Interpreting the Abraham Bryan Farm

By : Cameron Sauers

CWI Fellow Cameron Sauers ’21 tells the story of the Abraham Bryan farm on the Gettysburg battlefield. Bryan, a free African American, owned a portion of the land that Johnston Pettigrew’s men would make their July 3rd assault on. After the war and Bryan’s death, Union and Confederate veterans would shake hands over the stone wall on Bryan’s property. Cameron explores the paradoxes of the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” and reconciliation happening on the land of a free black man at one of the most famous Civil War battlefields.

Twilight of the Blue and Gray: Gettysburg College and the 1938 Reunion

By: Cameron Sauers

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! 

The Little Civil War Drummer Boy

By Cameron Sauers ’21

Civil War snare drum. (Image Courtesy of Special Collections, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College)

When I think about the battle front, I think about soldiers in uniform marching off to fight with their weapons and small mementos from home. I also think about the many doctors and nurses who provided care to men riddled with bullet holes and disease. I never thought of drummers, though, until I saw the snare drum pictured above. However, this drum and the many others like it were an integral part of army life. For the drummers themselves, their instrument represented a unique avenue of service where zealous, but often underaged, patriots could join the war efforts without being directly engaged in active combat. To soldiers in the midst of battle, listening to the drum could either inspire patriotism or fear, depending on whether the staccato taps came from their own drummers or those of the enemy. Outside of combat, the drum helped to create order in camp and in drill, as well as provide some musical relief from the dullness of a long march or extended period of encampment. Drum-based music accompanied nearly every aspect of life for Civil War soldiers.

Over the course of the war, about 40,000 men served as drummers. With so many drummers and musicians, the music industry boomed during the Civil War. The army’s need for musicians created a high demand for instruments, with companies like Stratton & Foote, the New York producers of the above drum, created by enterprising citizens. Union army guides for the drums dictated that the arms of the United States and regimental designation be painted on the drums; however, this was a rule which was hardly followed. Generally, field drums ranged from 15 to 16 inches in diameter and 10 to 12 inches in depth. The shells were generally single, double or triple ply made of maple, ash or holly. The variety of different compositions for drums was matched by the diversity of men who served as drummers in Civil War armies.

Since there were no strict age requirements for drummers, like in other forms of service, the age range of drummers who might have used the above pictured drum varied. Many of the drummers were young boys, some as young as twelve years old. Although these boys were not old enough to carry a musket onto the battlefield, they could still contribute to the war effort with their musical skills. Other men volunteered as drummers in order to avoid active combat, hoping that serving as a musician would keep them at a safe distance from the fighting. However, field musicians regularly set aside their instruments to serve as stretcher-bearers and in other roles of assistance to medical staff that still exposed them to the grisly realities of warfare. At times, musicians also did find themselves in the midst of battle. Twenty-eight army musicians received the Medal of Honor, mostly for bravery displayed while removing wounded soldiers from the field. Other musicians intentionally set aside their drums and other instruments to fight, such as George Palmer of the 1st Illinois Cavalry. Palmer was awarded a Medal of Honor for picking up a musket and taking part in a charge to reclaim an overrun hospital at a battle in Lexington, Missouri. Palmer’s service is evidence that for Civil War soldiers, musicians included, their experience was not always what they expected it to be when they enlisted.

Drummer boy, taking a rest, Culpeper, Va. (image courtesy Library of Congress)

There also was no specific requirement that one had to actually be able to play an instrument like the above-featured drum in order to join either a regimental or brigade band. Often times, drummers and other field musicians enlisted without the ability to read music or play an instrument. The resulting unpleasant music was best described as a ruckus, and sometimes even led to moments of hilarity. Timothy H. Pendergast of the 2nd Minnesota wrote about one such incident where camp mules mistook a band’s “music” for the sounds of an incoming wagon train. This poor-quality music was less amusing for officers, who simply became frustrated with the noise. In this particular instance, Colonel Adelbert Ames of the 20th Maine staged an actual “charge” upon the drum corps with his sword in order to make the “music” stop. Training a regiment of green soldiers was frustrating enough, but poorly trained drummers who bungled commands became a nuisance on the training ground and a liability in combat. However, over time, with constant practice and rigorous training, , regiments and their musicians learned how to function effectively. Despite the initial learning curve for some Civil War musicians, however, others entered the service already accomplished, such as famous band leader Patrick S. Gilmore who enlisted in the 24th Massachusetts in an attempt to attract young men to join the army with his patriotic music. Gilmore’s service manifested itself in the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” a song with a recognizable use of the drum. The frequency of the drum in every regimental company meant that its music touched the ears of most Civil War soldiers.

In battle, drums were used to provide inspiration to soldiers, as well as communicate orders and direction to troops. Musicians used their instruments to play patriotic tunes that might inspire soldiers to stand their ground and perform bravely in battle. Aware of the impact that music could have, officers often ordered their musicians to strike up a patriotic song to bolster the spirits and courage of their soldiers. In perhaps the most famous instance, General George Pickett’s men stepped off on their fateful charge at Gettysburg to “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” which prompted the waiting Federals to strike up “The Star-Spangled Banner” as both a rallying call to their own troops and an attempt to douse the spirits of their attacking foe. Both songs begin with the beating of a drum. One can imagine the wide range of emotions of a Confederate drummer, perhaps a young boy, solemnly playing his drum as friends and comrades slowly marched off towards their fate. The Union drummers likely watched the approaching Confederates with renewed determination but also apprehension, aware of the destruction that was about to ensue, yet in awe of the enemy’s martial courage. Solders clearly understood the impact that music had on their courage, as one told the Sanitary Commission, “I can fight with ten times more spirit, hearing the band play some of our national airs, than I can without the music.” At Dinwiddie Courthouse on March 31, 1865, Phillip Sheridan ordered his musicians to stand directly behind his men and play patriotic music. One band continually played “Hail Columbia” for the duration of the attacks launched by Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederates. Seeing how the music sweetened the sounds of battle to inspire Sheridan’s men, Lee ordered his bands to play. The result was not just dueling armies, but a symphony of bullets, brass and beating drums that rang in the eardrums of all.

On a more practical level, drums were also used during battle to give orders and direct troops amidst the fog and chaos of combat. Drums were kept near the line whenever possible in order to help ensure that the correct order was sounded down battle lines. Officers relied heavily upon drummers to sound the proper orders, as wrongly communicated messages could lead to chaos – and needless casualties- in battle. Some units took advantage of this chaos, using musicians to mask the true size of a force and make the unit look larger to intimidate the enemy. On at least one occasion, music was also employed to draw soldiers away from their lines and into enemy hands during combat. Additionally, during lulls in combat, musicians often played tunes to mask the sounds of the wounded and dying that lay on the field, thereby steadying the nerves of those still fighting. For nervous or inexperienced men under fire, or even those in their fifth or sixth battle, the familiar rhythms of the drum helped to bring clarity and order to the combat confusion that could so easily stunt a regiment’s successes on the battlefield.

Unidentified young drummer boy in Union uniform. (image courtesy of Library of Congress)

Another example of the use of drums and music as a means of order and focus during combat is when George Custer had his musicians perform “Yankee Doodle,” a song played partially on the drum, when on the attack at Brandy Station. Mounted cavalry bands, like infantry bands, had drums at the center of their operations. Following Brandy Station, Custer wrote that “it required but a glance at the countenances of the men to enable me to read the settled determination with which they undertook the task before them. The enemy, without waiting to receive the onset, broke in disorder and fled.” Custer’s anecdote shows the ability of Civil War music to lead to gallantry in combat. Music steadied the nerves of anxious soldiers and calmed them down so that they could more effectively perform their duty in combat. Musicologist James Davis argues that musical performances were recognized by soldiers in the same way that they recognized the bravado of their officers. A band’s performance during battle became a public presentation of the unit’s courage, so it was imperative that bands perform properly to represent the bravado and martial masculinity of their regiment. While serving in a different capacity than “fighting” soldiers, musicians and their instruments retained the ability to inspire their comrades to acts of bravery. The tapping of the drum was more than just music; it was a gallant patriotic expression that could help turn the tide of battle. Musical instruments, like this drum, reminded soldiers of their solemn duties in combat and of the need to perform honorably alongside their comrades.

Outside of combat, this drum sounded the more mundane tasks like waking soldiers up in the morning, ordering their tasks throughout the day, and sending them to bed at night. Musicians learned eighteen different signals that helped in fundamental ways to bring daily order to a unit. Music encouraged soldiers as they marched into battle, but it also kept them company on long marches, as Confederate drummer boy Delavan Miller reminisced, “for a marching column ther [sic] is nothing like martial music of the good ol fashioned king.” Music comforted soldiers when they felt homesick and provided a sense of camaraderie and togetherness, as evidenced by the 30th New York’s use of “John Brown’s Body” and various hymns to relieve stress and reinforce their soldierly bonds, even as the unit approached its June muster out date.

Music accompanied all aspects of life during the Civil War. The drum, and other Civil War musical instruments, had an intense power over the soldiers who regularly heard its familiar beats. If played poorly, humor ensued. If played well, a wide range of emotions, from patriotic pride to solemn reflection, could be produced. Music took on heightened value during combat, reinforcing the courage of soldiers and encouraging acts of gallantry when needed. Civil War soldiers were deeply attached to the musicians that served with them and carried with them a great appreciation for the instruments they carried. This drum, perhaps carried by a boy as young as 12, looks simple. It looks like a standard, typical drum. But to Civil War soldiers, it bolstered their spirits in combat and in camp in immeasurable ways.


Davis, James A. “Union Musicians and the Medal of Honor During the American Civil War.” College Music Symposium 54 (2014).

Cornelius, Steven H. Music of the Civil War Era. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Davis, James A. “Music and Gallantry in Combat During the American Civil War.” American Music 28, no. 2 (2010): 141-72.

Manjerovic, Maureen, and Michael J. Budds. “More than a Drummer Boy’s War: A Historical View of Musicians in the American Civil War.” College Music Symposium 42 (2002): 118-30.

McWhirter, Christian. Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music In The Civil War. Chapel Hill : UNC Press. 2012

Gleason, Bruce P. “U.S. Mounted Bands and Cavalry Field Musicians in the Union Army during the Civil War-Background, Duties, and Training.” Journal of Historical Research in Music Education 27, no. 2 (2006): 102-19.


Private Confederacies: A Review

By Olivia Ortman ’19 and Cameron Sauers ’21

Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers
James J. Broomall
ISBN: 9781469651989
UNC Press

For generations, notable scholars such as Gerald Linderman, Reid Mitchell and Joseph Glatthaar, have tried to understand the experience of common Civil War soldiers. With Private Confederacies, James J. Broomall makes a penetrating dive into the emotional world of elite male slaveholders, focusing on how the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction affected their personal lives, emotional expressions, and gender identities. He argues that white Southern men struggled to process their wartime experiences due to societal expectations of male self-restraint. To overcome such expectations regarding their self-expression they created soldier communities that they could rely upon for emotional support and comfort. Using a variety of sources, including letters, diaries, and material culture, Broomall studies both the private and public lives of white Southern men to reconstruct their emotional trajectories throughout the war and into Reconstruction. At its very core, Private Confederacies explores how the shift from national strife to national peace was more than just a national change, as it was a deeply personal and emotional transition for those who experienced it.

Broomall explores the dynamics of the private and public expressions of men who often harbored deep-seated sentiments that were at odds with their outward demeanor. Antebellum Southern men were reared in an honor-based culture that demanded distinct expressions of manliness based on Christian gentility, physical prowess, and self-mastery. In public, men were expected to distance themselves from bursts of emotion and instead show restraint and self-control. These cultural demands for appropriate conduct created boundaries between men and other members of society, which were necessary for maintaining their position at the top of the social order. In private, though, slaveholders were highly emotional and reflective. Broomall emphasizes antebellum diaries as a private place where Southern men could question themselves, interrogate the world around them, and freely express their emotions. However, upon becoming soldiers, these men found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the horrors of war.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern men were thrust into unfamiliar territory which threatened existing social and cultural expectations of manhood and class hierarchy. Men’s pre-conceived notions of heroic action, stoicism, and the “good death” were challenged by the gruesome realities of battle and the seeming randomness of battlefield death, which could destroy men’s bodies, render them emotionally vulnerable before comrades and their subordinates, and potentially undermine their respectability. The randomness of battlefield death and new soldiering lifestyle was exhausting both physically and emotionally for Southern men. To cope with the new experiences of soldiering, Southern men developed new methods of emotional release which reflected a larger breakdown in barriers between their public and private lives. Using a focused study of material culture, Broomall traces men’s changing perceptions of themselves, their emotions, and the world around. When the war started, Confederate soldiers wore homemade uniforms, allowing them to maintain identities as citizens along with their pre-war worldviews. Once those uniforms deteriorated and were replaced by government-issued clothing, men fully recognized themselves as soldiers. This shift in self-identification and mindset made soldiers more willing to work together as a unit and to rely upon each other for emotional support.

Camp life also fostered critical changes in soldiers’ behavior. Camps were public places where men worked within and respected a social hierarchy. However, they also ate, slept, and performed domestic tasks in camp, all of which were aspects of their private lives. The camps, therefore, became a space where soldiers renegotiated their masculinity and created a community reminiscent of familial bonds. Traditional notions of masculinity shifted away from the independence of antebellum days to the interdependence required of a martial unit. These new soldier communities, which were essentially interdependent martial families, gave soldiers a space to reflect on the battles they had gone through, as well as reaffirmed their notions of social hierarchy through differences in rank and the important racial distinctions and bonds derived from the presence of slaves. As southern men found their pre-conceived notions of manhood and war challenged on and off the battlefield, they continued to turn to each other for support and affirmation.

When the war ended and Southern men had to come to grips with defeat and emancipation, many turned back to these martial communities to process their new world. The realities of Reconstruction and military occupation, mixed with the depression of defeat, took an emotional toll on white Southern men. While many adjusted and returned to their position as patriarch of the household, some channeled their emotions into extralegal violence. The soldier communities that had made the Civil War survivable became the underpinnings of paramilitary organizations, like the Ku Klux Klan. Although an extreme group and not representative of all Southern men’s feelings, the KKK tapped into the anger and fear felt by some white Southern men who used violence to assert their manhood in the face of emancipation and defeat, both of which were extremely emasculating for Southern white men who had built their identities upon social inequality and dominance.

Private Confederacies offers an insightful look into the evolution of the emotional worlds of Southern men during the 19th century. Broomall’s book reveals how the Civil War shook the self-identity of Southern males, whose new, tightly knit soldier communities became critical to their survival and their self-understanding during the hardships of the Civil War and its aftermath. Broomall’s book expands our understanding not only of Civil War soldiers but of Southern society in critical ways by revealing the war’s deeply personal impacts that collectively re-shaped southern culture in the postbellum era.


