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!
Tim Orr is an Associate Professor of History at Old Dominion University, where he teaches classes in nineteenth-century America and Civil War history. A graduate of Gettysburg College, he received his PhD from Penn State University. Prior to his arrival at ODU, Dr. Orr worked for 8 years as a seasonal park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park. His first book, “Last to Leave the Field”: The Life and Letters of First Sergeant Ambrose Henry Hayward, Company D, 28th, was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2010. He is the author of several book chapters and articles on the battle of Gettysburg as well as a co-author of the book Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway, with Laura Lawfer Orr and N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss (William Morrow, 2017)
CWI: You’re leading our new Active Track option this year, which will focus on sharpshooting at Gettysburg. On its own, this package is shorter (weekend only) and more physically intensive, with rigorous climbs and walks mostly centered on the Union left. Before we get to the specifics of Gettysburg, can you tell us a little bit about sharpshooting and what that term meant for both the Union and Confederate armies in the early summer of 1863?
ORR: In many ways, sharpshooting was a new concept for American armies. Prior to the Civil War, taking care to aim was not something that many soldiers did. Smooth-bored weaponry did not allow for combat range beyond seventy yards, so battles often emphasized the massing of firepower, not marksmanship. (A few rifle regiments had been used during the Revolution and the War of 1812, but rarely did they have a tangible effect on the flow of battle.) During the Civil War, with the addition of a new skirmish drill manual and rifled-musket technology, Civil War infantry were required to fight at long range more and more. This, in turn, required soldiers to surmount an emotional hurdle. Quite often, soldiers considered sharpshooters as akin to murderers, and that killing a soldier when he wasn’t expecting it was dishonorable. However, that feeling died quickly. By 1863, in the Eastern Theater, sharpshooting was en vogue, and Gettysburg is an excellent battlefield to find evidence of that.
CWI: Many students of the Civil War have heard of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, but their stories aren’t usually the first or second that we hear about Gettysburg–a battlefield that has many intriguing regimental narratives. How important were the sharpshooters on these fields? How did they shape the outcome of the fighting at Gettysburg and why were their contributions important?
ORR: This active-track package is going to focus primarily upon Berdan’s 1st and 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, two of the first specialized regiments in U.S. Army history. We will allocate each day to studying a pivotal action played by Berdan’s men: the 1st U.S.S.S. at Pitzer’s Woods and the 2nd U.S.S.S. at the Slyder Farm and on Big Round Top. Both of these regiments had important roles to play. At noon on July 2, the 1st U.S.S.S. engaged Confederate infantry under Brig. Gen. Cadmus Wilcox inside Pitzer’s Woods, and the resulting combat influenced Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles’s decision to redeploy the Army of the Potomac’s 3rd Corps to the Joseph Sherfy Peach Orchard, one of the pivotal decisions of the battle. Then, later in the day, when Maj. Gen. John B. Hood’s Confederate division arrived to sweep up the Union left flank, it encountered a stubborn skirmish line consisting formed by the 2nd U.S.S.S. During this excursion, we will, in essence, see how a handful of soldiers influenced the tide of battle. It’s a dramatic story!
CWI: What are the most common misconceptions about Civil War sharpshooters?
ORR: At the time, many soldiers in both armies despised sharpshooters, thinking them ungentlemanly. However, that stigma eroded over time, and by 1863, both armies deployed regiments of sharpshooters to augment their fighting abilities. Nowadays, I’m not sure what misconceptions about them exist. Although, I generally assume that most people believe that 1860s rural America produced the best sharpshooters. In reality, the best marksmen came from the cities, where shooting clubs tested riflemen’s skill. In some ways, the North–not the South–had the natural advantage in sharpshooting.
Megan Kate Nelson is a writer and historian living in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Her new book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West, will be published by Scribner in February 2020. This project was the recipient of a 2017 NEH Public Scholar Award and a Filson Historical Society Fellowship. Nelson is the author of two previous books: Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012) and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (2005). She has also written about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York Times, Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, Preservation Magazine, and Civil War Times. Her column on Civil War popular culture, “Stereoscope,” appears regularly in the Civil War Monitor.
