Monday, June 25, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat

As I've previously mentioned here, when I start a book I usually post it in on my Facebook page so that my friends can see what I am currently reading. Often they ask what I think of it when I am just getting started, so when I finally finish it I like to write a few lines in brief review. Since there is no problem with sharing that information in multiple locations, I believe I will start doing so here with this post.

I came across Fighting Means Killing: Civil War Soldiers and the Nature of Combat about five or six months before it was released by the University of Kansas Press. I thought that the title looked intriguing and that its information would help me in my work role, so I placed it on my Amazon,com Wishlist and patiently waited for its release. Since the book's price was relatively low for a new publication, about two weeks before it was set to be released I placed my advance order. When it arrived I was reading another book, but as soon as I finished I started into it. As usual I posted on Facebook that I was reading it and received a message from a former colleague at the Kentucky Historical Society, who now works for the Journal of Arizona History asking if I would be interested in writing a formal review for that publication, which I responded that I would be happy to so. Therefore, if you are seeking a more lengthy review than what I provide with the following, you might seek that out in the coming months. But, here are my initial thoughts:

Although Civil War combat is ground that has been plowed before; with works by Earl Hess, Gerald Linderman, Brent Nosworthy, among others, Steplyk makes a significant contribution to the scholarship of combat with this recently published work. He contends that although many men had some reservations about shooting at, and thus intending to kill another human being, most soldiers accepted the fact that, as his title indicates, and as Nathan Bedford Forrest famously said, "War means fighting, and fighting means killing." 

Soldiers' political ideology influenced their acceptance of the justness of their respective causes, and antebellum notions of manhood and masculinity prompted the vast majority of these citizen-soldiers to come fairly well "primed" to kill in combat situations. As one might imagine, soldiers described their emotions in combat in diverse ways. Some soldiers claimed "seeing the elephant" produced different levels of excitement, anger, and a sense of revenge, all of which increased their willingness to part from civilian notions of killing and accept the military mindset of the necessity of killing. 

In the book's chapters Steplyk covers a set of individual combat situation topics, such as: language soldiers used to describe combat and killing, killing in hand-to-hand combat, sharpshooters and killing, the extremes of killing, racial atrocity killing; all of which draw on both contemporary as well as post-war accounts and sources for evidence for his conclusions. 

As one would expect from the University Press of Kansas, this book is top-notch military history and is an important read for students of the Civil War. I think you will find this book well-written, researched, and highly informative. I eagerly recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment