This collection of twelve essays given at the Frank L. Klement Lecture Series at the University of Marquette covers a wide range of subjects connected with the Civil War. The length and presentation of the material varies from author to author, but they should all interest many Civil War enthusiasts.
The study of the Civil War over the past few decades has changed from merely studying the battles, strategies and all that goes with that, to include the study of various aspects of the war - religion, women’s studies, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, economics, social issues and other topics. James Marten, founder of the Klement Lecture Series and professor and the chair of the history department at Marquette University, and A. Kristen Foster, an assistant professor of history at Marquette University, have edited these essays given over the years as part of the Klement Lecture Series and previously available only in separate pamphlets, but have now been collected into this single volume.
Edward L. Ayers’ essay concerns the study and creation of the Valley of the Shadow Project at the University of Virginia. Ayers and his staff collected copious material from various archives and other sources on two towns, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Virginia, before, during and after the Civil War and created a large website to access it all via the Internet (www.valley.vcdh.virginia.edu). Civil War researchers can have a field day comparing various topics between these two towns by exploring the website. In his essay, Ayers discusses how the website came about and its potential for researchers and students of the Civil War.
George Rable writes about the quality and reliability of the “news” during the Civil War. He zeroes in on the Battle of Fredericksburg to show how many times the news was inaccurate to the point of listing soldiers as killed when in fact they had not been. The “news” also at first talked inaccurately of a great Union victory at Fredericksburg; in fact, it was a slaughter and disaster. “News” was also used as propaganda on both sides.
John Y. Simon compares General Henry W. Halleck to General Ulysses S. Grant. General Halleck was not really cut out to be the one to command all Union forces. His was more the temperament of a desk staff general and organizer. In the field, he was slow-moving and overly cautious, as in his march on Corinth, Mississippi, after the Union victory at Shiloh. General Grant, on the other hand, had a different idea of how to fight the war. He did not believe in retreating and re-grouping like his predecessors had; he preferred the total war method. He kept his army moving against the enemy and putting men into the fight. He became known as the “Butcher.” Many Union lives were lost by Grant’s method, but the war ended sooner than if Halleck and other generals had remained in charge.
Catherine Clinton’s essay is about “public women” and the Confederacy. Clinton conducted a poll asking people what they thought the term “public women” meant. Most misinterpreted the Civil War meaning of the term; they thought it meant a woman of prominence in public service like Mary Todd Lincoln or Varina Davis. The term, as Clinton reveals, actually refers to prostitutes. Clinton examines the role of prostitutes in the war, especially in the South - how they were legally organized, and why women ended up selling their bodies.
Lesley J. Gordon discusses the idea of cowardice in the Union Army, examining a specific regiment, the 16th Connecticut, for his research. Who were cowards? Were they deserters or soldiers who ran when scared? He accessed various primary sources like diaries, letters and newspaper articles that discuss this topic.
Mark E. Neely, Jr., considers the question of President Jefferson Davis infringing on the civil liberties of his people in discontinuing the writ of habeus corpus at times and declaring martial law. In some areas of the South where martial law was declared, military officials took over control of everything. Neely examines what happened to states’ rights under Davis and the Confederacy: Davis ended up creating a strong central government, which the Confederacy had seceded to avoid in the first place.
William Blair examines why no Confederate leader was ever hung or executed for their treasonable acts. Part of the reason is that many Union leaders wanted to avoid the issues of why the South broke away, like states’ rights and the right to secede. Some Confederate leaders’ cases were ignored or allowed to slide in order to avoid stirring up a hornet’s nest. The Confederate leaders were all offered amnesty, and most took advantage.
Gary W. Gallagher’s essay explores General Jubal A. Early’s work on creating the Lost Cause legacy and in preserving the reputation of General Robert E. Lee. The Lost Cause and the history of the Confederacy legacy was kept in the memories of the South in the way Early and others wanted it to be kept - Early and others would not allow anyone to attack the reputation of General Lee. Those who opposed the Lost Cause or Lee were ostracized, as General Longstreet ultimately was after his criticism of Lee.
Endnotes follow each essay, and there is a bibliography and an index at the end of the book as well as black-and-white illustrations throughout. This book is part of The Kent State University Press’ Civil War in the North series and is highly recommended to Civil War enthusiasts.