Dr. James Broomall will be speaking at this summer’s 2019 CWI Conference

Cutting Through the Ranks: the Navy’s Forgotten Legacy

By Cameron Sauers ’21 The bearer of this sword was a member of a United States Navy that rapidly grew in power during the Civil War, increasing its enlistment 500% and developing the first ironclad ship. However, even as the Navy was in the midst of its transition, one thing remained in place: The U.S. … Continue reading “Cutting Through the Ranks: the Navy’s Forgotten Legacy”

By Cameron Sauers ’21

For all officers, Swords shall be a cut-and-thrust blade, not less than twenty-six nor more than twenty-nine inches long; half-basket hilt; grip white. Scabbards of black leather; mounting of yellow gilt. – 1864 US Naval Dress Regulations (photo via Smithsonian)

The bearer of this sword was a member of a United States Navy that rapidly grew in power during the Civil War, increasing its enlistment 500% and developing the first ironclad ship. However, even as the Navy was in the midst of its transition, one thing remained in place: The U.S. Model 1852 Navy Officer’s Sword. The sword is still used in the Navy today, albeit for ceremonial purposes. Yet, for all that this sword symbolizes, very few scholars have given much attention to it or the sailors who used it in the Civil War. The common soldier has received much more attention than the common seaman and his officers. While there were considerably more men serving in the Army than the Navy (the Navy started the war with 7,600 sailors and grew to 51,500 by the end, whereas the Union Army boasted about 2.2 million enlisted men), the Navy was still an important part of the Union war effort and therefore deserving of attention. An analysis of the U.S. Model 1852 Navy Officer’s Sword provides a window into the complicated power dynamics between naval officers and enlisted seamen. Furthermore, such an analysis also highlights the naval officers’ often contentious relationships with officers from other military branches, who frequently clashed over who was in command of joint naval-army operations. The sword also begs the question as to what types of individuals may have possessed, or fallen under the authority of, such swords, why they joined the Union Navy in the first place, and the challenges of command that confronted naval officers.

During the Civil War, change happened in nearly all aspects of the Navy, from the types of ships deployed down to the small arms used by sailors, all with the aim to transition the Navy from a small force into a global power. One of these changes was a move away from heavier broadswords towards a new cutlass modeled after the French naval cutlass, which would be the last naval sword issued to common sailors. However, the new naval cutlass lacked the beauty and authority of the 1852 Naval Officer’s Sword, which was not altered during the Civil War. The sword was one of the few holdovers from the weak antebellum Navy, which would be transformed into a powerful force during the Civil War. When Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles assumed his post in March of 1861, he needed to rapidly mobilize ships and men to serve on them. The officers and seamen who served on naval ships created a unique maritime culture and experience different from what soldiers serving in the Army experienced. Enlisting in the Navy was an individual activity and lacked the theatrical or grand patriotic displays of enlistment traditionally associated with the Army. Army regiments marched off to war with flags made by wives and sweethearts and often participated in parades through hometowns before they went South for battle. Historian Michael Bennett argues that since ships were only able to be operated by collective groups of men, and not a singular individual, naval warfare clashed with the public’s belief that a singular individual could turn the tide of battle with their heroism. Thus, there were no grand send-offs for Union sailors. Enlisted sailors also represented a slightly different demographic from those in the Army. The “common sailor” was 26 years old and hailed from a major city along the Atlantic coast. He was also likely an unemployed worker from the laboring class seeking relief from an unemployment crisis among the skilled trades. The Navy also had significantly higher percentages of African-Americans and immigrants than did the Union Army.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles (via Wikimedia Commons)


In contrast to his men, the naval officer who would have carried this sword with him was likely a native born, middle-or upper-class man who understood that the Navy was a hierarchy that functioned much like aristocracy. Unlike the Army, the Navy was not beset by problems of politically appointed officers because no politician was brazen enough to believe they could adequately command a warship, let alone a fleet or squadron. Commander J. A. Winslow wrote that the Navy would not accept “useless officers” in exchange for enlisted men. The Navy thus saw itself, especially its officer corps, as a uniquely professional service where experience was necessary. Graduation from the antebellum Naval Academy could take between 5 and 7 years, and with the first class of graduates joining the Navy in 1854, it was clear that experience could not be compensated for. However, the difference in background between officers and common seamen made it difficult for them to understand each other, leading to clashes and tests of authority.

This sword was a key symbol of authority for naval officers who continually found themselves in a struggle to maintain power over their men. Since officers and enlisted sailors came from different social classes, they frequently clashed over behavioral habits. Officers hated sailors’ penchant for rum, swearing, and brawls because such habits were unacceptable in the polite society to which they were accustomed. This disapproval, in turn, made officers appealing targets for the oaths of seamen – the phrase “swear like a sailor” fit in the Union navy. The two groups frequently complained about each other, with sailors snarking that officers were incompetent and officers lamenting that their sailors were inefficient with their labor. Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter complained to Rear Admiral Andrew H. Foote that “they send us all rubbish here; we want good men.” The clanging of this expensive sword, however, would have sent procrastinating sailors back to work, perhaps with an ensuing string of oaths about their upper-class officers. Even just sitting at the officer’s hip, this sword acted as a stark reminder of the status difference between the wealthy officer and the poor seamen he commanded. This sword is 39.25” inches long and, unlike the standard naval cutlass, was manufactured by Ames. The grip is wrapped in sharkskin and the blade is etched to show a fouled anchor, acanthus leaf, and U.S. shield. The elaborate designs continue onto the scabbard, including the drag of a dolphin. This sword is substantially more ornate than the traditional naval cutlass and would have cost much more than the average sailor could ever afford—a fact that intimidated some sailors into compliance, while making others bristle at the aristocratic displays of their officers. While army officers regularly clashed with some of their enlisted men, they truly feared any serious attempts to undermine authority onboard their naval vessels, as such behavior could spark a mutiny that could prove especially dangerous for the entire crew. Thus, it was imperative that naval officers remind the seamen, by action and by sword, that they possessed unquestionable authority, through experience, class, and social rank, over the ship.

sword detail
Sword detailing (via The Horse Soldier)

While an officer’s sword would help him assert his authority over sailors, it was less effective in asserting naval authority when performing joint operations with the Army. At the start of the war, there was no protocol for who was to command joint naval and army operations, which hampered Union efforts because neither branch’s officers were willing to concede their own authority. This often left both parties in an uncomfortable dilemma. Some of these standoffs were either awkwardly or aggressively resolved, as was the case in 1862 during the joint Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, when Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase watched the initial contest for Hampton Roads stagnate because neither the army nor naval officers would concede authority in rolling out the campaign plans. The stalemate was resolved only when Chase subsequently received permission from President Lincoln to order the operation forward by invoking President Lincoln’s name, as the President is the sole individual with inherent authority over both Army and Navy. Historian Craig L. Symonds argues that for joint operations, cooperation was encouraged and perhaps expected, but it could never be mandated from officers, who were held accountable for their actions alone. Ultimately, the success of such operations was more dependent on the meshing of personalities than on any one side’s material or behavioral display of authority.

