death and dismemberment of soldiers, the erosion of slavery, and the promise of freedom.

They are especially good at linking the experience of, and expectations about, the war with Americans' ambitions and interests in the West. Their vivid descriptions of disease and destruction will remind readers that war was hell even as it was also an instrument of social change. The new social historians' interest in "the people" gets its full due in this readable, reliable, and remarkably relevant book."

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