11/21/2011 03:56 PM
“With Veterans Day, November provides a special moment for us to remember that real people have passed before us to participate in and influence the events of the past,” said Nathan Buman, editor of Civil War Book Review. “So often when we study history, especially the Civil War, we lose that human element by elevating generals to heroic status and remembering the major battles out of the context of the war in its entirety. The decades of the middle-nineteenth century, and the four long years of conflict between the North and South saw millions of Americans who felt strongly about their place within American society test their limits. The study of the Civil War period provides historians with a look into the society of the past and the roles that Americans played, while Remembrance Day gently reminds us not to take that past and the efforts of our soldiers – past and present – for granted.”
This fall, the review features the portrait of Private Charles Mitchel of Company D, 107th New York Volunteers. This portrait provides a window into the world of the past. That is what makes the continued study of the American Civil war so fascinating, the notion that we can look, time and time again, into the past through the words, lives, and actions of historical figures both famous and obscure to discover new angles and new avenues to better understand these vital years that helped to shape the American society of today.
In this quarter, the review’s staff has chosen to highlight four works that help to illustrate the ways in which war changed society and the degree to which historical actors played a role in shaping the events of that period and the outcome of the war.
Margaret Abruzzo, in “Polemical Pain: Slavery, Cruelty, and the Rise of Humanitarianism,” investigates how nineteenth-century Americans debated slavery by looking at the inhumanity of the institution with increasing ferocity up to the eve of the Civil War.
“A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War,” by Sean A. Scott,
exams the Civil War the way that northerners looked at it: through a religious lens.
“Northern civilians constantly used the church and the clergy to interpret and deal with the course of the war,” Buman said. “Scott does an excellent job of narrating this process, looking at how this effort changed the church as well.”
“Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, & Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina,” by David Silkenat explores the social challenges that many Civil War veterans encountered when they returned home from fighting, an eloquent reminder to consider how veterans are treated when they return to civilian life after their service to the country.
Finally, Gregory P. Downs provides an excellent narrative of the fallout of the Civil War in “Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908.” Southerners, white and black, necessarily compromised and jostled for position as result of emancipation and the abolition of slavery leading into the 20th century as white and black sought to create a new society.
Civil War Book Review was very fortunate to speak with Eric Foner about his Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” a book that shows us how President Lincoln evolved over time as a result of his increasing experience and the events of the Civil War. Professor Foner urges readers to remember that we are all changing over time as part of our personal growth; we can find inspiration in Lincoln.
Daniel W. Crofts also provided an excellent Civil War Sesquicentennial column that explores Unionism in the South during the Civil War. As Foner illustrates in his aforementioned book, Lincoln often overestimated the strength of Unionism throughout the South and Crofts brings us up to speed on this topic, providing avenues for future exploration.
This quarter, Frank Williams uses “Lincoln Apostate: The Matson Slave Case” by Charles Robert McKirdy and “Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement” by Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page to further illustrate the personal growth of Lincoln during his life and the evolution of the way that he looked at African Americans and slavery.
The editions final feature, written by Michael Taylor, highlights a particular manuscript collection at LSU that shows the difficulties faced by those at home as they navigated the events of the war. Four difficult years, full of unknown consequences, led soldiers and civilians alike to endure the best they could to affect the outcome and their words, as Taylor shows, gives historians a better understanding of the way that people endured during the Civil War.
Civil War Book Review is published in the first week of the months of February, May, August and November. Those who would like to receive email reminders of upcoming issues and special features on the website can click on “Sign me up for CWBR Updates!” link at the bottom of any page in the journal.
Civil War Book Review is the journal of record for new or newly reprinted books about the antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction eras, and is a project of LSU Libraries Special Collections’ United States Civil War Center. A reader’s survey can be accessed through the CWBR homepage.
To submit ideas for future book reviews, contact Alice Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contribute to the Civil War Book Review fund, or for information on editorial matters, contact Buman at 225-578-3553 or by email at email@example.com.
Posted on Monday, November 21, 2011