Thursday, May 31, 2007

CWL --- Writing History: Answers to the Name of 'Soldier'

"The Blue and Gray in Black and White: Assessing the Scholarship on Civil War Soldiers," Aaron Sheehan-Dean in The View From The Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, ed., University of Kentucky Press, pp. 9-30.

Accounts written by soldiers during the war are highly prized by researchers. Postwar memoirs and article length reminiscences on occassion substitute interpretations for how it actually was in the face of battle. Answers to questions, running the gamut from emancipation and race to family and masculinity, are being readily mined today from 1860-1865 primary sources. Sheehan-Dean traces this trend to the work of Bell Irvin Wiley during the 1940s and 1950s. The author also calls attention to Albert Burton, on CSA conscription, and Ella Lonn, on army desertions, as being forerunners of Wiley in his perusal of frontline soldiers primary sources.

The movement to rejuvenate soldier studies by using the primary sources of 1860-1865 was encouraged by a 1970s study of European soldiers, The Face of Battle by John Keegan. The emergence of this historiographic movement in the 1980s is due to the growth in the sophisication of social history, the immediacy of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement during the 1970s.

Sheehan-Dean surveys the work of Reid Mitchell, Gerald Linderman, Mark Grimsley, Earl Hess, Chandra Manning, Joseph Glatthaar, James McPherson, Drew Gilpin Faust and several others. In these authors' works the attitudes of families, communities, and soldiers are being explored in a manner unlike any previous effort during the 145 years of writing about the American Civil War. In particular these studies of Southern and Northern counties and the soldiers they provided are setting forth new understandings of the war. In this field the work of Peter Carmichael, Martin Crawford, and Ward Hubb are revealing.

Families set in the context of communities, as illustrated by the work of James Marten and others, provide a picture of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers that is not like the Victorian paintings that provide illustrations for book jackets. The bibliographic notes to Sheehan-Dean's chapter provide a wealth of book and article titles that any reader having an interest in soldiers should examine.

Help Note: This chapter can be obtained by using your local library's inter-library loan services or by contacting me.

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