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War upon the Land

Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War

Lisa M. Brady

Publication Year: 2012

In this first book-length environmental history of the American Civil War, Lisa M. Brady argues that ideas about nature and the environment were central to the development and success of Union military strategy.

From the start of the war, both sides had to contend with forces of nature, even as they battled one another. Northern soldiers encountered unfamiliar landscapes in the South that suggested, to them, an uncivilized society's failure to control nature. Under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, the Union army increasingly targeted southern environments as the war dragged on. Whether digging canals, shooting livestock, or dramatically attempting to divert the Mississippi River, the Union aimed to assert mastery over nature by attacking the most potent aspect of southern identity and poweragriculture. Brady focuses on the siege of Vicksburg, the 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, marches through Georgia and the Carolinas, and events along the Mississippi River to examine this strategy and its devastating physical and psychological impact.

Before the war, many Americans believed in the idea that nature must be conquered and subdued. Brady shows how this perception changed during the war, leading to a wider acceptance of wilderness. Connecting environmental trauma with the onset of American preservation, Brady pays particular attention to how these new ideas of wilderness can be seen in the creation of national battlefield memorial parks as unaltered spaces. Deftly combining environmental and military history with cultural studies, War upon the Land elucidates an intriguing, largely unexplored side of the nation's greatest conflict.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Environmental History and the American South


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece

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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Several years ago I spent a summer in southern California on a research fellowship. One weekend while my family was away, I decided to go camping in one of the Sierra Nevada’s famous national parks, none of which I had ever visited. I chose Sequoia National Park, which was a bit more proximate than Yosemite and, I hoped, would be a bit less crowded. Sequoia National Park is home to ...

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pp. xvii-xxii

During a graduate colloquium on nineteenth- century American history at the University of Kansas, I asked the professor, Phil Paludan, whether anyone had undertaken a study of the Civil War from an environmental perspective. He said, “No—that’s what you will do.” I am forever indebted to him for that single sentence and for his subsequent support for the project and confidence in my abilities to complete it with competence, if not grace. The main title...

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INTRODUCTION: Nineteenth-Century Ideas of Nature and Their Role in Civil War Strategy

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pp. 1-23

“Egypt had its plagues and its all- consuming swarms of locusts. Beautiful tropical regions are cursed with the deadly upas tree. Delig[h]tful valleys are swept with destructive floods. But the United States are afflicted with a curse worse than all these—treason—secession.” For George W. Squire, a lieutenant in the Forty- Fourth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, secession was akin to a natural disaster laying waste to his beloved country. Three and a half...

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ONE: Hostile Territory: Union Operations along the Lower Mississippi, 1862–1863

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pp. 24-48

in 1860 the Mississippi river still fl owed largely according to its own rules. Meandering, altering its course without warning, it littered the landscape with sinewy ridges of rich, black alluvial soil, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bayous. On the eve of the Civil War, humans had yet to build the massive dam and levee systems that would hem in its waters and straighten its path. Minor incursions on its freedom—small earthen levees thrown up by...

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TWO: Broken Country: Union Campaigns at and around Vicksburg, 1863

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pp. 48-71

As winter gave way to spring in 1863, renewed energy infused the Union forces just as it did the verdant Louisiana countryside. The men were eager to leave their camps at Milliken’s Bend and De Soto Point and distance themselves from the places they associated with floods, illness, and seemingly futile hard labor. Sherman lamented that after four months of being within sight of the city, they still had not “got at Vicksburg. We have not got...

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THREE: Ravaged Ground: Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, 1864

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pp. 72-92

The Shenandoah Valley’s peaceful, pastoral reputation obscures its violent past. Powerful collisions of tectonic plates thrust the Appalachian Mountains into existence millions of years ago, then wind and water besieged the mountains’ exposed flanks of limestone and shale, separating the Alleghenies from the Blue Ridge and creating an open plain two hundred miles long and, on average, twenty miles wide. Fast- fl owing rivers further penetrated...

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FOUR: Devoured Land: Sherman’s Georgia and Carolina Campaigns, 1864–1865

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pp. 93-126

“We have devoured the land,” wrote William Tecumseh Sherman in a letter to his wife, Ellen, in June 1864. “All the people retire before us, and desolation is behind. To realize what war is one should follow our tracks.”1 Sherman was reflecting on the damage wrought by the protracted battle for control over northern Georgia between his Union forces and Confederate general Joe Johnston’s army. Neither side intended to destroy the landscape...

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CONCLUSION: Making a Desert and Calling It Peace

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pp. 127-140

in ad 84 the roman military commander and governor of Britain Gnaeus Julius Agricola determined to solidify Rome’s control over the island’s northern frontier. That year he engaged the last holdouts against Roman rule, the Scottish forces united under the chieftain Calgacus, at Mons Graupius. On the eve of battle Calgacus spoke to his warriors, rousing their ...


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pp. 141-160


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pp. 161-178


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pp. 179-188

Further Reading

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pp. 189-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343839
E-ISBN-10: 0820329851
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329857
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329851

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 7 maps
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Environmental History and the American South
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OCLC Number: 784960272
MUSE Marc Record: Download for War upon the Land

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Environmental aspects.
  • Philosophy of nature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Confederate States of America -- History, Military.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
  • Strategy -- History -- 19th century.
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