Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Just Finished Reading - War Stuff

It should almost go without saying that one needs stuff to wage a war. Not only is stuff needed to mobilize for warfare, but once in the field, stuff is needed to sustain a fighting force. And when one's nation state cannot supply stuff on a regular basis, or when needed stuff is more accessible locally, armies take and destroy stuff. That is War Stuff: The Struggles for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War by Joan E. Cashin in a nutshell.

Part of the Cambridge Studies on the American South series, War Stuff includes chapters on some of the most important resources sought by Union and Confederate armies as they fought out the Civil War. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the antebellum South. The following three chapters focus on specific resources: people, sustenance, timber, and habitat, and examine them through incidents from 1861 to 1863 to observe how attitudes toward these resources changed with Union stances on property as expressed by orders from Maj. Gen. John Pope and General Orders 100 (the Lieber Code) written by Professor Francis Lieber. The last two chapters cover events of 1864 and 1865, as the war moved toward a more destructive level.

In discussing "People," in chapter two, Cashin explains that, "Noncombatants could either help the armies or hurt them, building on the knowledge they already possessed and the proficiencies they had developed before 1861. During the war, they could lift morale, smuggle goods, deliver letters, provide information, engage in espionage, and work for the armies. They could even serve as hostages, which turned civilians themselves into a kind of resource."

Chapter three covers probably the most significant resource (due to its necessity) of the war: sustenance. The competition for food resources during the Civil War were fierce. Southern civilians, including the enslaved, competed with both Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers for food. Early in the war the Union army's stance was to not make war on civilians, however, those rules and standards quickly changed with pinched stomachs and a lack of variety in what the army offered. Confederates were practical if nothing, too. When sustenance options appeared, common sentiments flew out the window in favor of gaining some nutrition. Southern civilians suffered from both belligerents.

Timber, the topic of chapter 4, was probably the most observable resource claimed by the opposing forces. Armies of tens of thousands of men needed wood for cooking, fuel for warmth, and sheltering winter quarter structures. Trees vanished from the Southern landscape in some locations as quickly as frost vanishing before the morning sun. In areas of sustained occupation, soldiers had to literally travel miles for timber resources. Split rail fences on plantations and farms were the most accessible wood resources and often disappeared first. Of course, losing timber resources, whether trees or rails, impacted Southern civilians deeply long beyond the fours years of the war.

Chapter five, "Habitat" looks into how houses, which before the war were viewed as an almost holy haven, no matter how crudely constructed or spartanly furnished, often became the victims to "military necessity," too. Pulled apart for their boards and beams, burned to prevent their cover for sharpshooters, or their walls graffitied by their temporary occupiers, Southern civilians notions of hearth and home were forever changed by the war experience. As mentioned above, chapters six, "Breakdown," and seven, "1865 and After," the threats to, and competition for, resources increased with a more extreme and relentless form of warfare in 1864 and 1865.

The only minor errors that I encountered were a photograph on page 34 that I highly doubt is Patrick Cleburne, and a reference on page 37, that "Kentucky allied with the United States in 1862," (they made their allegiance known in September 1861).

War Stuff provides many intriguing thinking points. Time and time gain, acknowledged articles of war were ignored by both sides commanders and enlisted men in favor of convenience and under the excuse of "military necessity" to the detriment of Southern civilians. War Stuff reminds us that the casualties of the Civil War went far beyond the battlefields of the conflict and its combatants. I recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment