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Civil War Time

Temporality and Identity in America, 1861-1865

Cheryl A. Wells

Publication Year: 2005

In antebellum America, both North and South emerged as modernizing, capitalist societies. Work bells, clock towers, and personal timepieces increasingly instilled discipline on one's day, which already was ordered by religious custom and nature's rhythms. The Civil War changed that, argues Cheryl A. Wells. Overriding antebellum schedules, war played havoc with people's perception and use of time. For those closest to the fighting, the war's effect on time included disrupted patterns of sleep, extended hours of work, conflated hours of leisure, indefinite prison sentences, challenges to the gender order, and desecration of the Sabbath.

Wells calls this phenomenon 'battle time.' To create a modern war machine military officers tried to graft the antebellum authority of the clock onto the actual and mental terrain of the Civil War. However, as Wells's coverage of the Manassas and Gettysburg battles shows, military engagements followed their own logic, often without regard for the discipline imposed by clocks. Wells also looks at how battle time's effects spilled over into periods of inaction, and she covers not only the experiences of soldiers but also those of nurses, prisoners of war, slaves, and civilians.

After the war, women returned, essentially, to an antebellum temporal world, says Wells. Elsewhere, however, postwar temporalities were complicated as freedmen and planters, and workers and industrialists renegotiated terms of labor within parameters set by the clock and nature. A crucial juncture on America's path to an ordered relationship to time, the Civil War had an acute effect on the nation's progress toward a modernity marked by multiple, interpenetrating times largely based on the clock.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The road that led to the completion of this book meandered from Brockville, Ontario, through Kingston, Ontario, and then on to Columbia, South Carolina, and finally the University of Wyoming, in Laramie. Over the course of these travels...

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Introduction: Civil War Time(s)

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pp. 1-10

Since Robert E. Lee’s 1865 Palm Sunday surrender, the Civil War has marked and defined time in the nineteenth century. Like a clock that strikes only one hour, the Civil War split nineteenth-century American time into two discrete units: antebellum...

Time on the Battlefields

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pp. 11-53

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1. Time Lost, Time Found: The Confederate Victory at Manassas and the Union Defeat at Bull Run

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pp. 13-33

“Watch in hand, they await[ed] the approach of the half hour, and as the last second of the last minute [was] marked on the dial plate,” Captain George S. James “pull[ed] the lanyard; there [was] a flash of light and a ten inch shell trac[ed] its pathway towards...

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2. “An Hour Too Late”: The Confederate Defeat at Gettysburg

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pp. 34-53

By July 1863, public hopes in both the United States and the Confederacy for a short war had dissipated. The mighty offensive victory thought so easily attainable in 1861 remained elusive. With thousands dead, wounded, and imprisoned, public support...

Time Away from the Battlefields

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3. “Like a Wheel in a Watch”: Soldiers, Camp, and Battle Time

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pp. 57-69

Union sergeant Isaac Newton Parker’s June 21, 1863, letter to his wife resonated with anxiety, tension, and a terrible concern. Although not broken, Parker’s watch had not been serviced in seven years. Rather than trust the precious task to unreliable...

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4. Battle Time: Gender, Modernity, and Civil War Hospitals

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pp. 70-88

While men took to the battlefields to ensure their independence, women challenged societal norms and took to the hospitals to care for the wounded. Archetypal womanhood mandated modesty, domesticity, purity, delicacy, gentility...

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5. Doing Time: The Cannon, the Clock, and Civil War Prisons

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pp. 89-109

“Indolence,” Dorothea Dix maintained, “opened the portal . . . to vice and crime” and thus threatened to disrupt the desired industrious nature of antebellum society by undermining order and damaging the country’s republican...

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Epilogue: Antebellum Temporalities in the Postbellum Period

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pp. 111-123

At “half past one on Sunday, the 9th of April 1865,” General Ulysses S. Grant arrived at Wilmer McLean’s Appomattox Court House home to accept Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender.1 The flourish of a quill destroyed...


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pp. 125-150


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pp. 151-185


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pp. 187-195

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343969
E-ISBN-10: 0820326577
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820326573
Print-ISBN-10: 0820326577

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 794443083
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Civil War Time

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.
  • Time -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Time -- Psychological aspects -- History -- 19th century.
  • Group identity -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • National characteristics, American.
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