With more than 55,000 books in print about the Civil War, one might assume that there is no new information to be gleaned about the event that separated states, communities and families. But there is a topic that has received scant attention — the environmental history of the Civil War.
Professor Timothy Silver and associate professor Judkin Browning from the Appalachian State University Department of History have aligned their academic interests on a project that has received a $100,000 collaborative research fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. Silver is an environmental historian and the author of “Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains: An Environmental History of the Highest Peaks in Eastern America” (University of North Carolina Press) and “A New Face on the Countryside: Indians, Colonists and Slaves in South Atlantic Forests, 1500-1800” (Cambridge University Press).
Browning is a military historian and the author of “The War Begins Anew: The Seven Days’ Campaign, 1862” (Praeger Publishers) and “Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina” (University of North Carolina Press), as well as other books about Civil War leaders and military campaigns. “Essentially, we plan to recast the Civil War as an environmental event and not so much as a military conflict,” Silver said. The book will illustrate the war’s disruptive influence on the relationships between people and nature and how natural factors, such as disease, malnutrition and weather, helped shape the course of the war, according to information from ACLS.
“I have always been interested in how war disrupts or changes the relationship between people and the environment,” Silver said. “The Civil War is the only semi-modern war fought on American soil and arguably, I think, the second largest movement of people and animals in American history — the first being Europeans colonizing the Americas.”
The historians will document how the large-scale movement of troops and animals changed communities and towns, including the effects of disease outbreaks, such as measles and typhoid in humans and diseases that affected animals, such as hog cholera and glanders in horses. Silver said that Union and Confederate soldiers accused each side of releasing diseased horses in an effort to infect their enemy’s herds.
Silver and Browning will turn to rosters, soldiers’ diaries and letters, and published materials for their research. “We like to say our sources are hiding in plain sight,” Silver said. “The great thing about working on the Civil War is that it’s the most written about event in American history. A surprising number of sources have been published or are available digitally. We are using sources that a lot of historians have used before but never really looked at through the lens of environmental history.”
As a military historian, Browning has many examples of battles that were determined in some ways by the weather. For example, the largest battle in Kentucky might not have happened if it had rained more in the area during the summer and fall of 1862.
The full text is continued at Mountain Times.com
CWL: The American Civil War's environmental history has been addressed within the past five years. Most notable is Lisa M. Brady's fine War Upon The Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes During the American Civil War , Kate Nelson's exceptional Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War  and Kelby Ouchley's encyclopedic Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide