Belligerent Muse

Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War

Stephen Cushman
FOREWORD BY Gary W. Gallagher
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Belligerent Muse
    Book Description:

    War destroys, but it also inspires, stimulates, and creates. It is, in this way, a muse, and a powerful one at that. The American Civil War was a particularly prolific muse--unleashing with its violent realities a torrent of language, from soldiers' intimate letters and diaries to everyday newspaper accounts, great speeches, and enduring literary works. InBelligerent Muse, Stephen Cushman considers the Civil War writings of five of the most significant and best known narrators of the conflict: Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ambrose Bierce, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Considering their writings both as literary expressions and as efforts to record the rigors of the war, Cushman analyzes their narratives and the aesthetics underlying them to offer a richer understanding of how Civil War writing chronicled the events of the conflict as they unfolded and then served to frame the memory of the war afterward.Elegantly interweaving military and literary history, Cushman uses some of the war's most famous writers and their works to explore the profound ways in which our nation's great conflict not only changed the lives of its combatants and chroniclers but also fundamentally transformed American letters.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1879-1
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    I always have admired William Tecumseh Sherman’sMemoirs. Second only to his friend U. S. Grant among Union military heroes, Sherman lacked an effective filter between his brain and either his mouth or his pen—which renders him both fascinating and eminently quotable. I have quoted theMemoirsin various things I have written and frequently urged others to explore their pages. If asked a year ago whether I had a good command of the text, I would have answered in the affirmative. Then I read Stephen Cushman’s essay that appears here, an exercise that yielded great enjoyment but also...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    War destroys. Destruction is its business. “War” descends from Old High German and means confusion or strife; one of its Old English cousins is “worst.” War is the worst, our worst, the worst confusion and strife humans know and have known for as long as there have been humans. On its way to doing its worst, war wrecks and ruins, wastes and ravages, devastates and desolates. It does its worst to bodies, minds, spirits, lives, families, communities, towns, cities, farms, factories, economies, social systems, ecosystems, regions, nations, continents.

    But in the process of doing its worst, war can also make...

  6. CHAPTER ONE When Lincoln Met Emerson, and the Two Addresses
    (pp. 9-46)

    In the history of the United States the convergence of Civil War writing with verbal artistry remains particularly notable in the case of Abraham Lincoln. In part this distinction has to do with the fact that Lincoln’s written English—with its distinct blendings of the elegantly lyrical and the pungently vernacular; the rhetoric of the courtroom and the rhetoric of the pulpit; the slap of short, simple sentences and the extended caresses of syntactically parallel units, so often parceled into groups of three—is simply more sonorous, memorable, and meaningful than the written English not only of his presidential successors...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Walt Whitman’s Real Wars
    (pp. 47-68)

    One of Lincoln’s fervent admirers was Walt Whitman, who on the fourteenth anniversary of the president’s assassination delivered a lecture he repeated nineteen times between 1879 and 1890.¹ Four years before his inaugural Lincoln lecture, Whitman had published an earlier narrative of the assassination inMemoranda During the War, which carried on the cover of at least one copy of its privately printed first edition the gold-lettered words “walt / whitman’s / memoranda / of the war / Written on the Spot / in 1863–’65” and showed on its title page the publication date “1875–’76.” In the first...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Sherman the Writer
    (pp. 69-114)

    To openMemoirs of General William T. Sherman, “Written by Himself,” as the cover of the 1875 first edition announced, is to take a seat in a verbal theater. This formulation has special relevance in the case of Sherman, whose passion for theater began in New York in June 1836, when he, then sixteen, was traveling to begin his study at West Point and attended his first plays and concerts.² Edmund Wilson, in his chapter on Sherman inPatriotic Gore(1962), published during the Civil War centennial and the first major study to identify theMemoirsas “literature,” borrowed from...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Ambrose Bierce, Chickamauga, and Ways to Write History
    (pp. 115-146)

    Writing on August 17, 1892, to Blanche Partington, one of his many disciples, from St. Helena, California, the Napa Valley town where he sought relief from chronic asthma and where one can stay where he did, now the Ambrose Bierce House Bed and Breakfast, a structure built on Main Street in 1872, Bierce, at the age of fifty, responded to the young woman’s request for a list of books to read with, among others, this sentence: “Read Longinus, Herbert Spencer on Style, Pope’s ‘Essay on Criticism’ (don’t groan—the detractors of Pope are not always to have things their own...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Repeats Appomattox
    (pp. 147-164)

    In hisPersonal Memoirs(1885–86), Ulysses S. Grant, commenting on what he described as “the story of the famous apple tree” at Appomattox, offered by way of introduction this typically lean, efficient sentence: “Wars produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true.”¹ Among the many stories of fiction produced by the Civil War, and by the events of Wednesday, April 12, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in particular, are those connected with Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, subsequently breveted Major General, and his involvement in the surrender ceremony. Grant himself...

  11. Last Words
    (pp. 165-180)

    The abundant diversity of Civil War narratives soundly refutes the easy sophism “victors write the histories.” This cliché has harsh relevance to totalitarian governments founded on propaganda and censorship, imagined most chillingly in George Orwell’sNineteen Eighty-Four(1949), in which the Ministry of Truth employs the protagonist, Winston Smith, to rewrite newspaper articles and align the historical record with the ideology of Big Brother. But in the United States of the last 150 years, the fierce idealizing of individual opinion, informed or not, and the protective hallowing of the First Amendment, with which citizens maintain a range of relationships, occasionally...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-202)
  13. Index
    (pp. 203-213)