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The View from the Ground

The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The View from the Ground
    Book Description:

    Civil War scholars have long used soldiers' diaries and correspondence to flesh out their studies of the conflict's great officers, regiments, and battles. However, historians have only recently begun to treat the common Civil War soldier's daily life as a worthwhile topic of discussion in its own right. The View from the Ground reveals the beliefs of ordinary men and women on topics ranging from slavery and racism to faith and identity and represents a significant development in historical scholarship -- the use of Civil War soldiers' personal accounts to address larger questions about America's past. Aaron Sheehan-Dean opens The View from the Ground by surveying the landscape of research on Union and Confederate soldiers, examining not only the wealth of scholarly inquiry in the 1980s and 1990s but also the numerous questions that remain unexplored. Chandra Manning analyzes the views of white Union soldiers on slavery and their enthusiastic support for emancipation. Jason Phillips uncovers the deep antipathy of Confederate soldiers toward their Union adversaries, and Lisa Laskin explores tensions between soldiers and civilians in the Confederacy that represented a serious threat to the fledgling nation's survival. Essays by David Rolfs and Kent Dollar examine the nature of religious faith among Civil War combatants. The grim and gruesome realities of warfare -- and the horror of killing one's enemy at close range -- profoundly tested the spiritual convictions of the fighting men. Timothy J. Orr, Charles E. Brooks, and Kevin Levin demonstrate that Union and Confederate soldiers maintained their political beliefs both on the battlefield and in the war's aftermath. Orr details the conflict between Union soldiers and Northern antiwar activists in Pennsylvania, and Brooks examines a struggle between officers and the Fourth Texas Regiment. Levin contextualizes political struggles among Southerners in the 1880s and 1890s as a continuing battle kept alive by memories of, and identities associated with, their wartime experiences. The View from the Ground goes beyond standard histories that discuss soldiers primarily in terms of campaigns and casualties. These essays show that soldiers on both sides were authentic historical actors who willfully steered the course of the Civil War and shaped subsequent public memory of the event.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7158-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Confederate soldier George Washington Miley spent the first months of 1864 exchanging letters with his future wife, Tirzah Amelia Baker. Confined to the south bank of Virginia’s Rapidan River and facing Union soldiers across the water, Miley lamented his continued presence in the army and his absence from loved ones, especially during the just-passed Christmas season. Baker recounted activities in their community and anticipated Miley’s return on furlough. However, after reenlisting for the duration of the war and recognizing that a furlough was unlikely, Miley paused to consider what record might be left of his service. “Three years, I can...

  4. The Blue and the Gray in Black and White Assessing the Scholarship on Civil War Soldiers
    (pp. 9-30)
    Aaron Sheehan-Dean

    One of the persistent frustrations of historians of antebellum America is the paucity of primary sources from common people, black or white. The prohibitions on teaching slaves to read and write and the conditions of slavery partially explain the absence of extensive firsthand evidence from slaves themselves, but no such explanation exists with regard to middle- and lower-class whites. Thus, historians of slavery have to fall back on a method of triangulating their subjects through a variety of secondhand documents: court records, wills, census reports, newspaper accounts, and travelers’ observations. The difficulty this poses for historians of the antebellum South...

  5. A “Vexed Question” White Union Soldiers on Slavery and Race
    (pp. 31-66)
    Chandra Manning

    If anyone had told E. C. Hubbard in January 1861 that he would fight to end slavery, he likely would have laughed or, if in a quarrelsome mood, thrown a punch. By his own admission, he “came into the service … thinking that a negro [was] a parallel case of a dog.” Yet by December 1861, Sergeant Hubbard of the Thirteenth Illinois complained that the Union’s failure to destroy slavery was prolonging the war, and he, like many of his fellow enlisted soldiers, demanded an end to the institution that they identified as the root of the conflict.¹ The first...

  6. A Brothers’ War? Exploring Confederate Perceptions of the Enemy
    (pp. 67-90)
    Jason Phillips

    Fifty years after Appomattox, Union General Joshua Chamberlain recounted a touching moment in his memoirs. On a cold, gray April morning in 1865, Chamberlain oversaw the ceremony in which General Robert E. Lee’s infantry stacked arms, furled flags, and went home. As the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia passed his men, Chamberlain was deeply impressed by the enemy “standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours.” Their spirit awoke in Chamberlain “memories that bound us together as no other bond,” vivid scenes of battlefield glory that united foes. Chamberlain...

