Friday, June 22, 2007

CWL --- Commitment: Battlefront vs. Homefront

The Army Is Not Near So Much Demoralized as the Country Is: Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front, Lisa Laskin, in The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, A. Sheehan-Dean, editor, Kentucky UP, pp. 91-121, notes.

“Commitment to Confederate war aims, a common feeling of superiority over the enemy, and pride in their army, and its leadership contributed to the ANV soldiers’ unity and high morale . . . until the last days of the war,” and the single greatest persuasive argument for desertion came from the home front. Laskin’s review of “of soldiers contemporary writings about their relationships with Southern civilians illuminates” a paradox. “The people to whom soldiers looked for emotional support, also proved to be the group most capable of sabotaging soldier morale.” (pp. 91-92)

Women’s patriotism served the Confederacy. Early in the war, civilian animosity towards those who had not quickly enlisted intimidated young men. This goading provided reinforcement to the Southern war effort. In the patriarchal worldview of Dixie women embodied home and sacrifice. Their vulnerability motivated soldiers forward on the march to victory. Southern notions of honor included the protection of families from both the invading Northern barbarians and rebellious and revengeful slaves.

The author of this essay has found a discrepancy between soldiers’ idealization of women’s patriotism and their obvious hostility to the southern soldier. She cites incidents in Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina from Southern soldiers’ papers that reveal that civilians did not welcome their presence. Also, the spring of 1863 food riots in the urban South drew the attention and comments of Rebel soldiers who “uniformly disparaged the rioters as a lawless, marauding mob incited by foreigners.” (p. 101)

In soldiers' writings, three types of homefront attitudes were particularly disturbing: the avoidance of military duty, wartime profiteering, and rising tide of despair coming from homefront letters. By the war’s end, soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia concluded that they alone were the final repository of honor in the Confederacy. The author notes that the thousands of ANV deserters have not been heard.

In the middle of reading the essay, this reader wondered what Gary Gallagher thought about Laskin’s notions. The final page of the essay takes into consideration Gallagher’s work on the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate homefront. Laskin states that “the ANV’s impressive battle record helped boost the spirits of the folks at home, but it could never entirely overcome the inherent friction in soldier-civilian relations.” Laskin concludes that “soldiers’ commitment to the war—or at least to seeing the job through—was in stark contrast to the wavering commitment of those at home.” (p.111)

Help Note: This chapter can be obtained by using your local library's inter-library loan services or by contacting me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Forthcoming: Images of Medicine

Images of Civil War Medicine: A Photographic History, Gordon E. Damman and Alfred J. Bollet, 192 pp., Demos Publishing, $35.00, Fall 2007.

Dr. Alfred Bollet’s Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs won wide acclaim as an expert study. Now, in collaboration with Dr. Gordon Dammann, Dr. Bollet has taken his expertise one step further and pictorially illuminated this fascinating chapter in medical history. Featuring 250 rare archival photographs, Images of Civil War Medicine is a comprehensive visual encyclopedia of medical care during a seminal event in American history. The book showcases the uniforms, equipment, and members of a large group of individual Civil War doctors — “Cartes de Visites” — along with resonant images of existing pre-war structures used to heal the sick. Also here are prominent medical educators, hospitals, stewards, and ambulances,as well as images of surgery, dentistry, nursing, and embalming. Ideal for Civil War buffs, historians, and medical history enthusiasts, Images of Civil War Medicine gives a complete overview of this era's medical realities. Text From Publisher.

Friday, June 15, 2007

CWL --- Not a Brothers' War: How the Rebels Hated the Yankees

A Brothers' War?: Exploring Confederate Perceptions of the Enemy, Jason Phillips in The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, Aaron- Sheehan Dean, ed., University of Kentucky Press, 2007, pp. 67-90, notes.

As the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia stood before Joshua Chamberlain's division in April 1865, his spirit welcomed back the Rebels into the Union. 'Thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and eyes looking level into our . . .' Confederates received a salute from Union troops. John B. Gordon, Confederate general, returned the salute. Authors, painters and filmmakers use this story frequently to suggest the notion of a Brothers' War. A second story, appearing immediately after the salute story in Chamberlain's memoirs, is much less frequently discussed and used.

