As many of you know, we had to cancel this summer’s Civil War Institute Conference. While unable to gather together in Gettysburg, we have attempted to share insights from many our Conference presenters through a series of Facebook Livestreams. (also available on YouTube) We are excited to share you with a busy slate of digital programming this week – free and accessible to all – in place of our 2020 Summer Conference. (Please Note: All Programming will happen on Facebook Live on “The Tattooed Historian” Facebook Page. Within a few days of each event, they will be made available on the Gettysburg College YouTube.)
June 11th- 7:00PM EST “Using the Civil War to Fight World War Two.” Dr. Nina Silber (Professor at Boston University and President of the Society of Civil War Historians).
This discussion will draw on Dr. Silber’s book “This War Ain’t Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America.” Dr. Silber will discuss how the Civil War was invoked before and during America’s involvement in the Second World War.
June 13th- 9:00AM EST. “Reflections on the Antietam Campaign.” Scott Hartwig, (Retired Supervisory Historian at Gettysburg National Military Park)
Scott Hartwig will join us to discuss the Antietam Campaign. Hartwig is the author of the 800 page “To Antietam Creek: The Maryland Campaign from September 3 to September 16.” He is currently working on the next book in the series which will cover the Battle of Antietam and its aftermath.
June 13th- 11:00AM EST “Meade at Gettysburg.” Dr. Jennifer Murray, Oklahoma State University.
Dr. Murray is currently working on her second book entitled, “Meade at War: George Gordon Meade and the Army of the Potomac.” Dr. Murray will discuss George Meade’s leadership of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg and beyond.
June 13th- 3:00PM EST “Walking Pickett’s Charge Livestream Tour” Ranger Chris Gwinn (Chief of Interpretation and Education at Gettysburg NMP), Dr. James Broomall (Director, George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, Shepherd University),
Ranger Gwinn, Dr. Broomall, and CWI Director Dr. Peter Carmichael will be doing a series of live videos from the fields of Pickett’s Charge, each with their own focus.
Brian Luskey is associate professor of history at West Virginia University, where he teaches nineteenth-century American history. He is the author of On the Make: Clerks and the Quest for Capital in Nineteenth-Century America (New York University Press, 2010), the co-editor of Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America with Wendy A. Woloson (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), and the co-author of “Muster: Inspecting Material Cultures of the Civil War” with Jason Phillips, in Civil War History 63, no. 2 (June 2017). His most recent book, Men Is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America, will be published by UNC Press in spring 2020.
CWI: How does your book challenge the idea that the war was just about Union and emancipation?
Luskey: Historians agree that many northerners had come to believe, by late 1862, that the emancipation of enslaved people would help undermine the Confederate economy, society, and war effort. Republicans and even some Democrats believed that emancipation was a “military necessity” that would preserve the Union. My book suggests that we also need to appreciate the ways white northern employers framed the war aims of Union and emancipation in relation to a concept I refer to as “domestic necessity.” White northerners fought the war for Union to seize the fruits of free labor ideology that included employers’ ability to hire workers of their choice. The emancipation of enslaved people provided the northern states and northern employers access to economically vulnerable workers whom they could hire cheaply as soldiers and domestic servants. In Men Is Cheap, I examine the process through which former slaves (and others) were moved by the army and northern benevolent societies to the homes of eager Yankee employers. Northerners believed in free labor, slave emancipation, and accumulating profits because these things reinforced each other. The wartime doctrines of military and domestic necessity were linked in white northerners’ minds and illuminate what they thought the war for Union was over. In the process of winning that war, white northerners were able to assert the prerogatives of employers to amass principal through the labor of their workers as much as they realized the principle of abolition.
CWI: You write about underground economies. What do you mean by that phrase, and what does this tell us about the relationship between the military and the home front?
