Between the battlefield and home front there is a divide created by both distance and experience. This was particularly true in the nineteenth century, before civilians became the target of military planners and military aircraft. While the southern home front was often just another battlefield in the Civil War, most of the men and women on the northern home front never experienced war. This disconnect is the basis of Stephen J. Ramold’s book Across the Divide: Union Soldiers View the Northern Home Front. In this extremely well-written and extensively researched study, Ramold examines northern soldiers’ views of the men and women who stayed at home. It may not be surprising that he found a gulf between northerners who served and those who did not.
What is unexpected is the many ways this divide manifested itself in soldiers’ letters. Initially, Ramold discusses the most obvious division: civilians could not understand war because they had not experienced it. In addition to this separation, Ramold explores the gender divide; soldiers camped in a place with few women. The [End Page 298] soldiers’ responses to the handful of women in their camps, such as officers’ wives, represent one of the most intriguing aspects of this study. Ramold also assesses what he terms the “abolitionist divide”—soldiers’ views of slavery and emancipation. Although most soldiers embraced emancipation because it might shorten the war, many men and women at home did not. Soldiers had little patience with civilians who refused to understand the connection between saving the Union and freeing the slaves. In that spirit, most soldiers supported conscription because a larger army meant a shorter war; in contrast, civilians seemed to tolerate draft dodgers. Moreover, resisting the draft was one part of a larger division; soldiers detested civilians who refused to support the war effort, including Copperheads—a contemporary term for antiwar Democrats. Ultimately, the 1864 election represented the most concrete manifestation of this divide; soldiers overwhelmingly supported Lincoln, but among civilians the election was much closer. It was likely appropriate that soldiers cast the crucial votes in this critical referendum.
Ramold’s study is extremely persuasive and solid. His primary research is extensive; his assessment of this rich material is extraordinarily sound. Although his primary source research does him credit, this may be one instance in which an author might have devoted more space to secondary sources. Ramold identified an important issue, the separation between the northern home front and the battlefield; however, he did not place this within a larger historiographical argument. Although placing it within the broader context of Civil War studies may be one approach, I would also recommend looking at this study in a transnational context and beyond the temporal boundaries of the U.S. Civil War. Scholars have examined these issues in relationship to the gulf between World War I soldiers and civilians and these studies might provide some insight into this broader phenomenon. In addition, this book suggests another possible question to address in a future study. Did Confederate soldiers and civilians experience the same division? It may have been different because there was less distance between the Confederate home front and the battlefield. [End Page 299] Overall, this is an extremely engaging study and a valuable contribution to an important issue.
Barbara A. Gannon teaches history at the University of Central Florida. She is the author of The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic (2011) and is currently researching American veterans.