The second story suggests that the Brothers' War is a creation of a post-war, post-Reconstruction mentality. The salute scene is followed by a scene in which an unrepentant Rebel pointed tells Joshua Chamberlain that he hates him. The identity of the Rebel is not disclosed by Chamberlain but the text gives enough evidence to suggest that it may have been Henry Wise. A former Virginia governor during the Harpers' Ferry Raid incident and a father mourning the death of his son during the war, Wise places a curse on Chamberlain and all Union soldiers.

Throughout the war caricatures of Northerners were predominant in the discussions and writings of Confederates. In diaries, private letters and newspaper columns Northerners were labeled as inept, inferior, evil, and barbaric. This way of imagining the foe shows that Rebels drained complexity and individuality from representations of their enemies. Jason Phillips, the author of this chapter, states that "unprecedented destruction of the war made any real notion of brotherhood across the lives contradictory and absurd." (p. 69)

What did the term 'Yankee' connote for rebels? Pathetic foe, hypocritical reformer, cold industrialist, money-grubber, self-righteous Puritan, and demonic or inhuman barbarian is the list provided by Phillips in reviewing Rebel primary sources. In particular, the Southern religious pressed heaped derogatory language on Northerners. In the Southern mind, restoration of the Union was not a Northern war aim in and of itself; this purported strategic goal covered a desire by Northerners to rape, pillage, burn and promote miscegenation throughout the South.

By 1864, Southern popular literature advanced the idea that 'the North was trying to erase Southern civilization and Southern manhood' from Dixie states Phillips. (p. 73)
He quotes lyrics of Southern popular music to make the point. Threats to "women and property, including slaves, pervades Confederate verses and soldiers' writings." (p. 76) Before, during and after the war, Southern culture retested on patriarchy, female submission, land ownership and racial superiority. In Confederate minds, to lose the war was to doom Southern culture of political slavery and personal subjugation. When the perceived barbarians conquered the pastoral homeland of Dixie, Confederates like former-Virginia governor Wise faced an desolate future. The effort to reconstruct the Union was challenged by not the memory of a Brothers' War but actual hatred of the conqueror by the conquered.

Help Note: This chapter can be obtained by using your local library's inter-library loan services or by contacting me.

CWL --- White Union Soldiers, Race and Slavery

"A Vexed Question": White Union Soldiers on Slavery and Race, Chandra Manning in The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, University Kentucky Press, 2007, pp. 31-66, notes.

At what point did white Union soldiers accept African-Americans as being more than contrabands? Chandra Manning would say that they accepted blacks as early as 1861 if the white Union soldiers were west of the Appalachian Mountains.

The connection between emanicipation and the war was made by African-Americans. The first group of whites to make the connection were those of Union soldiers serving in Dixie during the fall of 1861. Citing camp newspapers that were writen and edited by soldiers of the line, Manning believes that these soldiers became both advocates and agents of emancipation. The assumption that racism made Union soldiers oppose emancipation is found in Bell Irvin Wiley's The Life of Billy Yank and the essay Billy Yank and the Black Folk.

Reviewing about 100 camp newspapers written and edited by soldiers in the field, Manning has found evidence that Union soldiers were linking emancipation with war aims by the end of 1861. ". . . the fact that slavery is the sole undeniable cause of this infamous rebellion, that it is a war of, by and for slavery, is as plain was the noon-day sun" are words that were written in October 1861 by an Illinois soldier stationed in Missouri; this statement is typical of what Manning has found. Between the late summer and early winter 'a striking pattern took shape, as soldier after soldier began to insist that because slavery had caused the war, only the destruction of slavery could end the war," states Manning.

Remarkably the author has also found that soldiers understood that the South's lacked a middle social class. They viewed the middle class as holding the reservoir of social virtue, which was essential for a democratic nation with a republican government. The sanctity of the family, and the slave holder's violation of it, was an issue for Union soldiers. First hand they observered that one in three first marriages of slaves were broken by sale and that one in two slave children were seperated from one parent by sale.