CWI: Your new book, The Three-Cornered War, is about the Civil War in the West, but you are not writing about what we traditionally think of as the Western Theater. So can you explain how do you define “the West” in your new book, and can you tell us why this “West” is important for understanding the American Civil War?
Nelson: As all CWI attendees know, the term “the West” is most often used to describe the Trans-Mississippi theater (engagements in Missouri, Arkansas, western Tennessee, Louisiana, eastern Texas, and Indian Territory). For this reason, most maps included in Civil War history books extend only as far west as central Texas, erasing roughly 40% of the nation’s landmass. Because what could be west of “the West”? What could have happened in a place that’s not even on the map?
In The Three-Cornered War, I redraw that map of the Civil War, extending it to the Pacific Ocean and including in it not only states and U.S. territories west of the 100th meridian but also the boundaries of Native homelands.
Most of the action in The Three-Cornered War takes place in Colorado, Texas, southern California, New Mexico, and the territory that became Arizona during the war. This region (the Southwest) was a gateway to the larger West in 1861. The Confederacy wanted to seize New Mexico to gain access to California’s gold mines and Pacific ports, and to establish a base for launching additional campaigns for the states and territories of the larger West.
Henry Hopkins Sibley, a career U.S. Army man who resigned his commission to join the Confederacy, had these goals in mind when he invaded New Mexico Territory with a brigade of 3,000 Texans in the winter of 1861-62. Union colonel E.R.S. Canby brought together an army of regulars and Anglo and Hispano volunteers to defend New Mexico against this incursion.
In their subsequent clashes, both armies marched and fought through Native homelands. These communities—Chiricahua and Mescalero Apaches and Navajos, in particular—exploited this fight between the Union and the Confederacy early in the war, siphoning animals from army wagon trains and camps and retaking territories they had lost to American military and civilian settlement in the 1850s.
Once the Union defeated the Confederates and drove them back to Texas in the summer of 1862, federal troops under James Carleton turned their attention to defeating Apaches and Navajos. In order to fully win the West during the Civil War, the Union had to wrest its lands from indigenous peoples. The second half of The Three-Cornered War tracks these events through the experiences of Navajos, Chiricahua Apaches, and 1st New Mexico and 1st California soldiers who engaged in these fights.
Approaching the history of the Civil War from this often overlooked (and sometimes dismissed) vantage point reveals surprising elements of the conflict, among them that:
The future of the West remained a contentious issue throughout the war, just as it had been in the 1850s
The battles here shaped several political and economic decisions in the East, and impacted military strategies
The Civil War West’s battles were fought by the war’s first multiracial armies: Anglos, Hispanos, and indigenous peoples from multiple communities
It is my hope that The Three-Cornered War will encourage students and scholars of the Civil War to think more broadly about its history—and that we will start referring to the theater from the Pacific to the 100th meridian as “the West”, and to the Trans-Mississippi as, well, “the Trans-Mississippi.”
CWI: You tell the story of the Civil War in the West through nine major characters. What drew you to this methodological approach? How did the variety and accessibility of source material affect your decision? What did you learn from creating a narrative in this way?
Nelson: When I started to research the Civil War West and realized how many different campaigns there were and how many communities were involved, I faced a narrative challenge. I wanted to make sure that readers would understand the complexity of all of their actions and motivations, but I also wanted to give readers a more personal connection to the people engaged in the battles in this theater in the 1860s.
I was reading a lot of fiction at the time, and had noticed a new trend in storytelling: the multi-perspective narrative in which the reader sees events occurring from several different viewpoints.
I wondered if I could take this narrative strategy from fiction, and use historical sources to shape it. It took a while to find all 9 of the people whose stories I tell in The Three-Cornered War. I chose people whose experiences during the war were representative of their communities. But they were all also somewhat exceptional, in that they either wrote enough about their experiences to help me paint a full picture of them, or they were well-known enough that other people wrote about them.
