LSU History Professor Wins Multiple Awards for The Calculus of Violence: How the Americans Fought the Civil War

History professor Aaron Sheehan-Dean

Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Fred C. Frey Professor and chair of the LSU Department of History, won multiple awards for his recently published book, The Calculus of Violence: How the Americans Fought the Civil War. The Army Historical Foundation presented Sheehan-Dean with an award for Excellence in U.S. Army History Writing, specifically for the category of Institutional and Functional History. The Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association awarded Sheehan-Dean the Tonous and Warda Johns Family Book Award. This award is presented to outstanding publications of U.S. history that cover foreign relations, immigration history, or military history. The American Civil War Museum also awarded Sheehan-Dean the 2018 Jefferson David Award, which honors outstanding narrative works on the origins, life, and legacies of the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War. Not only did Sheehan-Dean’s book win awards, but it was also featured in a Wall Street Journal bookshelf article.


In The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, Sheehan-Dean presents a complex argument on the repercussions of the political motivations behind the North and South on the escalation and de-escalation of violence throughout the Civil War. His book addresses the moments in which the North and South decided to use restraint in regards to their warfare tactics, the treatment of POWS on both sides, as well as the civilian populations affected by the battles of the Civil War. He highlights the role run-away slaves played at de-escalating the violence through their choice to prioritize their pursuit of freedom over violent revenge. Sheehan-Dean specifically explores how the rules of engagement complicated the political dynamic between the North and the South. The South embraced the rules of just war in order to create legitimacy for themselves as a state in order to be recognized by much needed European states. However, for Lincoln, abiding by the rules of war gave further legitimacy to the Confederacy. Sheehan-Dean examines how this contention created at times an escalation of violence and at other times a de-escalation of violence especially regarding prisoners of war and civilians. By addressing the dramatic growth of historical interest in the conflict’s irregular combat and warfare styles Sheehan-Dean rejects the common belief that the conflict escalated to a total war as opposed to a limited war and complicates the way which violence escalated and de-escalated throughout the course of the Civil War.


The Calculus of Violence was published in November 2018 through the Harvard University Press. Sheehan-Dean’s previous books include The Civil War: The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It and Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia. He is currently editing the Cambridge History of the American Civil War.