Unlike many Army officers, Union Naval Secretary Gideon Welles believed firmly in running the Navy as a meritocracy where officers were “energetic, resourceful, uncomplaining and ruthlessly aggressive,” which contributed to Army-Navy tensions. Naval officers’ inclination toward risk-taking produced a near-Navy-wide disdain for Army colleagues who received their postings through political jockeying instead of achievements in battle. Hence, when it came time for joint operations, naval officers felt they deserved command because they had the experience necessary to make important decisions about bold battle plans. Meanwhile, politically appointed Army officers may have felt they deserved command because they raised entire regiments of men themselves, and thus felt that their subordinates deserved to go into battle under the command of the man they signed up to fight under. Army officers also resented the fact that, if they made a mistake in battle that sacrificed the regiment they had raised, they would likely be cashiered or court martialed from the service. But if a naval officer had one of his ships sunk, his men would likely still survive, as they could simply be rescued by nearby boats or escape to land, as often happened, and, naval officers were more likely to simply be reassigned after such a failure, rather than discharged. No matter their politics, or wherever their command was, naval officers had a sword representative of their station. Unlike for Army officers, these swords were an unmistakable symbol of an individual’s military merit and not their political connections. Even so, naval officers routinely found that the authority invested in them through their swords, and all that these prized possessions symbolized, was tested at nearly every turn, on land and at sea, by army officers as well as enlisted seamen.

Admiral David Dixon Porter (via Wikimedia Commons)

As the Navy moved forward into the age of ironclad ships, traditional naval blades were eventually left behind alongside the outdated age of wooden battle ships. With the military efficiency afforded by ironclads, there was no longer a need for boarding parties, or for a blade to cut rigging down, and so the cutlass was phased out. The regal naval officers’ sword, however, remained, and is still used for ceremonial purposes today. Long celebrated as a “gentleman’s weapon,” the naval sword resisted retirement partially due to the reverence its bearers held for its symbolic appeals to uniquely naval traditions, as well as its symbolic celebration of military merit, social rank, and class distinction. The cold steel of the sword has been permanently enshrined in marble at the Naval Peace Monument, which was erected in 1877 on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building. A dove (now missing) on the monument “once nested upon a sheaf of wheat in a grouping of a cornucopia, turned earth, and a sickle resting across a sword.” The sword is part of a monument that reminds viewers that “They died that their country may live.” Although the authority of the sword’s bearers was consistently tested, both on land and at sea, the sword’s featured placement on the monument stands as a lasting testament to the authority, influence, and distinction with which navy officers and the men they commanded served in order to ensure the successful prosecution of the Union war effort.


Bennett, Michael J. Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Eng, Matthew. ““Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye”: The Civil War Navies in Public Memory.” In The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning, edited by Kreiser Lawrence A. and Allred Randal, 117-34. University Press of Kentucky, 2014.

Peace Monument.” Architect of the Capitol. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Straw Hats, Sword and Scabbard, Sword-Belt, Sword-Knot, Buttons, Cravat.” Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed March 21, 2019.

Symonds, Craig L., ed. Union Combined Operations in the Civil War. Fordham University, 2010.

Taaffe, Stephen R. Commanding Lincoln’s Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2009.


To Remake a Man: Disability and the Civil War

By Cameron Sauers ’21

disability certificate.jpg
James Murray’s disability certificate. (via Gettysburg College Special Collections)

The above-pictured oversized sheet of paper changed the entire world of its possessor. With a disability certificate and discharge from the military in hand, disabled citizens who had not long previously been abled bodied servicemen went through a period of emasculation followed by a return to waged labor which redeemed their sacrifice. These disability certificates were issued in large quantities by the sprawling northern bureaucratic machines created by the Civil War. The above-pictured certificate, issued to James Murray of the 56th New York, discharged Murray from service because, according to his regimental surgeon, he would “never be able to discharge his duty as a soldier.” Murray stood 5’8″ when he re-enlisted for three more years in the unit on February 17th, 1864 at Beaufort, South Carolina. This certificate was issued to him less than a year later. Murray had fulfilled Victorian notions of manhood by serving in the military and satisfying his patriotic duty; however, this certificate ensured that James Murray never finished out his term of service, thus leaving his patriotism and manhood questionable to outsiders, and perhaps even to Murray himself. Disabled Civil War veterans faced much uncertainty when they reentered the civilian world with these certificates in hand. The Civil War had the power to make men, but it also had the power to break men. Disability certificates were a common piece of Civil War paperwork. They were issued in depressingly high quantities that must have taken a physical and emotionally high toll on clerks who had to create and fill out the form, but which fundamentally changed the ways in which their recipients and non-combatants viewed and interacted with former soldiers .

Federal disability certificates marked the end of military service and of individuals’ direct association with the federal government. Dischargement via this certificate was likely an intensely emotional experience as soldiers sought to wrestle with their new identities and new relationships with civilian society. However, these certificates also created a comforting sense of community for their many recipients who could bond over their shared journeys from soldiers to disabled citizens. Such certificates would be churned out following battles like the one at Deveaux Neck, South Carolina that ended Murray’s service, or the battle at Honey Hill just prior, which claimed 50 of Murray’s comrades as casualties. An office clerk had to sit and painstakingly produce stacks of these certificates as the post-battle casualty lists rolled in, escalating further the enormous amounts of paperwork generated by the war. Upon receiving this certificate, Murray may have been relieved that he was never again going to be thrown into the maelstrom of the killing fields, or alternately, perhaps he felt guilty that he was alive and receiving the disability certificate when many of his comrades had died on the field of battle. For some, the issuing of these certificates by clerks and surgeons confirmed the emasculation of soldiers who had been wounded. Murray had reason to be proud of his service, but he also may have felt guilt for not being able to serve until the completion of the war.

George W. Warner of Co. B, 20th Connecticut Infantry Regiment with his wife, Katherine, and six children, Alice, Charles, George, Ettie, William, and Ruby in front of painted backdrop. (via Library of Congress)

Following the receipt of a grievous wound and the enusing disability certificate, many soldiers faced the question of how to inform their families that they were coming home. Some veterans who may have lost an arm had to rely on others to write the letter home from them. Such reliance symbolized the dependency on others that threatened to emasculate disabled veterans. Victorian values placed an emphasis on a man’s ability to contribute to society and perform labor, as well as a man’s ability to bring home wages that would provide for their dependents; yet with prosthetic technology still rudimentary, the disability certificate guaranteed nothing but uncertainty and doubt. Nonetheless, it was in everyone’s favor that disabled veterans be reintegrated into society. Without a guarantee of receiving Federal aid following their discharge, disabled Union veterans often sought out employment in whatever sectors of the regular workforce were willing to take on maimed men. When these certificates threatened to emasculate men because they prevented them from performing their traditionally masculine roles, disabled veterans instead often pointed to their war-inflicted disabilities to validate their heroic sacrifice, thereby recrafting their own narratives of war-time and postbellum masculinity.

Historian John Casey argues that Civil War veterans often used a return to employment as a way to push past the changes that had fundamentally altered them both physically and emotionally. Even though they had been issued a certificate labeling them disabled, veterans sought to prove that they were still masculine enough to work and provide for their household. Northern Civil War veterans sought to use wage labor, particularly autonomous professional identities such as farmer or salesman, to demonstrate that they were still capable of contributing to society and the enrichment of the nation and the free-labor society for which they had sacrificed so much. Individually, being able to work meant security for veterans’ dependents who had been rendered vulnerable by their patriarch’s physical disabilities and discharge from the federal payroll. More than just wages, work was a way for disabled veterans to regain a sense of self, dignity, and self-mastery over one’s household. Thus, while the disability certificate labeled veterans with a physical weakness over which they could have felt shame, many chose instead to combat that shame and the societal stigmas associated with physical disabilities by returning to the work force.