James Carleton (the Union brigadier-general in command of the Department of New Mexico after 1862) for example, produced the most material of any of the people whose stories I tell in the book. He wrote sheaves of letters, reports, and orders every day, and the local newspaper often wrote about him, his policies, the parties he went to, and the trips he took.
Juanita, on the other hand, was a Navajo woman who left no written words behind to describe her life. But she did leave the textiles she wove, and descendants to tell her story. She was also married to Manuelito, a prominent Navajo headman, and I was able to pinpoint her movements during the Civil War through the Union Army’s attention to his whereabouts in their records.
Interweaving all of these narratives together was demanding – but it was also really, really fun. I have written two previous books (Trembling Earth (Georgia, 2005) and Ruin Nation (Georgia, 2012), both traditional scholarly books with argument-driven, thematic structures.
In The Three-Cornered War I needed to let the plot drive the narrative, and integrate my arguments seamlessly into both specific and larger stories. Ultimately, my hope is that The Three-Cornered War gives readers the fullest possible sense of the Civil War in this region, while also giving them a really good read.
What I have learned in this process is that writing history is always an act of imagination, even if you are writing in a more traditional way. Historians take the materials that we have to generate a sense of the past for ourselves and for our readers, and that is, fundamentally, a creative act.
CWI: You write about Hispanic civilians and soldiers as well as Native American Indians. How do their relationships with Union and Confederate authorities and issues of race and ethnicity affect military operations in the West?
Nelson: This is one of the other meanings of the title of my book: a California soldier used the phrase “three-cornered war” to describe the battles between the Union, the Confederacy, and Native peoples. The title also refers to a war involving the North, the South, and the West, and to a series of battles fought by Anglos, Native peoples, and Hispanos.
The Union’s Army of New Mexico was the first multiracial army in the Civil War. Hispano volunteers fought in the 1st New Mexico as well as in militias. They marched and camped and fought alongside Anglo volunteers and Army regulars, and Native scouts from several different communities (Utes, Jicarilla Apaches, and Mescalero Apaches). They fought in engagements against the Confederate Texans at Valverde in February 1862, and against Chiricahua Apaches, Mescalero Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches, and Navajos in campaigns in 1863-1864.
Many Hispanos volunteered for the Union army to defend their towns, ranches, and families from invading Texans. Those who stayed on after the Texans retreated did so to join campaigns against Apaches and Navajos, whom they had been fighting in a longstanding cycle of raiding and warfare for generations before Americans’ arrival in the region.
It is important to remember that Hispano New Mexicans’ engagements with Union and Confederate forces were not monolithic. Neither were the actions of indigenous peoples.
Many Native communities in the region traded with the Anglos in their midst and made peace treaties when it suited them. They raided military forts, corrals, and wagon trains when the opportunity arose. Some, as I have noted above, worked as scouts in Union Army campaigns, mostly in fights against other indigenous peoples who were their traditional enemies. They did all of this to express and secure their sovereignty as a people, and (re)gain control over their homelands.
In the Southwest, Chiricahua and Mescalero Apaches and the Navajos were the communities who engaged most in warfare with Union troops, because it was their territories that the Union Army most wanted to control in New Mexico and Arizona. They were important thoroughfares for trade and American settlement in the Southwest. They also provided access to mountain gulches and streams that could be panned for gold. In the summer of 1863, after gold was discovered in the mountains of the newly created Union Territory of Arizona, American and Mexican miners flooded into the region. James Carleton subsequently tapped Joseph Rodman West to drive the Chiricahua Apaches from the Butterfield route, and Kit Carson to lead a hard war campaign against the Navajos to clear the way for miners heading west from Albuquerque.
Attention to the West leads us to rethink the Union government’s plans for the future. The Army’s Indian policy under James Carleton was to forego the treaty process and to make war upon Native peoples in order to force their capitulation and removal to reservations. Navajos and Mescalero Apaches became prisoners-of-war in this context, incarcerated on reservations that were far from their homelands. So while the Union Army was fighting for black emancipation in the East, they were fighting to force the migration and imprisonment of Native peoples in the West.
Considering the Hispano and Native dimensions of the Civil War, then, complicates our understanding of the Union Army’s “just war,” and illuminates the multiple and often contradictory elements of “the Union Cause.”
Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers
James J. Broomall
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.
Looming Civil War: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Imagined the Future Jason Phillips
Oxford University Press
In Looming Civil War, Phillips writes about the future, specifically, the one predicted by nineteenth-century Americans in the years preceding the Civil War. Challenging dominant narratives of the war, Phillips argues that nineteenth-century individuals were fully aware of a looming civil war and that many believed it would be a long, bloody, and disastrous conflict, not just a short excursion. As individuals looked to the uncertain future, they all made predictions unique to their race, religion, gender, and location. Some white southern elites saw the looming war as an Armageddon that would destroy civilized society, while abolitionists and slaves saw war as a harbinger of freedom. Phillips seamlessly blends these abstract conceptualizations of war with physical realities by using material culture as his driving impetus, illustrating how nineteenth-century Americans interacted with the physical world in a way that both illustrated and influenced their conceptions of the future.
Phillips begins his book by distinguishing between two distinct ways of understanding the future, or temporalities: Anticipation and expectation. Although the two words are used interchangeably today, Phillips explains that there is a difference between the two that stems from their Latin roots. Anticipation refers to acting on the future, such as buying on credit before actual money is at hand. Expectation is a state of waiting in suspense. Although both terms rely on predictions of the future, they differ in how the individual reacts to the future: Through action or inaction. Those who anticipated the future believed they could influence and shape events through their own active participation. Although Phillips cautions that generalizations about worldviews cannot be universally applied to members within a group, he notes that anticipation was more common amongst white men who were financially independent, like John Brown who anticipated the looming civil war and the emancipation of slaves. Brown believed that the only way to force emancipation was through action, so he killed members of the pro-slavery Doyle family in Kansas and raided Harper’s Ferry in order to help spur mass emancipation. Individuals who expected the future, on the other hand, believed that providence would ensure that events happened according to God’s will. Phillips points to the slaves who expected that Abraham Lincoln’s election as president would eventually lead to their freedom. While some slaves anticipated freedom, and thus ran away to Union lines to guarantee their freedom, others waited in bondage until freedom came to them, thus expecting freedom. As Americans marched towards what many saw as an inevitable conflict, their temporal understanding of the future influenced how they viewed the war and its causes, as well as what they believed the outcome of the war would mean for the nation.
Regardless of whether an individual anticipated or expected the war, their views were equally influenced by the myriad material objects they interacted with on a day-to-day basis. One of the objects Phillip focuses on is the bowie knife. When Henry Clay Pate set out to capture John Brown for the violence he inflicted in Kansas, Pate was carrying a bowie knife with him, a bowie knife which eventually became the possession of John Brown. To Phillips, the presence of the bowie knife was significant. Like many others, Pate acquired his bowie knife when he decided to move to Kansas. The bowie knife was not just a present for his journey, but a symbol of the type of political atmosphere Pate would be entering. Kansas, which was deciding whether to enter the United States as a free or slave state, had become a territory of intimidation. Most men carried bowie knives on their person, both to use in political intimidation and for protection. One Kansas resident told a reporter that a man needed to grab his bowie knife the second he saw another man reach towards his hip.