The progress of the war influenced the racial attitudes of Union soldiers. As black soldiers engaged the enemy and these engagements were alongside white Union soldiers, then white attitudes about blacks changed. Battlefield stamina and courage among black soldiers became an agent of change within the preceptions of white Union soldiers. Importantly, Manning states that many Union soldiers understood that Northern society was complicit in slavery and that the war was a judgment from on high upon the entire nation.

Help Note: This chapter can be obtained by using your local library's inter-library loan services or by contacting me.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

CWL --- Walking Gettysburg's Battlefield: Concise, Nice

Published by (June 2007)

Steven E. Woodworth. Beneath a Northern Sky: A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign. American Crisis Series. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2003. xv + 241 pp. Maps, chapter endnotes, bibliographic essay, index. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8420-2932-2; $14.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8420-2933-9.

Reviewed by: Jeffrey C. Hall, Departments of Biology and History, Brandeis University. Published by: H-CivWar (June, 2004)

Gettysburg, A Short History, Nicely Achieved
Beneath a Northern Sky is a concise account of the Gettysburg campaign, which occurred in the middle of the American Civil War. It is almost certainly unnecessary to note the time of Gettysburg, for this campaign and battle remains the most alarmingly salient event in that war. A corollary is that Steven E. Woodworth's treatment is one of an uncountable number of tellings of this tale. Moreover, several secondary works about Gettysburg have appeared already in this young century. Why conceive and produce Northern Sky? Woodworth, a professional historian at Texas Christian University, desired to write a readily digestible story--perhaps against an immediate backdrop of the recent books that each devote many hundreds of pages to the entire campaign or even to one-third of the three-day battle. In this regard, Northern Sky is a tertiary account, in a way, which draws heavily on secondary sources, including the contemporary works just alluded to. One way Woodworth tapped into these treatments and other secondary sources was to obtain many of the quotes judiciously sprinkled throughout his ten chapters, by which he includes words of participants in the campaign that were ferreted out by other historians and writers. There is not only nothing wrong with this, it also connects with the point that Woodworth's treatment is distinctly non-dense: it is largely a narrative that nicely moves the reader along without trying to dazzle such a person with the implication that the author has necessarily marinated himself in the vast quantities of primary research material available for Gettysburg. This kind of heavily researched then densely presented treatment can lead to so many quoted passages that the reader frequently gets bogged down and confused. The total tonnage of such material--along with the big books, smaller ones about Gettysburg micro-events, magazine articles, and on and on--is enough to shatter the imagination of Gettysburg aficionados, who are legion.

Will such persons derive further knowledge and insight about the Battle of Gettysburg, and the events surrounding it in June and July of 1863, from Northern Sky? Probably so, because Woodworth does more than provide a strong narrative line. The author pauses frequently to supply interpretations of the events and evaluations of actions performed by major members of the cast of characters. He takes the Army of the Potomac's commander, Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade, to task a few times (as on pp. 100, 210); and Woodworth is less admiring of that general's accomplishments at Gettysburg than are "later historians who would praise" this fledgling army commander (p. 204). He cannot help but evaluate Gen. Robert E. Lee's overall performance (on p. 209, for example); but he does not over-analyze it. Matters revolving around how well Lee did during the Gettysburg campaign continue to be churned, but this historical activity may be getting old. With respect to lower-ranking general officers in the campaign, Woodworth wonders aloud whether the Confederate cavalry commander, Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, truly befouled Rebel fortunes by exiting the major theater of campaign during the last week of June. This goes against the conventional wisdom, but Woodworth is correct to avoid over-emphasizing the negative significance of Stuart's ride around the Army of the Potomac as it marched northward. The author also provides a useful service by suggesting that a potential continuation of the Rebel offensive into the evening of July 1--to take the hills south of Gettysburg itself during the first day of the battle--did not approach dereliction of duty on the part of the Southern general in question (the historically embattled Richard S. Ewell). Additionally, could Lt. Gen. Longstreet's plan, supposedly urged on Lee by this Confederate Corps commander between the night of July 1 and the early hours of the second, have worked? No, argues Woodworth, with some cogent, factually based examination of the Army of Northern Virginia's dubious ability to redeploy away from Gettysburg, cavalierly to place itself between the Army of the Potomac and more southern sectors of this theater of war. These sample referrals to Woodworth's evaluative passages may suggest faint praise, because those who research Gettysburg then write endlessly about it are analyzing this military event into oblivion. Yet, the author being considered at the moment at least avoids a pure recycling of the usual and global negativity about the performance of the Confederate high command.