Disabled Vets
Group of veteran soldiers, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. (via Library of Congress)

For those who were unable to return to work, the disability certificate was just the first piece in a seemingly unending stream of paperwork. Following the disability certificate came all of the documents necessary to prove one’s worth of receiving a pension, which was a critical (if meager) piece of income. Federal pension benefits expanded greatly after the Civil War due to the larger number of veterans rejoining society who advocated for financial reimbursement for the sacrifices they made as soldiers. The first pension system paid a completely disabled – meaning they could perform no labor – private $8 a month, an amount that was continually increased to pacify veterans advocating for increased benefits. In 1879 Congress passed the Arrears Act, which allowed disabled veterans to receive in a lump sum all the pension money they had been eligible to receive since their term of service. The Arrears Act was a great relief to men like James Murray who had received a discharge on account of disability because it allowed them to regain money they missed out on due to delays in the pension system. For those who sought a disability pension, the original disability certificate was one of the important pieces of paperwork needed to prove that they had indeed been disabled and required the assistance of the federal government. The sheer number of disability certificates and the growing pension system created an expanded reliance on the federal government as a provider for its citizens while also solidifying the contractual agreement between veterans and the federal government that promised veterans (and their families) protection in return for service and sacrifice on behalf of their country. The 1890 Dependent Pension Act expanded the umbrella of disability to include disabilities suffered post war and old age, which further strengthened citizen and veteran relationships with the government.

Recognizing that pensions could never fully replace the potential loss of wages, the federal government embarked on its first program of hiring disabled Civil War veterans, which significantly opened opportunities for the disabled. For instance, Samuel Decker, who lost both arms in an explosion, found post-war employment as a doorkeeper at the House of Representatives. Decker had once been a wounded, young soldier receiving a certification of disability without a guarantee that his future would be secured. Similarly, The Sanitary Commission sought to secure for disabled veterans occupations that were less physically demanding, such as cigar making, mail delivery, hat manufacturing, newspaper sales, and teaching. Perhaps these jobs were not the arduous farm labor that many had experienced before the war, but they did produce wages to bring home to one’s family as well as a return of a sense of dignity and self-sufficiency, while still fulfilling a man’s desire to perform service to their government.

Samuel Decker (via Harvard Medical School)

When James Murray received his Certificate of Disability, his future was uncertain. While no record of Murray’s postwar employment can be found, perhaps he attempted to overcome his disability and rejoin the workforce. Perhaps his disability certificate helped him gain his much needed pension. With the disability certificate came the realization that the nation must aid, in some way, the Union veterans who had served the nation in its time of need. The realization that disabled veterans could still be functioning, contributing members of society helped shape the pension system and preferential hiring that serves as the foundation for modern day veterans’ benefits. The large number of disability certificates issued across all theatres of the war necessitated the creation of such a support system for veterans. Even though this certificate labeled men as “disabled,” the disabled veterans themselves were quick to prove that disability did not equate to uselessness or being a burden. As disabled northern veterans had to swap their military uniforms for civilian suits, they validated their manhood in the form of contributions to the free labor economy, household, and nation on whose behalf they had sacrificed dearly. Disabled veterans returned home to a rapidly changing world, one that threated to leave them behind. However, the post-war period experienced remarkable change as disabled Civil War veterans challenged existing cultural values of manhood and created a social safety net that attempted to prevent further degradation of disabled veterans and granted federal protection to, and validation of, those men who had sacrificed their bodies on behalf of the Union.


“56th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.” The Civil War in the East.

Casey, John A. “Veterans, Artisanal Manhood, and the Quest for Postwar Employment.” In New Men: Reconstructing the Image of the Veteran in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, 48-73. New York: Fordham University, 2015.

Casey, John A. “The Glorious Burden of the Aging Civil War Veteran.” In New Men: Reconstructing the Image of the Veteran in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, 104-29. New York: Fordham University, 2015.

Clarke, Frances M. “Suffering in Victorian American” and “Honorable Scars.” In War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North, 8-27, 144-174. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Civil War Index – 56th New York Infantry. Accessed February 15, 2019.

“Civil War Veterans.” NPR. Accessed February 23, 2019.

Goler, Robert I., and Michael G. Rhode. “From Individual Trauma to National Policy: Tracking the Uses of Civil War Veteran Medical Records.” In Disabled Veterans in History, edited by Gerber David A., by Shay Jonathan, 163-84. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012.

Gorman, Kathleen. “Civil War Pensions.” Essential Civil War Curriculum. Accessed February 23, 2019.

Handley-Cousins, Sarah. “Come to the Dark Side: Disability as “Dark” Civil War History.” Nursing Clio. January 27, 2015. Accessed February 15, 2019.

Skocpol, Theda. “America’s First Social Security System: The Expansion of Benefits for Civil War Veterans.” Political Science Quarterly 108, no. 1 (1993): 85-116.

Review: Calculus of Violence

By Cameron Sauers ’21

The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War
Aaron Sheehan-Dean
ISBN: 9780674984226
Harvard University Press

It seems counterintuitive to imagine the bloodiest conflict in American history being worse, but Sheehan-Dean argues that the death toll could have been dramatically higher without both sides’ emphasis on restraint, as dictated by the laws of war. Most of the book is spent examining “how people on both sides justified the lethal violence of conflict and when, how, and why they balanced cruelty and destruction.” Despite the rules of war, however, Civil War participants, like all humans, were contradictory. Sometimes they acted instinctively and spontaneously, while at other times, their actions were the result of deeply seated ideology. The participants contradicted themselves and their responses to events continually changed. Sheehan-Dean expertly places himself in participants’ shoes to analyze the exercise and restraint of violence.

Sheehan-Dean focuses on four aspects of the conflict: Guerilla warfare, emancipation, imprisonment of soldiers, and occupation. He tracks how Federals and Confederates engaged each other on each of these issues, all of which could have easily produced unchecked lethal violence. Guerillas, North and South, both engaged in violent actions and provoked violent backlash. Confederates, too, exercised brutal retaliation while engaged in violence against black soldiers after the federal government’s mid-war adoption of emancipation as a war aim. The fueling of nationalistic sentiments by outspoken newspaper editors, politicians and ministers also stoked each side’s aggression, both on and off the battlefield, by further strengthening participants’ political resolve and casting the enemy as a dangerous force to be immediately suppressed through both violence and non-violent means. But what might appear as unremitting violence was actually largely governed by official rules of war which tempered that violence with great restraint. Henry Halleck, eventual General-in-Chief of the Union army, authored a massive volume on the rules of war and Francis Lieber’s influential Lieber Code was adopted by the Federal government in 1863 as a framework for governing the prosecution of the war. These guidelines helped set boundaries for soldiers and the public, noting when violence was acceptable and in what forms, and thus limiting the overall amount of bloodshed.

The best example of the application of these rules of war is General William Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. While many people label Sherman as cruel and unjust to the people of Atlanta, Sheehan-Dean argues that Sherman acted appropriately. Lieber wrote “warfare was not unrestricted violence, but violence limited by an end,” meaning that all of the violence committed had to serve the purpose of bringing the war to the end. Sherman had to engage in a certain level of violence against a core of war-enabling civilians during the siege of Atlanta to achieve his ultimate objective: the war’s end. However, Sherman did not give his soldiers a blank check for violence against civilians. Those who acted outside of the rules of war and committed unlawful spontaneous acts of violence against civilians were punished for their crimes. The Atlanta Campaign serves as a microcosm for the contradictions apparent throughout the war, that it was “at times a restrained conflict and at times a bloody, savage struggle. In some places, both of these statements were true at the same time.”

What amazed me most was Sheehan-Dean’s disagreement with the concept of the Civil War as following a “limited to total war” Trajectory. Many historians have proffered that the Civil War began as a limited war (one of much restraint) that slowly evolved into a total, all-encompassing conflict. By moving past this assumed trajectory of “limited to total war,” we gain a deeper understanding of the ways people perceived actions as immoral or just. The lack of a clear evolution of violence seemed foreign to me and I initially did not agree with Sheehan-Dean, but his rationale made sense. During the Civil War, violence and peace occurred in different communities at different moments. For example, Missouri saw more violence in 1862 than did Atlanta, but in 1864 Atlanta witnessed more violence than Missouri. In some places, the war was nearly “total” in 1861 but “limited” in 1865. For Sheehan-Dean, the “limited to total” war paradigm is a gross overgeneralization of the war’s violence which conceals the more nuanced complexities and contradictions of the conflict.

Aaron Sheehan-Dean’s The Calculus of Violence is a perspective-altering piece of Civil War scholarship. It is wonderfully researched, but also accessible. I constantly found myself rereading passages, trying to absorb as much of the book as possible. Sheehan-Dean encourages readers to look beyond analyzing actions as right or wrong, moral or immoral. Instead, we should seek to understand how and why historical actors arrived at the decisions they did. Sheehan-Dean closes with the reminder that conflict, and its inherent costs, is occasionally necessary if prosecuted according to accepted rules and necessities. In revealing the complexities and contradictions behind individuals’ decisions to exercise and restrain violence during the American Civil War, The Calculus of Violence provides a valuable window into both the on-the-ground operations during the conflict, as well as the human faces behind stories of bloodshed and salvation.


Aaron Sheehan-Dean will be speaking at this summer’s 2019 CWI Conference.

Gettysburg Heartthrobs: the 10 Most Attractive Officers

By Cameron Sauers ’21

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not reflect the position of the Civil War Institute, nor of all CWI Fellows or Civil War enthusiasts. While the author received many names that deserved to be on this list, he regrettably had to choose only ten. That being said, please sit back, relax, and prepare to fall in love with the officers of Gettysburg this Valentine’s Day.

  1. Winfield Scott Hancock
    • Wearing a crisp white shirt into battle? The goatee? “Hancock the Superb” is a true icon!
  2. Francis Barlow
    • This boyish-faced Harvard graduate was known to wear a checkered, flannel lumberjack shirt under an unbuttoned uniform coat.
  3. Henry Kyd Douglas
    • The author of “I rode with Stonewall” needs no complimenting from us (he did it enough in his book).
  4. George Custer
    • Known for his flashy uniform and flamboyance, Custer’s style plus flowing blonde hair makes him worthy of a coveted spot on our list.
  5. Alexander “Sandie” Swift Pendleton
    • With boyish good looks at 22 while at Gettysburg, we can’t help but swoon over Sandie Pendleton.
  6. Lafayette Guild
    • Guild was noted for his study of yellow fever, which is good because we’re burning up for the Medical Director of the Army of the Northern Virginia!
  7. Walter Taylor
    • From a young, attractive cadet at VMI to Lee’s personal aide-de-camp, Taylor gracefully managed the burden of serving on Lee’s small staff and matured with poise during the war.
  8. Gouverneur Kemble Warren
    • While his statue continues to keep lookout on Little Round Top, we should be keeping a lookout for him!
  9. Richard Garnett
    • Garnett was kicked in the leg by his horse, leaving him unable to walk during the Gettysburg Campaign. It was only fitting for a man who makes us weak in the knees.
  10. Strong Vincent
    • The mutton chops and “Strong” name makes Vincent the perfect choice to round out our list (the Harvard education doesn’t hurt either).


(All images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

“Borne Back Ceaselessly into the Past”: Fitzgerald’s Forgotten Civil War Literature

By Cameron Sauers ’21

“So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” These are the brilliant last lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, lines that speak to the fallibility of Gatsby’s American Dream and his inescapable, yet simultaneously unreachable, past. The legendary ending sentence in The Great Gatsby has captured me since I first read the book as a freshman in high school and made me want to read every Fitzgerald book I could find. The more I read, the more I realized the unique implications this famous last line had for Fitzgerald’s own life and literary career. Currently, Fitzgerald serves as the visible face of the Roaring 20’s, or the “Jazz Age,” a decade of extravagance known for dancing, drinking, and merry-making. As forward-looking as he may have tried to live his life, though, Fitzgerald found the past inescapable. “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” is Fitzgerald’s first hint to the public that, despite his best efforts, he could not escape the past, particularly the Civil War, and neither could the Roaring 20’s.

Cover of a 1976 re-release

“The Cruise of the Rolling Junk,” a lighthearted story about newlyweds on a road trip gone wrong, is brimming with Fitzgerald’s fascination with the American Civil War. The story was published as a series of articles in Motor magazine and recounts the disastrous elements of Scott and Zelda’s journey from their Connecticut home to Montgomery, Alabama, where Zelda’s parents lived. As the title suggests, Scott and Zelda’s car was prone to break-downs, often leaving them stranded or waiting for repairs. In between car troubles, the Fitzgeralds did some sightseeing. Stops on this road trip included Civil War sites, like Richmond, where Fitzgerald comically complained about the city’s roads, wondering if the same barriers meant to stop the Union army were the ones that frustrated him.

The Fitzgeralds also visited the Confederate Museum (now known as the American Civil War Museum) in Richmond, which prompted this passage:

“We visited the Confederate museum and pored for an hour over shredded battle flags and romantic sabers and grey uniform coats, and, as we passed from room to room, the proud splendor of each state’s display was dimmed only a little by the interminable lists of living women who had managed in some way to get their names linked up with these trophies. The trophies needed no sponsoring by the Miss Rachael Marys and Mrs. Gladys Phoebes whom one pictured as large-bosomed and somewhat tiresome old ladies engaged in voluble chatter upon their ancestors in the sitting rooms and boarding houses of Macon, Georgia.”

Though Fitzgerald was clearly awed by the artifacts on display at the museum, he appears to have been somewhat annoyed by what he saw as the self-importance of the southern women who so zealously attached their names to each artifact. (Interestingly, the museum found Fitzgerald to be just as unremarkable as he found its donors, as it was only recently that his signature was found in the museum’s guest ledger for July 24th, 1920). The disdain Fitzgerald harbored for the antics of Marys and Phoebes appears to reflect Fitzgerald’s belief that the Civil War was a male-centric conflict in which women could play only subsidiary or tangential, unimportant roles. The portrayal of Marys and Phoebes in “Rolling Junk,” combined with Fitzgerald’s other writings and the restraints he placed on his wife throughout their life, such as refusing to allow her to pursue a career as a ballerina or writer, leads to the conclusion that Fitzgerald thought that males should drive the course of history, and that historical memory should concentrate on their actions alone. As part of a generation that had not experienced the Civil War itself, yet engaged in its own “updated” form of Civil War commemoration through mediums such as literature, film, and historical tourism, Fitzgerald applied his own literary memorialization efforts to his impressions of the museum, forging his own version of Civil War memory in “Rolling Junk.” But even as Fitzgerald continued to dwell on the past and contemplate his own personal relationship with the Civil War, his career continued to progress forward rapidly. Just a day after Fitzgerald’s unnoticed visit to the city, The Richmond Times Dispatch published a brief article noting the success of Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise. (Though complimentary of Fitzgerald’s literary prowess, the article’s timing was mere coincidence, as the Fitzgeralds’ brief visit to Richmond received apparently little attention in the moment).

