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Civil War Time

Civil War Time: Temporality and Identity in America, 1861-1865

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Civil War Time
    Book Description:

    In antebellum America, both North and South emerged as modernizing, capitalist societies. Work bells, clock towers, and personal timepieces increasingly instilled discipline on one's day, which already was ordered by religious custom and nature's rhythms. The Civil War changed that, argues Cheryl A. Wells. Overriding antebellum schedules, war played havoc with people's perception and use of time. For those closest to the fighting, the war's effect on time included disrupted patterns of sleep, extended hours of work, conflated hours of leisure, indefinite prison sentences, challenges to the gender order, and desecration of the Sabbath. Wells calls this phenomenon "battle time." To create a modern war machine military officers tried to graft the antebellum authority of the clock onto the actual and mental terrain of the Civil War. However, as Wells's coverage of the Manassas and Gettysburg battles shows, military engagements followed their own logic, often without regard for the discipline imposed by clocks. Wells also looks at how battle time's effects spilled over into periods of inaction, and she covers not only the experiences of soldiers but also those of nurses, prisoners of war, slaves, and civilians. After the war, women returned, essentially, to an antebellum temporal world, says Wells. Elsewhere, however, postwar temporalities were complicated as freedmen and planters, and workers and industrialists renegotiated terms of labor within parameters set by the clock and nature. A crucial juncture on America's path to an ordered relationship to time, the Civil War had an acute effect on the nation's progress toward a modernity marked by multiple, interpenetrating times largely based on the clock.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4396-9
    Subjects: History, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Civil War Time(s)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Since Robert E. Lee’s 1865 Palm Sunday surrender, the Civil War has marked and defined time in the nineteenth century. Like a clock that strikes only one hour, the Civil War split nineteenth-century American time into two discrete units: antebellum and postbellum. Some historians have argued that the postbellum era, with its aggressive northernization of southern life, replaced the antebellum era, with its dedication to northern industrialism and southern agrarianism.¹ Yet not all aspects of antebellum society disappeared with the birth of the postbellum era. Although the Civil War may have divided American time in the nineteenth century, it did...


    • 1 TIME LOST, TIME FOUND: The Confederate Victory at Manassas and the Union Defeat at Bull Run
      (pp. 13-33)

      “Watch in hand, they await[ed] the approach of the half hour, and as the last second of the last minute [was] marked on the dial plate,” Captain George S. James “pull[ed] the lanyard; there [was] a flash of light and a ten inch shell trac[ed] its pathway towards Fort Sumter.”¹ It was 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, and it was the beginning of the Confederacy’s barrage on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. Thirty-three hours later, Robert Anderson surrendered Sumter, and the flag of South Carolina’s Palmetto Guards replaced the Stars and Stripes as the Confederacy won the...

    • 2 “AN HOUR TOO LATE”: The Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg
      (pp. 34-54)

      By July 1863, public hopes in both the United States and the Confederacy for a short war had dissipated. The mighty offensive victory thought so easily attainable in 1861 remained elusive. With thousands dead, wounded, and imprisoned, public support for war was wavering, and peace organizations gained momentum. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln attempted to counter such movements by introducing the Emancipation Proclamation, an order designed to garner favor with foreign nations and to inject moral purpose into the Union cause rather than to free the slaves. Southern belles schooled in the arts of domesticity, demureness, and delicacy rioted for bread...


    • 3 “LIKE A WHEEL IN A WATCH”: Soldiers, Camp, and Battle Time
      (pp. 57-69)

      Union sergeant Isaac Newton Parker’s June 21, 1863, letter to his wife resonated with anxiety, tension, and a terrible concern. Although not broken, Parker’s watch had not been serviced in seven years. Rather than trust the precious task to unreliable North Carolina watch repairers, Parker implored his wife to take his timepiece to O. E. Silbey’s repair shop in Buffalo, New York. Further, he issued terse but detailed instructions. She was to have the watch cleaned and repaired regardless of the cost. She was to test the repaired watch for accuracy by measuring its time against a clock in Silbey’s...

    • 4 BATTLE TIME: Gender, Modernity, and Civil War Hospitals
      (pp. 70-88)

      While men took to the battlefields to ensure their independence, women challenged societal norms and took to the hospitals to care for the wounded. Archetypal womanhood mandated modesty, domesticity, purity, delicacy, gentility, and subordination. Being a nurse meant none or few of these things. It meant working outside the home, challenging male doctors, and “intimacy with male bodies.” As historians have demonstrated, this dissonance between the professed ideal of womanhood and the graphic realities of nursing caused male surgeons and hospital staffs to ostracize Civil War nurses. The presence and perseverance of female nurses in Civil War hospitals signified a...

    • 5 DOING TIME: The Cannon, the Clock, and Civil War Prisons
      (pp. 89-110)

      “Indolence,” Dorothea Dix maintained, “opened the portal . . . to vice and crime” and thus threatened to disrupt the desired industrious nature of antebellum society by undermining order and damaging the country’s republican fabric. Not only did criminals waste their own time, but their crimes resulted in “the loss of time of officers and others, in pursuing and arresting criminals.”¹ Because criminals served time for using time unwisely, antebellum penitentiaries attempted to rehabilitate offenders by inculcating appropriate habits. While some southern penitentiaries embraced these systems, the racial situation in the South complicated criminal prosecution. Slavery forced the creation of...

  8. EPILOGUE: Antebellum Temporalities in the Postbellum Period
    (pp. 111-124)

    At “half past one on Sunday, the 9th of April 1865,” General Ulysses S. Grant arrived at Wilmer McLean’s Appomattox Court House home to accept Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.¹ The flourish of a quill destroyed the Confederate nation, settled the issue of secession, and terminated battle time. With the silencing of the cannon, battle time lost its authority to order and reorder life. Its ability to disrupt patterns of sleep, extend hours of work, conflate the hours of leisure, control the length of imprisonment, degender hospitals, and desecrate the Sabbath evaporated with the war’s conclusion. Soldiers, nurses, civilians,...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 125-150)
    (pp. 151-186)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 187-195)