Northerners at War: Reflections on the Civil War Home Front gives readers a happy opportunity to enjoy a mid-career retrospective of the scholarship of Civil War historian J. Matthew Gallman. This collection of previously published essays, book chapters, and articles brings together in one place a sampling of Gallman's writing that concentrates on his primary concern, the northern home front. Letting other scholars deal with the battles and leaders of the war, Gallman writes as a social historian, exploring urban, economic, and gender history, all mostly away from the sound of the guns. He delves into what may appear to be tightly focused topics only to present readers with big conclusions about the impact of the war on the economy and society of the northern states. Well written and skillfully argued, each of these essays is an engaging example of how a good historian enlightens and convinces his readers. Ultimately, the collection should act as a reminder of just how important the author's work has been in shaping our understanding of nineteenth-century America.
Gallman's introduction, a modest but informative intellectual autobiography, nicely outlines the chronological development of his scholarly interests. Shorter introductions to each of the essays further explain the particular occasions for their creation. Any historian who knows Gallman's work will not be surprised to learn that many of these essays are about the social and economic history of Philadelphia and are the early fruits of the research leading up to the publication in 1990 of his first book, Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia during the Civil War. The Great Central Fair of 1864, preventing mob violence, and entrepreneurs all are worthwhile subjects for Gallman, providing him with the opportunity to find significance beyond the immediate events and earning him a deserved reputation for being a pioneer in Civil War urban history, a surprisingly neglected subject up to that time. One of the essays included in the volume, a review of several books concerning Civil War urban history published after Mastering Wartime, [End Page 281] suggests that the earlier neglect has passed, in part because of the example of Gallman's excellent work on Philadelphia.
The development of Gallman's interests appears to have progressed naturally to other topics as the author completed one project, only to discover new intellectual challenges in the process. For example, his interest in the celebrated Civil War orator Anna Dickinson, a Philadelphia native, flows from his work on Philadelphia and his 1994 book, a survey of the northern home front during the war. The Dickinson scholarship provides Gallman with the opportunity to write an essay dealing with the representation of the war in novels written by two Philadelphians, one being Dickinson. Gallman's desire to delve into the problems of remembering the war finds an opportunity in the exploration of Dickinson's use of Civil War memory during the electoral campaign of 1872. Those connections also play a role in Gallman's exploration of the Battle of Olustee in Florida, where a black Philadelphia regiment that Dickinson helped to recruit fought.
While the essays reveal a natural consistency in Gallman's work, they are never redundant or boring, and they always have a larger purpose beyond presenting the immediate story. For example, the study of the Battle of Olustee is a reminder that the Civil War's African American were a diverse lot. It is not sufficient, Gallman notes, to see simply black soldiers when in fact time of recruitment, place of origin, and antebellum status all played roles in defining their unique experiences.
One of the recurrent themes here, whether Gallman is dealing with gender roles or the economy, is that the war had at best a modest impact on northern society at large and over the long term. For example, Gallman's chapter on the Philadelphia's Great Central Fair of 1864 reveals the significant role women played in guaranteeing the complicated venture's success. However...