Scott and Zelda in September, 1921 (via Wikimedia Commons)

“The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” and the road trip described therein was not Fitzgerald’s first brush with the Civil War. He grew up surrounded by a society still fascinated by the American Civil War. As a child, Fitzgerald found much enjoyment in stories his father, Edward, would tell about how he helped Confederate spies find their way in Maryland when he was a boy. Additionally, Edward’s first cousin, Mary Surrat, was hung for her role in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Fitzgerald also would later blame his father’s financial failures on the Confederate defeat, which Fitzgerald claimed to have sapped any sort of ambition from Edward. Edward’s colorful stories helped convert Fitzgerald into a Confederate sympathizer, which was evident in some of Fitzgerald’s earliest writings. As a primary school student, two of Fitzgerald’s first four stories published in school journals centered on the Civil War, including “The Room with the Green Blinds,” which provides an alternative ending to the life of John Wilkes Booth.

Fitzgerald expanded his personal connection to the Civil War when he married his wife, Zelda. Zelda’s family, the Sayre family, had deep roots in Montgomery, which had served as the first Confederate capital. Fitzgerald called the city “the cradle of the Confederacy, the utter heart of the old south” in “Rolling Junk,” illustrating his acute awareness of the powerful connection between his wife’s hometown and the genesis of the conflict. Additionally, the Sayre family’s burial plot was located in Oakwood cemetery, which also contained the graves of many Confederate dead. Furthermore, in 1918, Zelda graduated from Sidney Lanier High School, named for the famous musician who also served in the Confederate army and worked as a blockade runner. These various connections to the Confederacy highlight just some of the ways in which Zelda, her family, and her husband (like many members of the American public) were immersed in a culture still very much in tune with the Civil War and the long shadows of its memory. (For comparison, the time gap between the American Civil War and the Fitzgeralds’ 1920 road trip was smaller than our current distance from the Second World War).

Fitzgerald drew upon his connections to the war, using them as inspiration to follow up “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” with several more Civil War-related stories. In 1937, Collier’s, a now defunct weekly magazine, paid $1,500 for a story titled “Thumbs Up” that Fitzgerald authored based on the Civil War recollections of his father. It is worth noting, however, that the story was declined by thirteen other publications before being accepted and received only a small fraction of the $5,000 he used to command from magazines. With his literary appeal fading, tapping into the public’s enduring fascination with the Civil War enabled Fitzgerald to get back into print. Just one year prior, Esquire published Fitzgerald’s, “The Night of Chancellorsville,” which tells the story of two young prostitutes whose train takes them through the Chancellorsville battlefield, bringing them into contact with wounded from the battle. Fitzgerald also wrote “A Patriotic Short,” one of a string of stories centered on a struggling Hollywood hack tasked with writing a short film that “was based on the career of General Fitzhugh Lee, who fought for the Confederacy and later for the U.S.A. against Spain—so it would offend neither North nor South.” “Chancellorsville” and “Patriotic Short” are not among Fitzgerald’s best stories nor even his decent ones. However, when all of his creative energy was sapped, Fitzgerald turned to the Civil War. He just needed to write something– anything that would sell.

The Civil War, besides being a quick way to make some cash without exhausting his energy, was also a lens through which Fitzgerald could reflect on his own life. His last completed novel, and the one Fitzgerald thought would be his masterpiece, Tender is the Night, centers on the young Dr. Dick Diver, whom Fitzgerald modeled after himself. Fitzgerald writes that Diver was “like Ulysses S. Grant in Galena,” hoping “to be called to an intricate destiny.” This is the novel’s lone reference to the Civil War, which makes its inclusion fascinating. The novel takes place in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but Fitzgerald still felt a Civil War simile would best describe the main character. The rest of the novel centers on Diver’s struggles to care for his mentally ill wife who, like Zelda Fitzgerald, was in and out of sanitariums. Fitzgerald hoped that he would be able to rescue his languishing literary career (and life) with Tender is the Night. Having missed out on being deployed overseas during the First World War, a conflict which defined Fitzgerald’s generation, Fitzgerald had to turn to a different, but still shared, national experience to explain his main character to the reader. Perhaps he also thought of the novel as a representation of his own Civil War – a conflict between the literary genius and the man who deeply loved his wife. Fitzgerald was approaching a point where he had to choose between devotion to his ill and struggling wife and any hopes of a prosperous career. If Fitzgerald did view his life as sort of “civil war,” for him, there was no clear victor: Fitzgerald would die of a heart attack in the apartment of a lover in December 1940, failing to achieve the heroic destiny of his imagined historical facsimile, Ulysses Grant.

Fitzgerald in 1937 (via Wikimedia Commons)

It is fitting that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a dominant voice of the Roaring 20’s, a decade striving for a radical new way of living, yet unable to escape the echoes of the past. In a whirlwind life of parties, dancing, and gin, which certainly inspired some of his best writing, Fitzgerald frequently was drawn back to the deep and haunting influences of the American Civil War. Ruminations on the Civil War occupied Fitzgerald’s mind throughout his whole life. When the Great Depression hit and the country had little use for tales of flappers, extravagance, and splendor, Fitzgerald returned to the comfort of one of his favorite early literary topics, the Civil War, which had become a permanent and lasting fixture of American literature. William Faulkner’s oft-quoted statement, “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863,” appears in countless works on the Civil War, and I myself mentioned Dr. Caroline Janney’s recent lecture use of Robert Penn Warren’s famed quote, “in the moment of death the Confederacy entered upon its immortality” in a post last semester. But we do not include Fitzgerald in Civil War scholarship because, rather than creating and defining Civil War memory, he merely (yet tellingly) exemplified it by being a voice of a generation that could not rid itself of the ripple effects of Civil War memory. As Fitzgerald struggled to look towards the future amidst both a nationwide and personal depression, he returned, time and time again, to the Civil War. The strong and enduring cultural currents of the Civil War have ensured that it cannot ever be fully divorced from even the most radical of generations and decades. The “Jazz Age” ultimately found itself unable to “beat on” along its own light-hearted and reckless path, with Fitzgerald and his contemporaries ultimately becoming like the famed Gatsby boats, “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


Bruccoli, Matthew Joseph, and Scottie Fitzgerald Smith. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002.

Cowley, Malcom. “F. Scott Fitzgerald Thought This Book Would Be the Best American Novel Of His Time.The New Republic, August 20, 1951. September 24, 2014. Accessed February 1, 2019.

Daniel, Anne Margaret. “F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre, and Montgomery, Alabama in 2013.” The Huffington Post. December 07, 2017. Accessed January 25, 2019.

McCrery, Anne. “F. Scott Fitzgerald Signature Found in Museum’s Archives.” American Civil War Museum. Accessed January 25, 2019.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “A Patriotic Short by F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Accessed January 25, 2019.

Fitzgerald, F.Scott. The Great Gatsby. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1950.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. Penguin Books, 2019.

“Review of The Cruise of The Rolling Junk.” Literary Lindsey. June 21, 2012. Accessed January 25, 2019.

25 Years of Gettysburg

Edited by Olivia Ortman ’19

Amongst the Civil War community here at Gettysburg College, the movie Gettysburg is very much a part of our daily lives. Quotes are thrown back and forth in witty banter, the music is played for dramatic effect, and history professors are badgered to show clips in class. Since the movie fits so seamlessly into our experience here in Gettysburg, we often take it for granted. However, Gettysburg recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special showing at the Majestic Theater, with remarks from the director preceding the viewing. Although none of the Fellows attended, it got a lot of us thinking about our own experiences with the movie. Each one of us has been touched by Gettysburg in significant ways.

