- A History of American Civil War Literature ed. by Coleman Hutchison
A History of American Civil War Literature is a collection of twenty-two essays, edited by Coleman Hutchison, that surveys the writing of the Civil War era and twentieth-century literary interpretations of the conflict. The volume is divided into three sections—"Contexts," "Genres," and "Figures"—covering a wide range of Civil War works and authors, from the well known to the neglected. This timely study, which comes in the wake of the 150th anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, is, as Hutchison notes in his preface, one of the "60,000 Civil War–related books or pamphlets published since 1865. That is a publication rate of a book a day, every day, since the cessation of hostilities" (p. xvii). As he conveys, a "robust publishing industry" has flourished around the war over the past century and a half, which leads one to wonder what more can actually be said about the conflict that divided, and then reunited, a nation (p. xvii).
The Civil War is not only "an obsession for critics and lay readers alike" but also an endless source of research, analysis, and debate, especially as more and more scholars begin to examine the conflict through a multi-disciplinary lens (p. xvii). This volume reflects that trend by including contributions from specialists in literature, history, American studies, and southern studies. The collection compels readers to rethink what is commonly considered "literature" and to look beyond fiction into the realm of essays and life writing. Moreover, these essays also take into account "new directions in Civil War historiography and cultural studies," by emphasizing the transnational and transatlantic aspects of the war and by underscoring the [End Page 426] importance of collective and cultural memory, or "how the war has been remembered over time" (p. xviii).
Another strength of this volume is its contribution to the study of southern literary production during the antebellum, wartime, and postbellum eras. Even some of the most recent investigations of Civil War literature, such as Randall Fuller's From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature (New York, 2011), tend to focus on northern writers, intellectuals, critics, and their works, often at the expense of southern voices. Much like Hutchison's Apples and Ashes: Literature, Nationalism, and the Confederate States of America (Athens, Ga., 2012), this volume seeks to fill this gap in the scholarship. A History of American Civil War Literature examines the war by considering contributions from both sides with the intention of providing a more complete picture. As Hutchison rightfully asserts, overlooking southern works on the war is detrimental on numerous levels. Such an omission suggests that these works do not exist, are not worthy of inclusion or attention, or are limited to a small group of authors. As Hutchison observes, a thorough analysis of the "literature produced in the South before, during, and after the war" is long overdue (p. xix).
Those expecting a historical survey or narrative will be disappointed since, understandably, a collection of essays written by different authors cannot cover all the bases. Thus in this sense, the title of the volume—A History of American Civil War Literature—is misleading. While in each section the essays are generally arranged in chronological order of their subject matter, at best they provide only slices of American Civil War literature. However, as Hutchison remarks, this episodic organization is part of the strategy of this collection—it leaves spaces in order to encourage "readers to see connections among the individual essays and to consider issues of historical contingency, literary form, and author function" (p. xix).
The first section of the collection, "Contexts," explores antebellum and postbellum texts that illuminate the coming of the war and its aftermath. This section also suggests how these two eras have generally contributed to our understanding of the conflict. Highlights include essays on secessionist and abolitionist print cultures, the northern and southern publishing industries, and...