As part of my attempts to scale Mount TBR, I read two smaller works on the Civil War this week. They may be later joined by This Republic of Suffering, a survey of the war’s unprecedented death toll and its postwar consequences.
American Iliad was one of the texts assigned to my US History freshman course, though not one I purchased — my copy of this is a library discard. Having encountered it, I can see why my professor assigned it; it’s an extremely readable survey of the war, which manages to be concise despite including sections on the war’s background, the political & social scene of the South & Union during the war, and so on. I was pleasantly surprised by both its impartiality and the fact that it still managed (despite its brevity) to introduce new-to-me material — on the abusive way freedmen were treated, for instance, sometimes being press-ganged into Union army units.
Reluctant Voices was another library discard, and reviews the American Civil War experience as lived through various minors who were exposed to its horrors. These include boy soldiers — both children serving as drummer boys, or young teenagers who fudged their ages to take up arms — as well as numerous civilians. Although the titular focus of the book was of children’s reactions to what they saw unfolding around them, for the most part I would have been hard-pressed to separate this from a narrative history of the war from civilian perspectives — in part, I suspect, because 19th century adolescents were forced by the circumstances of their society to mature far more quickly than their counterparts of today. I’m glad I snatched this title up on its way out of the library, as in addition to the narrative which follows the general course of the war, there are special sections on the siege of Vicksburg, and the grisly spectacle of Andersonville: although I’m familiar with its sad story, I had no idea there were such young soldiers contained within its death-filled walls. The work is a valuable read for readers who want to experience something of the home front, made especially poignant through the letters of children who dearly missed their fathers and brothers, and as a reminder that the hell unleashed by war often visits those who had no say about being involved — like the children who were killed during the siege of Vicksburg, for instance.
More to come on the war….I paid a visit to Shiloh over the weekend, touring its battlefield, and I took with me Winston Groom’s Shiloh 1862 to help understand the ground before me.