Thursday, March 19, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Fighting Means Killing: Soldiers View Their Work

978-0-7006-2628-1Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat, Jonathan M. Steplyk, University of Kansas Press, 294 pp., 14 illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, 2018, $29.95

Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat is quite possibly the first book-length study of soldiers' attitudes toward killing on the battlefields of the war. Others, such as Brent Nosworthy , Earl Hess, Gerald Linderman and others have addressed the topic within chapters. David Grossman's On Killing (1995) is offered by Steplyk as his model. Psychological conditions and mental health outcomes held and owned by battlefield soldiers are compared and contrasted with both the civilian and military training they received.

The author notes that the average soldier struggled to sublimate learned civilian resistance to provoking enemies' death on the battlefield. American society's culture and religious practices, generally speaking, provided barriers to combat effectiveness.

Like other historians, the author notes that hand-to-hand fighting was rare. Death by bayonet was more rare than death by sharpshooters which was less likely that death by massed muskets and artillery.  Steplyk believes that sharpshooters were somewhat tolerated and not hated outcasts on the battlefield.
He argues soldiers, at times, went to demanding lengths to limit, even avoid, killing, even to the point of putting themselves in jeopardy. 

Steplyk thoroughly considers the mortal and moral problems of race related massacres of surrendering troops. Participants, who justified these massacres, he concludes had their reasons and motives, which were both ideological and racial.

Throughout the book, firsthand sources are relied upon by the author. He provides the foci of when, how and why soldiers withheld their fire and at other times directed the fire of their immediate comrades in arms. Informal structures of parley, truce, and accepting surrenders are described as the soldiers experienced them. He author balances primary and secondary sources as he considers the wartime motivations and post-war justifications by the veterans. Readers who have thorough knowledge of the war's troops and battles, along with readers who are less immersed in American Civil War history, will find the text accessible and intriguing.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Primary Souce: 45th Pennsylvania' Hospital Steward's Report on South Mountain

  “It’s too damned hot here” – A medical history of the 45th Pennsylvania’s first battle

A common theme in Civil War history is examining how soldiers described their first experience in combat. Many referred to this with the period phrase “seeing the elephant.” After experiencing their first combat, however, those who survived lost that na├»ve excitement they first carried into combat.
The same also applies to the medical teams that accompanied their regiments into their first battle. For the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the first blood came at the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862. The regiment had spent almost its entire first year of the war in coastal South Carolina, and lost many more men to disease than it had to Confederate bullets or shells. The men spent their days drilling, building fortifications, and performing other hard labor as necessary.
In the regimental history for the unit, published in 1912, Hospital Steward James A. Myers described the first time the 45th Pennsylvania’s medical personnel went into action and the chaotic first taste of combat.

Full Text Link:National Museum of Civil War Medicine

 Image: James A. Meyers, Hospital Steward, 45th PA. Image taken from regimental history on

Friday, March 13, 2020

New and Noteworthy: Lee Is Trapped And Must Be Taken

"Lee is Trapped, and Must be Taken": Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg: July 4 - 14, 1863, Thomas Ryan, Savas Beatie Publishing, 342 pages, 33 illustrations, index, bibliography, $32.00, 2019. 

 A remarkable accomplishment of scholarship. Using scores of enlisted men's letters and reflections, commissioned officers' reports, newspaper, and civilian recollections Ryan and Schaus offer a fast-paced, day-by-day account of the decisions and the happenstances of the Army of Northern Virginia's flight from Gettysburg Battlefield as the Army of the Potomac attempts to catch the fast-moving Rebels. 'Lee Is Trapped and Must Be Taken' is now must-reading alongside Brown's 'Retreat From Gettysburg', and Wittenberg's/Petruzzi's/Nugent's 'One Continuous Fight'.

 Front cover

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

News From The National Archives: Did the Confederate Government Pay Slaves?

Confederate Slave Payrolls Shed Light on Lives of 19th Century African American Families

By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News

refer to caption

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 4, 2020 — For all of March 1862, a man named Ben cooked for the Confederate military stationed at Pinners Point, VA, earning 60 cents a day that would go to his owner.A few months later and 65 miles away,  Godfrey, Willis, and Anthony worked on “obstructions of the Appomattox River” at Fort Clifton.

Then there were Grace, Silvia and Bella, among several women listed as laborers at South Carolina’s Ashley Ferry Nitre Works in April 1864, near the names of children like Sarah, Eugenia and Sampson.   

They are single lines, often with no last name, on paper yellowed but legible after 155 years, among thousands scrawled in loping letters that make up nearly 6,000 Confederate Slave Payroll records, a trove of Civil War documents digitized for the first time by National Archives staff in a multiyear project that concluded in January. Continued at  Full Text Link: National Archives