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Ruin Nation

Destruction and the American Civil War

Megan Kate Nelson

Publication Year: 2012

During the Civil War, cities, houses, forests, and soldiers’ bodies were transformed into “dead heaps of ruins,” novel sights in the southern landscape. How did this happen, and why? And what did Americans—northern and southern, black and white, male and female—make of this proliferation of ruins? Ruin Nation is the first book to bring together environmental and cultural histories to consider the evocative power of ruination as an imagined state, an act of destruction, and a process of change.

Megan Kate Nelson examines the narratives and images that Americans produced as they confronted the war’s destructiveness. Architectural ruins—cities and houses—dominated the stories that soldiers and civilians told about the “savage” behavior of men and the invasions of domestic privacy. The ruins of living things—trees and bodies—also provoked discussion and debate. People who witnessed forests and men being blown apart were plagued by anxieties about the impact of wartime technologies on nature and on individual identities.

The obliteration of cities, houses, trees, and men was a shared experience. Nelson shows that this is one of the ironies of the war’s ruination—in a time of the most extreme national divisiveness people found common ground as they considered the war’s costs. And yet, very few of these ruins still exist, suggesting that the destructive practices that dominated the experiences of Americans during the Civil War have been erased from our national consciousness.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Uncivil Wars

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. ix

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. xv-xvii

This book — like its subject — has a long history. So it is no surprise that in researching and writing it I have accumulated a long list of debts. At the University of Georgia Press, Derek Krissoff has been a champion of the project from the beginning and an ideal editor. I cannot thank him...

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Introduction: American Ruins

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pp. 1-9

On a blustery day in December 1864, New York soldier and former Andersonville prisoner of war John Worrell Northrop clutched the railings of a Confederate flag- of-truce vessel in Charleston Harbor. He and his fellow prisoners were to be exchanged, transferred to a Union boat...

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One: Our Own Pompeii: Ruined Cities

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pp. 10-60

Urban centers owe their existence to warfare. The earliest human communities created defensive strongholds to safeguard themselves and their wealth from attack; the towns that survived over the centuries are “palimpsests of 1,000 years of defensive...

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Two: Lone Chimneys: Domestic Ruins

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pp. 61-102

She held her breath and waited, squeezing the children a little too tightly. The guard had been called off and left with his command, so it was just a matter of time. The minutes passed. Then footsteps sounded on the stairs, one pair of boots and then two and then ten. The sound of a door hitting a...

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Three: Battle Logs: Ruined Forests

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pp. 103-159

Harper’s Pictorial History of the War (1866) contains a two- page illustration of the deserted winter encampment of Confederate soldiers serving under General Braxton Bragg in Tennessee (see fig. 3.1). The timber used to construct the huts has disappeared, either burned or scavenged by soldiers...

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Four: Empty Sleeves and Government Legs: The Ruins of Men

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pp. 160-227

As nineteen- year-old Napoleon Perkins set up his caisson in an orchard to the right of the Chancellors’ house in the Wilderness, Confederates opened up on the Union lines, and “it was something frightful the way their shells and canister sweped our lines.” Single canister shots took out...

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Conclusion: The Ruins of History

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pp. 228-239

After slogging through the swampy ravines of Mississippi during Grant’s campaign for Vicksburg in May 1863, Ohio sergeant Osborn Oldroyd confessed to looking forward to the siege of the city and the sharpshooting practice it would afford him. As he and his men fired over the edge...


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pp. 241-279


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pp. 281-312


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pp. 313-332

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343792
E-ISBN-10: 082034379X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820343792
Print-ISBN-10: 0820333972

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 41 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Uncivil Wars
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OCLC Number: 793521358
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ruin Nation

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Social aspects
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Psychological aspects.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Casualties.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Destruction and pillage.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Influence
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