So, Woodworth's forays into Gettysburg analysis are more than enough to keep the mind alert as one works his way through this version of the story. In this respect, Northern Sky does not intend to be a work of raw scholarship. Readers of such Gettysburg books not only must absorb the results of weighty research; it also might be the case that they are largely being impressed by the author's reference lists (including the coveted "manuscript" source-listings of obscure primary materials), as opposed to being maximally informed about the subject matter. Instead of being a hefty tome, this book seems aimed as much at the casual reader as at the aforementioned aficionado. The former type of non-fiction consumer is presented with a solid entre to the Gettysburg story and will (however unwittingly) be brought up to date by Woodworth's synthesizing of modern scholarship.

That said, I might quibble with certain details of Northern Sky's narrative and whether all features of its explanatory value are up to par. Consider these examples from the early chapters: the Confederate cavalry comes into the story from almost out of nowhere during the account of the marches and rides northward, moreover, the important Loudon Valley battles, during which opposing cavalry forces clashed June 17-21, are given short shrift. The Northern cavalry force near Gettysburg, June 30-July 1, is overestimated as to the number of troopers in Brig. Gen. John Buford's command (p. 43). As the July 1 story proceeds, one wonders whether the famed Gettysburg civilian really did "pick off" Rebel attackers as he (the aged John Burns) attached himself to a Union regiment (p. 78). Subsequently on this Wednesday--as Union commanders began to supervise the defense forming on Cemetery Hill during the retreat of two Federal corps toward and below the town--they did not send as large a force as "two divisions to Culp's Hill" (p. 96--the prominence located east of Cemetery Hill; Culp's was dangerously undermanned until later). Gettysburg took place during the summer of 1863; thus, most persons writing about it pause to agonize on behalf of the soldiers, about what a "Hell on earth" it must have been (as Woodworth does on p. 105 with regard to the conditions on July 2); in reality, Gettysburg did not heat up climatically until the afternoon of July 3 (in context of June and early July, during 1863 in the East, having been rather cool and rainy). These and a few other claims about micro-events within the Gettysburg story are not all that well attributed in Woodworth's endnotes (appended to each chapter). In fact, scrutinizing the citations makes one wonder sometimes as to how a particular reference specifically backs up the corresponding verbal passage (for example, note 64; it is entered into text on p. 99 and sends the reader to contextually enigmatic citations on p. 103). Moreover, not all quotings of participants' words are attributed (it cannot hurt to know in each case whether such material was written soon after the battle or long after the war). Also, I gingerly recommend to the author that augmenting certain notes with short prose passages might be warranted, to clarify the point or comment on the source.

A related criticism about Woodworth's source material: his bibliographic essay (inserted between the final chapter and the index) is a good idea--better than a whopping list of references about which one can be puzzled as to how the author specifically drew on such-and-such a source (among the hundreds listed without comment)--for whatever component of the text. But despite the relative value of essaying the bibliography, the current author might have tweaked this section just a bit. As it winds up (on p. 223), Woodworth mentions a tiny fraction of the works that deal with something very small (a "single unit" or "individuals" at Gettysburg). Why these narrowly eclectic choices--instead of, for example, mentioning a couple of late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century periodicals? Readers' knowledge of these source materials would take such persons to almost all micro-features of the Gettysburg campaign, should they wish to peruse Gettysburg magazine (1989-present) and many issues of North and South magazine (1997-present, certain articles in which Woodworth does cite individually).

