Nature's Civil War
Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia
Publication Year: 2013
Meier explores how soldiers forged informal networks of health care based on prewar civilian experience and adopted a universal set of self-care habits, including boiling water, altering camp terrain, eradicating insects, supplementing their diets with fruits and vegetables, constructing protective shelters, and most controversially, straggling. In order to improve their health, soldiers periodically had to adjust their ideas of manliness, class values, and race to the circumstances at hand. While self-care often proved superior to relying upon the inchoate military medical infrastructure, commanders chastised soldiers for testing army discipline, ultimately redrawing the boundaries of informal health care.
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
Series: Civil War America
Title Page, Copyright
At one point in time, the manuscript of this book was absurdly replete with examples and unnecessarily didactic. Good-natured and highly respectable people more than did their parts in attempting to steer me back toward good history. All remaining folly is mine. ...
Civil war changed Virginia. In 1862, the blue-green patchwork of Shenandoah Valley hills and farms and the immense, slithering rivers of the Peninsula, so picturesque from a distance, became more like sprawling latrines to the hundreds of thousands of humans who hunkered down to make war. ...
1. Health and the American Populace before 1862
In their wartime journals and correspondence, soldiers fixated upon cataloging their natural environments. Pvt. William Randolph Smith of the 17th Virginia, for example, wrote in March 1862, “There is the finest pine timber on the road I ever saw. . . . The farms are also fine and fertile. . . . From Robison River to the Rapidan is the finest country I ever saw. ...
2. At War with Nature
Just a few days into first encampment, soldiers had to reexamine the presumption that those raised on the fresh air of country life had superior constitutions to the urban-bred. “Death invaded my camp,” observed Capt. George Clark of Alabama, astonished by the swiftness of this transformation. ...
3. Soldiers and Official Military Health Care
Before the war, common soldiers could scarcely have imagined the sprawling, alien medical systems that would be constructed by the United States and the Confederacy. Properly supporting soldier health necessitated the consideration of supply lines and camp sanitation, sick call and diagnostic procedures in the ranks, ...
4. Becoming a Seasoned Soldier
Given the tremendous environmental pressures on mental and physical health and the unreliable nature of the Confederate and Union military medical systems, common soldiers attempted to reconstruct personal, informal networks of environmental information and health care based on their prewar experiences. ...
5. Straggling and the Limits of Self-Care
The regimentation of military life was intended to deny individuality. In doing so, it aimed to fortify mental health by serving as a barrier against inaction, resignation, and reluctance to kill and physical health by regulating camp behavior and hygiene. It compelled soldiers to complete the mundane and unpalatable duties necessary to maintaining an army, ...
Conclusion: Self-Care beyond 1862
On May 22, 1862, New York artillerist George Perkins lay in camp listening to the thuds of hail “as big as marbles and some as big as English walnuts.” Though his “little tent stood the storm well,” the private was sodden and, over the course of the night, developed a raging fever. ...
Appendix 1. Figures
Appendix 2. Tables
Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Civil War America
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Peter S. Carmichael, Gettysburg College; Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia; Caroline E. Janney, Purdue University; and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, West Virginia University See more Books in this Series
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