In one sense, the proliferation of the bowie knife was a reaction to the violent atmosphere in Kansas; however, as illustrated by the aforementioned Kansas resident, the knife also contributed to the rampant violence. Kansas had become a place of anticipation, with men carrying bowie knives in order to shape the future they wanted. Charles Sumner noted this aura of violence in his speech to Congress right before being caned by Preston Brooks, who chose to use a cane with great deliberation. The cane represented his class status as a wealthy southern slaveowner and gentlemen, the caning of Sumner thus symbolically reminding people of a slaveowner’s right to punish his slave for bad behavior. In practical terms, the cane was less likely to fall into Sumner’s hands during the altercation than a whip, another object closely associated with slavery. Throughout his book, Phillips shows the intentionality of individuals’ use of objects which speak to their predictions of the Civil War. His study of material objects grounds the more abstract ideas of the future in the concrete realities of the physical world, allowing readers to understand pre-war America in a way that is very similar to how nineteenth-century citizens would have experienced the world.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2019 CWI Conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Rachel Shelden, Associate Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma. She is the author of Washington Brotherhood: Politics, Social Life, and the Coming of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), which received honorable mention for the Wiley-Silver Prize for the best first book on the Civil War and was a selection of the History book club. She is also the co-editor, with Gary W. Gallagher, of A Political Nation: New Directions in Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Political History (University of Virginia Press, 2012). Dr. Shelden serves as the book review editor for the Journal of the Civil War Era. Her current book project explores the political culture of the U.S. Supreme Court in the long Civil War era, from the 1830s to the 1890s.
CWI: What were the major thematic undercurrents that defined the political debates of the 1850s? Who were the major players in these debates, and what roles did they play?
SHELDEN: Three of the most important themes that you can see pop up in political conversations over the course of the 1850s were anxieties about the role of slavery in American society (and especially the expansion of African American slavery into the western territories); a growing fear of immigrants and especially Catholics in many northern communities; and continuing frustration that politics – and Washington, D.C. in particular – were contaminated by corruption. These three issues interacted to create an explosive political atmosphere that helped destroy one of the major parties of the era (the Whigs), fueled increasing sectionalization (between slave and free states), and created a searing mistrust of Washington, D.C. Among the more important personalities who tried to grapple with these problems in Congress and through party politics were Stephen Douglas of Illinois, President James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, William Henry Seward of New York, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, and a number of others.
CWI: Who was Dred Scott? Can you explain, in a nutshell, the major contours of the Dred Scott case and its significance to both the political debates of the 1850s and to the coming of the Civil War?
SHELDEN: Dred Scott v. Sandford (60 U.S. 393 (1857)) is a notoriously challenging case both in the ways it traveled through the state and federal court system and also in the contours of its decision(s). Briefly, Scott was enslaved in Missouri but sued for his freedom in St. Louis on the basis of having lived with his owner for two years in a free territory – designated as such by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1850, the St. Louis court declared him free but in 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned this decision. When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court under new circumstances, the majority ruled in March 1857 that Scott was still a slave, with Chief Justice Roger Taney delivering the 7-2 opinion. Taney made two pronouncements: 1) that no black person could ever be a citizen of the United States and therefore could not sue in federal court; and 2) that Congress did not have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories and therefore the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. The first of these pronouncements was problematic enough for a number of antislavery activists and politicians, but the second was downright provocative. The Republican Party had staked its very existence on the idea of limiting slavery in the territories – a feat they firmly believed Congress had every right to enact. The decision, therefore, enraged many Northerners, even as most white Southerners celebrated Taney’s ruling (though even some white Southerners found themselves confused by Taney’s assertions about congressional power). This decision, and the potential that the Court might go even further – invalidating northern states’ right to ban slavery – hung over much of the politics of the late 1850s as the Republican Party warned of a “slave power” conspiracy to nationalize the peculiar institution.
CWI: How might a close analysis of the political crisis of the 1850s, as well as of the players and institutions involved, inform our understanding of our own political culture and institutions? How do the varying success and failures of the 1850s help inform our own understanding of useful contours for contemporary political debate?
SHELDEN: Using the past to explain phenomena in the present is always tricky. In particular, the ways in which Dred Scott, Taney, the Republican Party, and other critical actors of the period behaved were very much a product of their time. Still, understanding that context can remind us that our current perceptions of politics do not operate in a vacuum. In the case of Dred Scott, Taney’s ruling – and the general manner in which many of the justices operated in the mid-nineteenth century both in relationship to and outside of critical legal decisions – can remind us that current insistence that the Supreme Court is above politics or outside the political realm was never a truism, among the founding generation or the several generations beyond it.
Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2019 CWI Conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Fred C. Frey Professor of Southern Studies at Louisiana State University and the Chair of LSU’s History Department. He teaches courses on nineteenth-century U.S. history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and southern History. He is the author of Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (UNC Press, 2007), Concise Historical Atlas of the U.S. Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2008), and is the editor of several other volumes. His most recent book, The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, was released by Harvard University Press in Fall, 2018.
CWI: Your most recent book, The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, is fresh off the press. What were the main interpretive questions that motivated you to research and write this book? What was the primary methodological framework that you used when writing this book?
SHEEHAN-DEAN: Initially, I wanted to answer what I thought would be a straight-forward question: Who could be lawfully killed in war? I wanted to explore how people made ethical decisions about who could be subjected to violence. In the process of researching what was supposed to be a stand-alone essay, I realized that we don’t have a clear sense of who was killed, never mind how people justified that killing. So, I spent a long time studying regular battles, guerrillas, occupation, sieges – basically, all the places where violence existed. What I found was that an easy dichotomy between either a bloody harbinger of the twentieth century or a restrained gentleman’s war failed to capture the reality. The war was both bloody and restrained, filled with both malice and charity (to paraphrase Lincoln). I then spent a long time piecing together how people understood and explained their behavior (to themselves and the world at large). So, the book is partly intellectual history but, in the nineteenth century, that means religious history, cultural history, and legal and political history. Last, I felt it was important to capture the attitudes of both sides. We have a number of excellent books on how northerners thought about war but because war is a dynamic process, our vision should encompass both North and South.
CWI: How has your research into the violence of the Civil War changed or enriched your previous understanding of 19th-century warfare? How might your research influence the way everyday Americans remember the Civil War?
SHEEHAN-DEAN: Participants in the Civil War drew on older models of warfare, both European and American, and innovated. The role of slavery created a new problem. The US Army had encountered slavery before – in the Seminole Wars, among others – but the federal government had never turned decisively against it, which created a whole new role for the army, something more akin to the efforts demanded of it in the 20th and 21st Century, when we anticipate that soldiers will interact with enemy civilians and that every military action has political consequences. Emancipation entailed both the seizure of personal property (belonging to the slaveholder), a shift of manpower from the Confederate to the Union side of the war, and the social and political consequences of liberating enslaved people. When the US Army operates today, in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, we know that confiscating property or jailing suspected enemies can shape the political support for or against an American presence. Imperial armies of the 18th century didn’t have much concern to this issue. I was also surprised by the pervasive respect for the laws of war, not just among soldiers but among citizens as well. Although few people had read Grotius (the 17th-century Dutch jurist who wrote the basic compendium of the laws of war for Europe), they knew roughly what lawful conduct looked like and they expected their armies to practice it. This reminds us that in a democracy, the army is the people and vice versa. We have responsibility, as citizens, for ensuring that our military respects the values we hold, which can be hard to articulate and enforce in the midst of conflict. I anticipate that readers will find stories that discourage them – some episodes in the war demonstrate that wartime Americans were no better behaved than anyone else when it came to war and sometimes people used the law of war itself as a cover to commit unnecessary violence. Other stories might inspire them by revealing the ways that laws curtailed excessive violence and in general, the power of people to choose wisely about how to conduct war.
CWI: According to this new research, how did the violence of the Civil War influence Reconstruction and both its short-term and long-term legacies?
SHEEHAN-DEAN: I didn’t carry the story into Reconstruction, which is a weakness of the book, though it took a lot of pages to reach the war’s end… As readers will see, there was a lot in the war that left bad legacies and alienated southerners from northerners and black people from white people. But it also left legacies of peace and mercy. As with almost everything in history, it becomes a question of interpretation. It was easier for white southerners to mythologize Sherman’s destructiveness and paint themselves as victims and it was easier for white northerners to take credit for ending slavery and believe their conduct was flawless. Neither of these stereotypes is true but they played an important role in shaping postwar politics.