Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New And Noteworthy: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in the Union Army

The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army, Lorien Foote, NYU Press, 256 pages, $39.00,

During the Civil War, the Union army—like the society from which it sprang—appeared cohesive enough to withstand four years of grueling war against the Confederates and to claim victory in 1865. But fractiousness bubbled below the surface of the North’s presumably united front. Internal fissures were rife within the Union army: class divisions, regional antagonisms, ideological differences, and conflicting personalities all distracted the army from quelling the Southern rebellion.

In this highly original contribution to Civil War and gender history, Lorien Foote reveals that these internal battles were fought against the backdrop of manhood. Clashing ideals of manliness produced myriad conflicts when educated, refined, and wealthy officers (“gentlemen”) found themselves commanding a hard-drinking group of fighters (”roughs”)—a dynamic that often resulted in violence and even death. Challenges, fights, and duels were common. Based on extensive research into heretofore ignored primary sources—courts-martial records and regimental order books—The Gentlemen and the Roughs uncovers holes in our understanding of the men who fought the Civil War and the society that produced them.

Lorien Foote authored Rich Man's War, Rich Man's Fight: Class, Ideology, and Discipline in the Union Army in Civil War History 51:3 (2005). Here is a beginning segment of the essay:

"In September 1861, for three successive days, an officer of the 2d Massachusetts tied a private to a tree for one hour. A courts martial had found the man guilty of drunkenness and insubordination. Regiments encamped near the Second noticed this punishment and disapproved. On the third day, as the man hung bound to the tree, a large crowd gathered around the edge of the Second's camp. Hurling insults at the officers, many men in the crowd took up a cry of "cut him down!" The crowd quickly became a mob that was not easily subdued. After this incident, officers from several regiments approached Colonel Gordon, commander of the Second, and asked him to punish the man in a more private place. Gordon refused. Wilder Dwight, the Major of the 2d Massachusetts, commented bitterly to his family that the Second was the only regiment that attempted to maintain discipline. "Even the officers among our neighbors discountenance the severity which alone insures our discipline," he lamented. "To-day our army is crippled by the ideas of equality and independence which have colored the whole life of our people. When this defect is cured, and men recognize authority and obey without knowing why, we shall begin to get... "

Text and top Image: New York University Press
Bottom Image: Lorien Foote, Facebook

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