Ryan Bilger ’19 –I knew the soundtrack of the movie Gettysburg before I knew the film itself. I remember being six years old on a trip with my parents, asking “where are we going?” again and again during the car ride until I saw a sign announcing the mileage to Gettysburg. In that moment, I knew exactly where we were going. My father is also a casual historian of the battle, and I had often looked at the colorful pictures and maps in his Civil War magazines. Gazing out over the fields of Pickett’s Charge that day, something clicked in my young brain, and thus was born a lifelong interest. Of course, at six years old my parents correctly decided that I was not quite ready to see the movie Gettysburg yet, so they gave me the soundtrack CD to listen to instead. They didn’t get it back any time soon.

The movie, when I finally saw it, was worth the wait and has been my constant companion since. I watch scenes like the 20th Maine’s bayonet charge or the climax of Pickett’s Charge when I need to get motivated for events. The poster for the film hangs at the foot of my bed at home. Gettysburg, for all its flaws, has remained one of my favorite movies over the years, and has acted as a gateway to my development as a historian. The film presents myriad examples of popular heroism, whether in the form of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain leading a bayonet charge or Winfield Scott Hancock exposing himself to enemy fire to inspire his own troops. However, many more heroes of the battle did not survive to tell their stories. Through the Killed at Gettysburg project, I’ve illuminated some of these stories of valor that do not receive nearly as much attention. Men like Patrick O’Rorke, Benjamin Crippin, and Franz Benda all had their own unique stories to be told, bringing greater color and nuance to the broader narratives of heroism in July 1863.

Though it may sound strange, Gettysburg has also given me a community. Living in the Civil War Era Studies House at Gettysburg College, I can exclaim “What’s happening to my boys?!” or grumble in a low voice about high ground and nearly everyone will instantly understand. We joke about Pickett’s ridiculous laugh when Longstreet tells him he will lead the assault on July 3 and bemoan the death of the glorious Buster Kilrain. The movie brings us together as a group in strange, yet often hilarious ways, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Seven-year-old Ryan Bilger exploring the Gettysburg battlefield.

Benjamin Roy ’21 – I was born in Bethel, Maine and take great pride in bearing the identity of a Mainer. This is in no small part due to the movie Gettysburg and the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine dramatized therein. From the first time I was exposed to the movie Gettysburg at five years old, I felt deeply connected to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. I writhed in agony as the shrieking Alabamians charged and cheered when the Mainer valiantly resisted. My heart soared as Colonel Chamberlain charged down the hill, his Maine boys following close behind with fixed bayonets. My brother and I refought this struggle for Little Round Top on hillsides countless times. When my parents asked me, at age seven, whether I wanted to go to Disney World or Gettysburg, my choice was simple: Gettysburg.

The heroic story of the 20th Maine told in The Killer Angels and dramatized in Gettysburg is what ultimately inspired me to study the Civil War and pursue history as a career. My interest in Chamberlain and his men evolved into an interest in common soldiers. The story has also instilled a sense of identity in me and a pride in coming from Maine myself, even though I now live in North Carolina. Even as I write this, a miniature bust of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain overlooks my desk, reminding me of where I come from, and where I hope to go. Whenever I need to be reminded of who I am and where I am from, I need only to watch Gettysburg.

Olivia Ortman ’19 – My own journey with Gettysburg began much later than most of my fellow CWI writers. In my family, birthdays have always been very important. My sister and I were allowed to stay home on our birthdays and do anything we wanted. For me, that usually meant trips to Mystic Aquarium or the zoo. However, after learning about the Civil War in 8th grade, I asked my parents if my birthday day could be a birthday weekend. My parents agreed, and I headed off with my mom to spend Memorial Day weekend of 2011 in Gettysburg. It was one of the most magical weekends of my life, to say the least. (My mom still shudders when she thinks about traipsing every inch of battlefield behind me so I could investigate all, and I do mean all, the monuments.)

When I heard about the annual reenactment, I knew I had to come back to Gettysburg that July. The copy of Gettysburg the movie that I picked up in the giftshop of General Lee’s Headquarters was how I convinced my father to make a family trip out of the reenactment. After getting home from Gettysburg, I put on the film and insisted my dad watch with me so I could show him where I’d been. By the end of the film, and to my sister’s immense disappointment, I had convinced both parents that we needed to go to the July reenactment. That was the beginning of the past eight years for me. When we returned to Gettysburg, I discovered Gettysburg College and knew that I would one day attend. Throughout those years, whenever someone from home has asked me why Gettysburg or why history, Gettysburg was my way of explaining. The movie has given me a way to introduce others to my passion and let them see what I’m doing here at college.

Savannah Labbe ’19 – Being from Maine, I appreciate how Gettysburg highlights Maine’s contribution to the Civil War, which I feel is often underappreciated or even forgotten about. Maine contributed the largest number of soldiers proportionate to its population of any state in the Union. However, the movie Gettysburg has risen to such fame that it seems as if the 20th Maine was the only unit from Maine that made an important contribution to the battle. This is decidedly not the case. For example, the 16th Maine made a suicidal stand on the first day of the battle so that the Union First Corps could retreat. All of the 16th Maine soldiers were either captured or killed in order to allow the Union to fight another day. On the second day of the battle, the 17th and 19th Maine helped save the Union line after General Sickles overextended it.

The film also deifies the battle for Little Round Top and Chamberlain. The battle for Little Round Top comes across as a defining moment and a turning point in the Battle of Gettysburg. Viewers think that this was the moment that decided the outcome of the three-day fighting at Gettysburg, but that’s not necessarily true. Chamberlain himself has taken on star qualities as the man who saved the day, but his conflicting reports on the battle in real life call into question whether or not he himself actually gave his famous order to charge. While Gettysburg is an important film and it has it merits, it has become so dominant in popular culture that people have put Chamberlain and the 20th Maine on a pedestal, which does a disservice to the other Union units present at the battle. However, when I watched the movie Gettysburg for the first time in my 8th grade social studies class, I took this movie at face value. While the movie motivated me to study history and piqued my interest in the Civil War, I soon learned that it had a lot of flaws and was not necessarily an accurate depiction, making me want to explore the actual history of the battle more and the role that all Maine units played.

Cameron Sauers ’21 – My introduction to the movie Gettysburg begins with Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels. I remember being infatuated with the novel, constantly reading it and carrying it with me when I was in 4th grade. I don’t remember the first time I saw Gettysburg, but I do remember watching it constantly (my parents have seen it more times than they probably wished). This infatuation with the movie sky-rocketed in 5th grade when my local historic society brought in Patrick Falci (the actor who portrayed A.P. Hill) to speak at a special event and he encouraged me to pursue my passion for history and the Civil War. Almost 10 years later, I am on the front lines of history as a Fellow here at the CWI. I think it is safe to say that I would not be where I am today without the passion that Gettysburg awakened in me.

Not only has Gettysburg inspired my future, but it has also influenced the time I’ve spent with my family. My parents were forced to endure countless screenings of the movie, and never once complained or suggested that we watch something else. They saw my love for history growing before their eyes and supported it, buying me countless books and taking day trips to battlefields and re-enactments. When my parents recently visited during Family Weekend, they agreed when I wanted to take them to museums in town and on an impromptu battlefield tour. My parents didn’t bat an eye when they heard the many Gettysburg quotes from me and my peers. Gettysburg, to me, is a reminder of my childhood and my passion for history. But more importantly, it’s a reminder of the support and love my family has given me.