The soldiers on both sides of the Civil War were united by a common history, and yet the legacy of this past was ambiguous, upholding both rebellion and union. Union and Confederate men went to war as Americans, convinced they fought an un-American, savage enemy. The war they fought was as emotional and catastrophic as any in history, a violent crucible that forged a new national identity. Civil War Soldiers is a fresh and compelling attempt to fathom the war's significance—then and now—and makes immediate the charged issues and bitter ironies of a nation torn by a conflict over the common ideals of liberty and justice.
Drawing on diaries and letters, the focus of this pioneering study is on the men who fought, caught up in a conflict whose causes and consequences seemed as complex and contradictory to the soldiers themselves as they do to us. Reid Mitchell re-creates their experience and discusses the questions one would have most wanted to ask them: Why did you fight? How did you feel about slavery and race? What did you take home from the war? What legacy have you left us?
"Fresh insights, startling descriptions, and poignant human detail about the war from the men who fought it."—Chicago Tribune
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This noteworthy addition to the literature of the Civil War presents a starkly realistic picture, mostly from the lower ranks, that is reminiscent of the outlook of GIs in more recent wars. The prevailing image of the enemy: an uncivilized fanatic. Civilians of the opposing side were regarded as primitive, ignorant and generally contemptible. Based on unpublished letters and diaries, Mitchell's study follows Union troops into the South (Sherman in Georgia, for instance) and the Confederate army in the North (Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania), showing that the men of both armies were offended by the behavior of noncombatant civilians, that medical support was abominable, that blacks suffered brutality from soldiers of both armies and that the temptation to desert was strong. Among the themes explored by Mitchell are the individual's reasons for volunteering, his reaction to combat, his perception of the similarity between soldiering and slavery, the morale-sustaining comfort of Christian faith, and the bravery and endurance of the Confederate soldier in particular. Mitchell teaches American history at Princeton.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
With a "post-Vietnam" sensitivity to how combat and military discipline transform common folk into soldiers, Mitchell (American history, Princeton) offers the most original reading of Civil War soldiers since Bell Wiley's classics The Life of Johnny Reb (Bobbs, 1943) and The Life of Billy Yank (Bobbs, 1952). Mitchell finds a higher degree of ideological commitment by both Rebs and Yanks than have other scholars, but his main contribution is showing how soldiers' reactions to such aspects as drill and death and land revealed a common American heritage and values shared by both sides, even as the war continued. This book makes all those statues in town squares come alive. Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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