Luskey: It’s not a phrase I use in the book, but it’s a concept that encompasses a number of economic transactions that Civil War Era Americans (as well as some historians) considered illicit, illegitimate, and marginal to the functioning of the economy as a whole. Actually, these “underground” economies were vital to the mainstream economy, and the project of defining them as “underground” economies was often initiated by economic actors who wanted to obscure their own misdeeds. The employment agencies I discuss were colloquially called “intelligence offices” in reference to the information about the labor market that was available within. Proprietors charged fees to workers and employers for access to that information, and both parties often felt cheated when intelligence office keepers did not find them good jobs or hard-working employees. The intelligence office keeper represented for many Americans the dangers of fraud in the labor market and the economy more generally. And yet, during the war for Union, white northerners depended upon labor brokers to assist in moving soldiers, former slaves, Confederate deserters, and substitutes for drafted men at their direction and for their benefit. The war, and the movements of armies it unleashed, made it possible for labor brokers to do their work. The ways the war forced people to move, coupled with brokers’ nefarious reputation, permitted employers to hire workers of their choice and obscure their own self-interest by casting brokers as the truly shady characters in the labor market. The work of labor brokers was indispensable for winning the war, helped move the workers necessary to add to the respectability and refinement of northern households, and shaped a cultural process through which certain economic practices came to be labeled legitimate and illegitimate.
CWI: You have exposed widespread fraud and coercion with the impressment of Union soldiers. How did this occur and what does this reveal to us about Northern motivations during the war?
Luskey: The title of my book comes from the lamentation of a substitute broker who was not able to clear off enough profit in the wage labor market. Substitute brokerage, as historians have shown, was a business rife with deceptive practices. The Enrollment Act passed in 1863, designed to augment the manpower of Union military forces to crush the rebellion, included a clause allowing drafted men to hire substitutes to serve in their place. Especially in the final months of the war, substitute brokers cornered this new and anonymous labor market by connecting drafted men with strangers for high fees. What made these brokers notorious was that many also skimmed hundreds and thousands of dollars from unsuspecting enlisted men. Northerners condemned the brokers for their fraud. These men had sought to profit personally in their nation’s time of need. They stood opposite the virtuous citizen-soldiery who put their lives on the line to save the Union. Yet the brokers and the bounty jumpers they often employed were not the only people looking to profit from these provisions of the Enrollment Act. Substitutes and their wives hoped to accrue capital from drafted men who were increasingly forced to pay higher and higher prices for their services. These exorbitant wages would help substitutes’ families survive in a competitive economy that limited their access to resources. The fraud of substitute brokers, like the war itself, made wage earners vulnerable to exploitation and demonstrated how the conflict unmade the promise of free labor for working people. Yet drafted men could claim that they were not to blame for the brokers’ fraud, even as they employed other men to do the work of killing and dying for them.
Nina Silber is an award-winning teacher at Boston University where she teaches in both the department of history and the program in American and New England Studies. Her research and teaching have focused mainly on issues related to historical memory, gender, and the Civil War. A recipient of numerous awards – including fellowships from the Fulbright Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Harvard University’s Warren Center – Professor Silber has also published works that have helped to expand the scholarly horizons in the study of the Civil War. Among her most important publications are: The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900(1993); Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War(1992); Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War(2005); and, most recently, This War Ain’t Over: Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America (2019). Professor Silber has also worked in the field of public history, consulting on projects with the Gettysburg National Military Park, the History Channel, and the National Park Service. She currently serves as president of the Society of Civil War Historians.
CWI: The crisis of the Civil War was clearly disruptive to the Northern home front when men left to join the Union armies. What were the expectations in the North for how women would factor into the war for the Union in 1861? Did these expectations shift during the course of the war? How did the war affect traditional gender roles in the North?
Silber: Unlike Confederates, who went to war to protect their homes and families, Northern men spoke explicitly about putting the fight for the country above the fight for home. Confederates, for example, said things like this: “We are fighting for matters real and tangible, our property and our homes.” In contrast, one Union soldier told his wife: “My duties to my country are of more importance now than my duty to you.” That’s a very different kind of sentiment. And I think that language reflected certain assumptions about women and gender: That Northern men expected women to fend for themselves, even doing chores (at least temporarily) that men normally carried out. One soldier from Iowa said precisely that to his wife: That she should “take hold and do for thyself and use thy own judgment about matters”. In other words, he urged her to become more self-sufficient, while Confederate men emphasized male protection and authority.
The one shift I noticed, mid-way into the war, was the way Northern men, perhaps because the war was not going well, urged women to show even greater patriotism and sacrifice than before. Women, I think, were increasingly becoming a convenient scape goat: Men were connecting their military failures to women supposedly failing to do their part, yet there’s not really any evidence to back that up. If anything, evidence points to active participation on women’s part, especially in procuring supplies for soldiers, sending aid packages to the front, and sponsoring fairs that raised significant funds for Union troops.
CWI: How did Northern women respond to these changes? Were women more willing, or even eager, to push these boundaries and move out of their traditional domestic sphere? Did their responses to wartime changes depend on certain external factors, such as their geographic region; socioeconomic status; or the type of work they took on?
Silber: Women often had no choice but to assert the kind of self-sufficiency that some Union soldiers expected. They often did take on new responsibilities – from going to work in factories to doing men’s jobs on farms (e.g., chopping wood; harvesting crops; bringing produce to market). Some moved in with other family members (their own or their in-laws) to relieve some of the financial and physical burdens. Still, I don’t think women usually did these new chores with a sense of liberation. Indeed, many were often frustrated when they discovered how little they knew of the work men did: Debts that may have been owed or even the overall state of the family’s finances. Additionally, I think many simply felt overwhelmed by how much was expected of them during the war. Many couldn’t wait until their husbands came home so they could turn those “male” responsibilities back to them.
One exception to this may have been the kind of pride and ownership many women demonstrated when it came to their heightened political involvement: They became invested in partisan struggles, supported specific candidates, and learned as much as they could about the political and military struggles of the moment. Recognizing how critical women’s input was to the challenges at hand, one Connecticut woman wrote a letter to her husband in which she asked “why don’t they let the soldiers’ wives vote” while the soldiers are away.
Working class women faced added difficulties in losing the regular income of husbands and fathers. Some of those women found jobs – for example sewing uniforms or making other military supplies – but because they often worked for sub-contractors, not directly for the US government, their pay was exceedingly low. In some towns and cities, officials pledged relief money for struggling families, although women often had to wade through a considerable bureaucratic apparatus to procure this assistance. Increasing numbers of families, having no other means of support, found themselves turning to almshouses in these years.
CWI: Did the impact of wartime changes on gender roles extend beyond the war? What happened to the women who became wage earners or participants in politics or nurses? Did their engagement in wartime activism end when the conflict ended? Where do most Northern women find themselves in the late 1860s?
Silber: Some things changed, and others did not. Many women who went to work in factories lost those jobs when the war ended; there simply wasn’t the need for the kinds of factory jobs women had occupied– in arsenals or in workshops that made uniforms or blankets or tents. In the nursing field, there was a growing acknowledgement of nursing as a profession, something which required precise and scientific training. Nursing schools – which admitted women – opened up in the postwar years.
Other women, those who had been politically active for causes like abolitionism and women’s suffrage, continued the campaign for suffrage and also for protecting the rights of freed people after the war ended. There was, however, considerable disagreement about how to prioritize those campaigns with some, including many African American women, ranking the struggle for black men’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans as more important than winning votes for all women. Other women’s rights activists chose a different path: Refusing to support the fifteenth amendment – which granted black men the right to vote – they sought to build a new campaign focused solely on gaining the vote for women, a campaign that increasingly put white women at the center.
CWI Fellow Cameron Sauers ’21 recently interviewed Chief of Interpretation at Gettysburg National Military Park Chris Gwinn about the tour that Ranger Gwinn will lead at this summer’s conference. Ranger Gwinn’s tour is entitled “Twilight of the Blue and Gray: Gettysburg College and the 1938 Reunion” and will explore the site of the “Great Camp” at Gettysburg College, where 1,485 former Union and Confederate soldiers gathered for the final reunion of surviving Civil War veterans. Discover the stories of the veterans that attended and explore the history behind one of the most mythologized events in Gettysburg’s history.
For more information on the 2020 Civil War Institute Summer Conference, or to register, see our website!