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Lorien Foote in The Gentlemen and the Roughs provides a fascinating perspective on the pervasive issues of manhood and honor that served to undermine the cohesion of the Union army. The historical emphasis on the esprit de corps of Union regiments has, according to Foote, created a false sense of unity within the ranks as men are seen to have transcended their social, political, and ideological differences for the greater good. This nationalistic perspective has created a one-sided narrative that generally ignores friction that existed among soldiers. "It is time," Foote proposes "to balance that [End Page 274] perspective [the bonds that developed between men] with a discussion of the endemic nature of conflict and violence among the men of the Northern Army" (p. 7). This approach, which illuminates the darker side of army life, provides much-needed counterbalance to studies of the northern soldier, which have tended to focus on unity among the ranks, and allows us to see the intricate nature of Civil War armies as men of every rank struggled with notions of manhood and honor within the broader conceptual need for the preservation of the nation.
Ideologically, Northerners saw a direct link between the morality of their citizens and the success of the Union cause. As Foote points out, this relationship served as the basis of both army regulations and the individual's perception of honor and manhood. For the individual soldier, these notions served as motivation to stay in the ranks despite personal suffering and allowed for conceptions of "the honorable gentleman [as that of] strict moral rectitude" (p. 18). At the regimental level, these notions were applied through evangelical methods as officers "who linked moral character to manhood sought to stamp out immorality in the army and create moral regiments" (p. 20). While attempts were made to limit alcohol consumption and increase attendance of religious services among the ranks, the eighty-third Article of War, which mandated that "any commissioned officer convicted before a general court-martial of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, shall be dismissed from the service," became an important conduit for the justification for and expression of notions of honor and manhood among the officer corps.
Foote further contends that notions of honor and manhood were not static: soldiers of all ranks held varying, and oftentimes highly personal perceptions of these social virtues which allowed men to transcend traditional societal norms. Foote's argument, which analyzes the dualistic nature of the soldiers' lives, challenges the traditional perspective of historians such as Earl Hess and Drew Gilpin Faust, who broadly applied terminology such as "virtue" and "self-control" to Union soldiers (p. 72]. She uses boxing as one example of the [End Page 275] intricate and organic nature of nineteenth-century perceptions of virtuosity. A sport typically associated with the lower, rougher ranks of society, it was embraced by middle- and upper-class men who saw it as embodying the notion of a sound mind and body (p. 74). The transcending of traditional social boundaries also played an important role in the relationships between officers and enlisted men. For example, officers, despite their genteel identity, oftentimes resorted to the "methods of the roughs to deal with the roughs … [though] their violence was perceived to be necessary and acceptable" (p. 135). Conversely, enlisted men were often willing to stand up in defense of their own perceptions of manhood. These soldiers "believed their inherent equality to men who were temporarily their officers must never be compromised, and thus they never granted officers automatic obedience" (p. 153).
Foote's analysis is intriguing as it provides valuable insight into the interpersonal relationships between men in the Union army within the wider context of nineteenth-century conceptualizations of virtue. These notions of "manhood" and "honor," though often used, must be understood from a personal perspective as soldiers defined them based upon their own unique understanding of the world around them. Lorien Foote's study is further evidence of the...