These perceived problems notwithstanding, the narrative solidity of Beneath a Northern Sky prompts me to choose features of the book that nicely move the reader through the core of the battle (July 2 afternoon through that of the next day). Thus, Woodworth supplies good word pictures for the complex battle events involving the massive fighting on the Union left and Rebel right during the late afternoon of July 2 (chapters 6 and 7). His treatment of the battle for Culp's Hill on the Federal right and Confederate left (later on that Thursday) is clear and well emphasized for its significance (end of chapter 7)--not always achieved by Gettysburg writers. As for July 3, and how (or how in the world) did Pickett's Charge get ordered, Woodworth does a fine job unraveling complexities of the original Confederate plans for Friday morning and how they evolved into the then-apparent rationality of an assault upon the Union center (chapter 8). Yet, perhaps the author protests too much when he puts himself into James Longstreet's mind and opines that that Confederate corps commander "simply ... never considered any other possibility" than that the attack would "fail" (p. 170). This may be too much in the ballpark of conventional wisdom: Longstreet's resentment about a supposedly suicidal offensive plan being set in motion, according to some sort of impatient pugnacity on the part of Gen. Lee. Against a background of Woodworth's description of the rationale for the Charge, he might have given a nod to recent scholarship which suggests that the conceptualization of and planning for the July 3 assault was somewhere in hailing distance of high-quality generalship. Could Pickett's Charge have succeeded? Maybe it might have. But because it was destroyed by an active--not merely a stalwart--Union Federal defense, we'll never know. And it's arguable that analysts of Gettysburg should dial back a bit on their "predicting the past."

Woodworth writes little in this vein--tending to avoid "if X had been tried, Y would have happened, and therefore Z" about the outcome of the battle and campaign. This author aimed principally to describe and clarify the events of Gettysburg in a work than can be absorbed in a small handful of sittings. Much of what happened near that small Pennsylvania town was complicated-and possibly momentous. The latter is still in the minds of many although is nowhere near universally believed by now. That issue aside, I myself understood what Woodworth wrote and appreciated learning new things about Gettysburg from Northern Sky--even though I might claim to know "too much" already from studying the campaign and teaching a college-course about it for some years. When I present the story orally, I find it quintessential to augment the account with a host of visual aids. Despite the overall clarity of Woodworth's narrative, I modestly propose that the author could have salted two-to-three times as many maps as he chose to include in the book. Some examples: his "Eastern Theater" map at the beginning does not include Fredericksburg, from where the campaign started in Virginia. Chapter 4 could have used more diagrams to deconvolute description of the actions on July 1. Elements of chapters 6 and 7 necessarily descend into too-complicated sub-stories about July 2 for words alone, even though these passages inform the ordinary reader better than do the dense tomes about Gettysburg (there are three maps within these two Northern Sky chapters, but double that number would have helped). As a final illustrative case: If Woodworth decided to include an ever-so-brief account of the battle for the East Cavalry Field on July 3 within chapter 10, he might have supplied a map that at least would depict where this action occurred.

The previous mentions of Gettysburg "tomes" lead me to conclude that readers potentially interested in this subject should not start with them. You'll be mired in extreme verbal density, and you'll have to plow through staggering numbers of primary-source quotes. Therefore, begin instead with Beneath a Northern Sky, especially if you desire to read a clear and rather stirring story about the Battle of Gettysburg. Woodworth's work minimally misleads and strikes a fine balance between too superficial and overly dry, on the one hand, and a case of "more and more about less and less," on the other.

Citation: Jeffrey C. Hall. "Review of Steven E. Woodworth, Beneath a Northern Sky: A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign," H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews, June, 2004. URL:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Other Voices: To Live and Die in Dixie: Civilians In Petersburg, Virginia

Published by (June 2007)

A Wilson Greene. Civil War Petersburg: Confederate City in the Crucible of War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006. xi + 363 pp. Illustrations, bibliography, notes, index. $34.95 (cloth)

Reviewed for H-CivWar by Robert N. Thompson, Independent Scholar

As A. Wilson Greene points out in his preface to Civil War Petersburg, there has been an increasing amount of scholarship in recent years dedicated to examining the lives of noncombatants during the Civil War. One genre of this scholarship might be termed the "community study," in which the economic, social, political, and military impact of the war on a specific city or town is studied. This study, in turn, allows the modern reader to gain a feel for not only how the people viewed and reacted to great events of the time, but also how the war affected their every day lives,particularly when war came calling at their doorsteps.

Greene, the Executive Director of the Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, just outside Petersburg, has a natural interest in the city's role in the war and, as his research makes clear, he makes good use of some wonderful source material in developing his study. His heavy reliances on primary sources, especially letters and diaries taken from the collected papers of individuals and families who lived in the city during the war, allows these citizens to speak to us across time, conveying their feelings and impressions literally as they were captured at particular moments in time. This, in turn, gives us the most accurate image possible of what their lives were like.

However, Greene is careful not to rely solely on these sources, lest he convey only the image of the city provided by those few who documented their lives. He also uses editorial comments and reports from the local newspapers, as well as statistical data to tell his story. From all these sources, we see Petersburg as a thriving pre-war commercial center whose strategic position astride the railway leading to Richmond would eventually make it subject to the longest siege of the war.

While Greene provides extensive detail on virtually every aspect of live in the city as the war progressed, two aspects stand out as particularly enlightening: the war's impact on the African American population and the effects of financial inflation.The first is particularly interesting because Petersburg had one of the South's largest free African American populations. In fact, as Green points out, in 1860, 36 percent of Petersburg's African American's were free, and, some 26 percent of Petersburg's total free population was African American--the highest percentage of any city in the South (p. 8). Further, the majority of these free African Americans were women and they owned half the property held by the city's black population. Some free African Americans managed to become quite affluent. In fact, one of the more interesting points in Greene's book is that some of the free African American women who worked as prostitutes or became concubines to white men were so affluent that they actually owned their own slaves.

As the war progressed, the African American population's situation worsened. Initially, both free black men and slaves volunteered to support the Confederacy by joining the cause as laborers to build defensive works and fortifications. While they appeared enthusiastic, Greene states this enthusiasm was demonstrated primarily out of necessity, and did not reflect any true zeal for the Southern cause. The workers were paid, however, and the city actually provided some welfare and sustenance, however meager, for the families left behind in the Petersburg. However, as the war continued, the African American population was hit especially hard by increased racial tensions, which led to increased arrests and harsh punishment for African Americans accused of even the most petty of crimes. Further, along with the
poor white population, they were devastated by the effects of rampant economic inflation.

Greene points out that, as was probably the case in much of the South, nothing did more damage to the city's economy than inflation, which was primarily fueled by a lack of commodities. He demonstrates this by citing some of the differences in prices between the winter of 1863 and the spring of 1864. During the winter months, butter rose from $4.00 a pound to $15.00, while the price for an egg increased by 1,500 percent in only seven months. Other staples saw similar inflation, with flour increasing from $75.00 to $300.00 dollars per barrel; beef rising from 30 cents to $4.00 per pound; and meal elevating from $12.00 to $40.00 dollars per bushel.

Greene also documents the steady decline of the city's commercial and industrial base. As supplies of cotton and tobacco diminished, the mills and tobacco warehouses began to close. Further, a lack of spare parts for machinery also severely limited the capabilities of those factories and mills that did operate. Eventually, many of the tobacco warehouses were converted to hospitals for wounded soldiers, but this loss in economic infrastructure further worsened life for both whites and African-Americans,who depended on these mills, factories, and warehouses for employment.

Finally, with the siege of the city beginning in the summer of 1864, life in the city would markedly change. The regular bombardment by Federal artillery ended many of the few remaining social activities of the city, and disrupted the very patterns of daily life. The siege, which would last for ten months,left an indelible impact, which can still be seen today.

While this book is not the sort that many Civil War enthusiasts will flock to, it is an excellent scholarly study, and one that provides valuable insights into urban Southern life during the war. The fact that the subject city also became a key strategic point in the war provides for additional interest and the opportunity for further insight. In total, the book sets a new standard for its genre and one we hope others will strive to meet.

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