Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges, and: Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial (review)
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Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges. Edited by Stephen Berry. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Pp. 352. $24.95 paper)
Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial. Edited by Thomas J. Brown. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. Pp. 238. $25.00 paper)

In 1989, historian Maris Vinovskis famously asked if social historians had "lost the Civil War." The next two decades saw a flood of community studies and social analyses focusing on ordinary soldiers and civilians, breathing new life into our understanding of the social impact of the war. Although the call made by Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial and Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges is not so clarion as Vinovskis's, these two volumes of essays suggest that cultural and new military historians are also committed to putting up a strong fight.

Part of the "Uncivil Wars" series of the University of Georgia Press, Weirding the War is a collection of eighteen essays, each of which looks to illuminate or problematize some historical question at the microlevel. The volume boasts a lucid introduction by Stephen Berry and an equally insightful afterword by the late Michael Fellman. Similar to Edward L. Ayers's admonition that historians continue to "worry" about the Civil War, Fellman rightly emphasizes the danger of celebrating uncritically the grandness or redemption of the war—ceasing [End Page 604] to "worry" about the war—and the importance of darker, even antiromantic "human-sized narratives" (p. 367). Underscoring the gray margins of the war over traditional themes, such as honor and atonement, and highlighting plain folks over heroes, this type of history is no doubt influenced by both a broader post-Vietnam emphasis on victims and defeat, as well as troubling social and political questions emanating from America's contemporary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The essays themselves are, for the most part, expertly crafted and highly engaging. Some of the studies, such as Andrew L. Slap's examination of African American soldiers in Memphis and their competing loyalties of regiment and community, represent social history at its best; others, including LeeAnn Whites's case study of women and guerrilla behavior in Missouri, defy standard classification. Like the essays in Remixing the War, several of the "weirders" push cultural topics in new and exciting directions. Michael DeGruccio explains why collecting battlefield relics mattered intensely to those who survived; Peter S. Carmichael looks at how soldiers spoke as a way to better understand their "cognitive world"; and Megan Kate Nelson reminds us that soldiers found acts of destruction emotionally and aesthetically gratifying (p. 273).

Although some of the stories hail from more "ragged edges" than others, what some might perceive as a mishmash does not detract from the enjoyment of the volume, and none of the essays—though dark and perceptive—are weird for weird's sake. Whether Barton A. Myers is examining a torture case study or Brian Craig Miller is discussing Confederate veteran amputees, this is far from scholarly exoticism. Suggesting that there might be no grand narrative or "real war," the complicating of old questions and offering of fresh insights unify the volume around the "non-Olympian perspective" of the war and serve as a model for future scholars (p. 3). Overall, whether in soldier, civilian, or veteran studies, the future direction of the new military history emanates from Weirding the War.

As a collection of seven essays, with an incisive introduction by [End Page 605] Thomas J. Brown and a conclusion by Kirk Savage, Remixing the Civil War also pushes the boundaries of cultural history by examining American collective memory during the sesquicentennial. Indeed, by addressing how activists, heritage groups, and business leaders have commemorated, valuated, and aestheticized their most costly and intimate war leading up to 2011, Remixing the Civil War covers considerable ground, from Thomas Brown's discussion of the diffuse, popular meanings of the Confederate flag to Mitch Kachum's survey of the varied and complex history of emancipation celebration traditions among African Americans. Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Gerard Brown, and W. Fitzhugh Brundage probe various aspects of literature and...