Saturday, March 3, 2012

Just Finished Reading

One of the first Civil War books that I obtained was Bell I. Wiley's The Life of Johnny Reb. I received it as a gift my senior year of college and I think I read it through in almost a day. This classic led me to look for and find other books on the Civil War's common soldiers. Fortunately there were books such as Gerald Linderman's Embattled Courage, Reid Mitchell's Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and Their Experiences and James I. Robertson's Soldiers Blue and Gray available to feed my interest. The View from the Ground provides good company for those that blazed the trail.

This book, which contains an introduction, nine individual essays and an afterword adds much to the ongoing scholarship that is informing us on numerous aspects of the soldier experience.

There were several of the essays that I particularly enjoyed. Editor Aaron Sheehan-Dean's "The Blue and the Gray in Black and White: Assessing the Scholarship on Civil War Soldiers" provided a nice historiography on the topic and reminded me how much I have enjoyed a number of the books and articles he mentions.

Chandra Manning's essay, "A Vexed Question: White Union Soldiers on Slavery and Race," was also intriguing. Manning examined the evolution of white Union soldiers' thoughts (as expressed in their letters and camp newspapers) on slavery and race as they came into contact with the institution and African Americans during the war. She explains that many of the soldiers became "abolitionized" and "radicalized" by what they saw and experienced while fighting in the South.

Jason Phillips' essay, "A Brother's War? Exploring Confederate Perceptions of the Enemy" and Lisa Laskin's, "The Army Is Not Near So Much Demoralized as the Country Is: The Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate Home Front," both provided thought provoking insights into the feelings of the Southern soldiers and those they were fighting for.

The other essays cover religion and soldiers, soldiers and antiwar movements in the North, soldiers and command leadership and how Confederate soldiers from different states tried to claim the glory in remembering the Battle of the Crater. Joseph T. Glatthaar ends the book with a nice "Afterword" where he explains that, due to the efforts of scholars such as the contributors to this book, Walt Whitman's claim that the "real war" would never make it into the history books, is being proven false.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give A View from the Ground a 4.5

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