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To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave

American Poetry and the Civil War

Faith Barrett

Publication Year: 2012

Focusing on literary and popular poets, as well as work by women, African Americans, and soldiers, this book considers how writers used poetry to articulate their relationships to family, community, and nation during the Civil War. Faith Barrett suggests that the nationalist “we” and the personal “I” are not opposed in this era; rather they are related positions on a continuous spectrum of potential stances. For example, while Julia Ward Howe became famous for her “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” in an earlier poem titled “The Lyric I” she struggles to negotiate her relationship to domestic, aesthetic, and political stances. Barrett makes the case that Americans on both sides of the struggle believed that poetry had an important role to play in defining national identity. She considers how poets created a platform from which they could speak both to their own families and local communities and to the nations of the Confederacy, the Union, and the United States. She argues that the Civil War changed the way American poets addressed their audiences and that Civil War poetry changed the way Americans understood their relationship to the nation.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-vi


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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

It gives me great pleasure to thank the many colleagues and friends who supported me in my work on this project. I could not have completed this book without the advice, encouragement, and invaluable critical responses provided by Paula Bennett, Cristanne Miller, and Elizabeth Young. For their extraordinary generosity as mentors and the inspiration of their fine scholarship, I am deeply grateful. The members of my...

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Introduction: The Rhetoric of Voice in Civil War Poetry

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pp. 1-16

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” writes Julia Ward Howe in the opening lines of her career-making “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Beginning with a solitary speaker’s declaration of her prophetic vision of the future of the nation, the piece builds to a dramatic climax in the fifth and final stanza which enacts rhetorically the forging of the collective of Union supporters: “As he died to make men holy, let...

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1. Shaping Communities Through Popular Song

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pp. 17-40

During the early years of the Civil War, three American songs became essential anthems for the communities that adopted them, and each of these songs helped define and affirm the bonds that constituted those communities. These three songs were Dan Emmett’s “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land,” the Sorrow Song “Let My People Go: A Song of the ‘Contrabands’ ” (now better known under the title “Go Down, Moses”), and Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a variant version of...

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2. “We are Here at Our Country’s Call”: Nationalist Commitments and Personal Stances in Union and Confederate Soldiers’ Poems

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pp. 41-86

On a rainy Decoration Day in May 1869, George Bryant Woods was one of a number of invited speakers who stood before the monument for fallen soldiers in his hometown of Barre, Massachusetts. As an eighteen-yearold, Woods had served for six months as a private in the Eighth Massachusetts Battery before returning to his civilian job as a journalist and newspaper editor. His speech offers memories of other young Barre men...

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3. The Lyric I and the Poetics of Protest: Julia Ward Howe and Frances Harper

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pp. 87-129

For amateur soldier-poets, the genre of poetry offers the flexibility of changing perspectives, moving swiftly between the nationalist “we” of the military collective and the decentered “I” of individual experience. Soldier-poets can represent combat or can argue—with the authority of their wartime experience—that it defies representation. They can imagine women’s relationships to battlefield violence—or they can suggest...

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4. Addresses to a Divided Nation: Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and the Place of the Lyric I

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pp. 130-186

“War feels to me an oblique place,” Emily Dickinson writes in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in February 1863, three months after Higginson traveled to South Carolina to take command of a black regiment (JL 280).1 Scholars who examine Dickinson’s poetry often cite this passage as an example of Dickinson’s ambivalent relationship toward the Civil War in particular and toward expressing political commitments...

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5. Romantic Visions and Southern Stances: Henry Timrod, Sarah Piatt, and George Moses Horton

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pp. 187-250

While Northern poets like Whitman and Dickinson find in romantic landscape description an important topos for representation of battlefield violence, for Southern poets representation of the natural world becomes still more central, all but essential to the poetics of war. For Southern writers, as this group is usually understood—white Confederate men—the construct of the Confederate nation is inseparable from the Southern natural...

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6. “They Answered him Aloud”: Popular Voice and Nationalist Allegiances in Herman Melville’s Battle-Pieces

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pp. 251-280

Like his contemporary George Moses Horton, Herman Melville produces a body of war poetry that is remarkable for the range of aesthetic stances it includes. Like all of the writers examined here, Melville uses his wartime poetry to examine the possibilities that poetic voice offers for speaking to and for the divided nation; in the boldness of its experimentation with both traditional and innovative poetic stances, however, Melville’s...

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Epilogue: Civil War Poetry in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

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pp. 281-293

On September 14, 2001, a nationally televised memorial service for the victims of the September 11 attacks was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Called “A Day of Prayer and Remembrance,” the service included a performance by the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters of Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The congregation, which included former presidents and other political leaders, rose and joined in...


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pp. 295-328


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pp. 329-336

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762141
E-ISBN-10: 1613762143
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499621
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499628

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 10 illus.
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023843
MUSE Marc Record: Download for To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1985 -- Literature and the war.
  • American poetry -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • War poetry, American -- History and criticism.
  • Patriotic poetry, American -- History and criticism.
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