  7. “The Army Is Not Near So Much Demoralized as the Country Is” Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front
    (pp. 91-120)
    Lisa Laskin

    By the last year of the Civil War, many soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV) still believed that their army offered the best opportunity to save the Confederacy’s fortunes. Despite the increasing stream of deserters, enough men stayed in the ranks and remained committed to the cause (albeit for a range of reasons) to maintain the ANV as a formidable presence on the eastern battlefields. Commitment to Confederate war aims, a common feeling of superiority over the enemy, and pride in their army and its leadership contributed to ANV soldiers’ unity and high morale and supported an esprit...

  8. “No Nearer Heaven Now but Rather Farther Off” The Religious Compromises and Conflicts of Northern Soldiers
    (pp. 121-144)
    David W. Rolfs

    As Northern Christians enthusiastically marched off to war in the spring of 1861, few imagined how severely their faith would be tested over the next four years. Separated from their families and churches, deprived of regular opportunities for worship, and forced to live in an exclusively male society that was apathetic if not openly hostile to organized religion and believers, religious soldiers struggled to resist the traditional temptations of army life and the demoralizing spiritual climate of their wartime camps. Richard Gould, one of seven deeply religious brothers from New York who volunteered to fight for the Union, explained the...

  9. “Strangers in a Strange Land” Christian Soldiers in the Early Months of the Civil War
    (pp. 145-170)
    Kent T. Dollar

    On December 15, 1862, two days after the bloody fighting at the battle of Fredericksburg ended, Marion Hill Fitzpatrick, a private in the Forty-fifth Georgia Infantry, admitted to his wife in a letter home: “I have gone entirely wild and if I ever get back I shall have my name taken off the church book for it is a shame and disgrace to the cause of Christ for it to be there. … I want you all to continue to pray for me but look upon me no longer as a worthy member of the church.”¹

    Army life in the...

  10. “A Viler Enemy in Our Rear” Pennsylvania Soldiers Confront the North’s Antiwar Movement
    (pp. 171-198)
    Timothy J. Orr

    On the afternoon of Monday, March 2, 1863, at the Union Army of the Potomac’s Twelfth Corps winter encampment at Dumfries, Virginia, twenty-two-year-old Sergeant Henry Hayward, serving with the Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, roamed the countryside in an attempt to relieve his mind from the boredom of camp life. Upon returning to his regiment’s encampment, he witnessed a provocative sight. The men of the Twenty-ninth Ohio Infantry, another regiment in his brigade, had formed into a hollow square following their dress parade to discuss matters relating to politics in the state of Ohio. The rise of a strong antiwar faction inside...

  11. Popular Sovereignty in the Confederate Army The Case of Colonel John Marshall and the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment
    (pp. 199-226)
    Charles E. Brooks

    On October 8, 1861, the Reverend Nicholas Davis, chaplain of the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment, wrote in his diary: “Col. Hood arrived in the camp at 3 o’cl[oc]k. Lt. Col. John Marshall brought out his camp chattles & left again in a few minutes. This is his debu[t]. And I suppose he is aware of the fact that the men receive him in the same manner that he has put himself off on the reg.—by force.”¹ John Marshall, a Texas newspaper editor and Southern rights politician, had been appointed by the Confederate government to serve as lieutenant colonel of the...

  12. “Is Not the Glory Enough to Give Us All a Share?” An Analysis of Competing Memories of the Battle of the Crater
    (pp. 227-248)
    Kevin M. Levin

    Writing in 1898 from Darlington, South Carolina, former Confederate captain John Floyd could barely contain his frustration. As a member of one of the five regiments in Stephen Elliott’s South Carolina brigade, Floyd had witnessed the terrible destruction wrought by the explosion of a Federal mine and the subsequent attempt to break the growing siege around Petersburg, Virginia, during the summer of 1864. For roughly thirty years, Floyd and others had watched the Virginia veterans of Brigadier General William Mahone’s division take all the credit for ultimately pushing back the Federal attackers. In a letter to the editor of Columbia’s...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 249-254)
    Joseph T. Glatthaar

    In his final year of life, poet Walt Whitman lamented the direction of literature on the Civil War. “I know not how it may have been, or may be, to others,” he recalled, but “to me the main interest I found (and still, on recollection, find) in the rank and file of the armies, both sides, and in those specimens amid the hospitals, and even the dead on the field. To me the points illustrating the latent personal character and eligibilities of these States, in the two or three millions of American young and middle-aged men, North and South, embodied...

  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 255-260)
  15. Contributors
    (pp. 261-262)
  16. Index
    (pp. 263-266)