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Children and Youth during the Civil War Era

James Marten

Publication Year: 2012

The Civil War is a much plumbed area of scholarship, so much so that at times it seems there is no further work to be done in the field. However, the experience of children and youth during that tumultuous time remains a relatively unexplored facet of the conflict. Children and Youth during the Civil War Era seeks a deeper investigation into the historical record by and giving voice and context to their struggles and victories during this critical period in American history.

Prominent historians and rising scholars explore issues important to both the Civil War era and to the history of children and youth, including the experience of orphans, drummer boys, and young soldiers on the front lines, and even the impact of the war on the games children played in this collection. Each essay places the history of children and youth in the context of the sectional conflict, while in turn shedding new light on the sectional conflict by viewing it through the lens of children and youth. A much needed, multi-faceted historical account, Children and Youth during the Civil War Era touches on some of the most important historiographical issues with which historians of children and youth and of the Civil War home front have grappled over the last few years.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

My greatest thanks go to Steve Mintz for his kind foreword and to the authors for their timely responses to what must have seemed an endless string of demands, suggestions, and queries. The anonymous readers provided helpful comments...

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pp. ix-xii

Unlike other books on the Civil War era that focus on key events, epic political controversies, and great men—presidents, members of Congress, and generals—this volume places another cast of characters center stage: children and youth...

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pp. 1-9

Implicit in the competing visions of America that animated the Civil War era were competing visions of childhood reflected through prisms of race, class, and region. Although northerners and southerners hurtling toward open warfare...

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Part I: Children and the Sectional Conflict

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pp. 11-61

As indicated in this passage from a supposedly true story, told by Edmund Kirke, of a brave drummer boy who survives the Battle of Chancellorsville and a stint in Libby Prison, Civil War–era writers for children stressed...

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1. “Waked Up to Feel”: Defining Childhood, Debating Slavery in Antebellum America

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pp. 13-28

“A slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children,” Frederick Douglass wrote in his 1845 autobiography. As a free man, Douglass could see to it that his children regularly...

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2. “Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go”: The Image of Idealized Childhood in the Slavery Debate, 1850–1870

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pp. 29-45

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the rise of sentimental domesticity and idealized childhood in American culture coincided with the intensification of sectional tensions over slavery. The effect of the slave system on children...

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3. “What Is a Person Worth at Such a Time”: New England College Students, Sectionalism, and Secession

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pp. 46-61

Amherst College was ablaze with excitement in the spring of 1861. Confederate forces had fired upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, and one week later, a pro-secession crowd in Baltimore had attacked Massachusetts...

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Part II: Children of War

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pp. 63-141

Civil War children and youth continued playing, going to school, arguing with their families, doing chores, and celebrating typical coming-of-age markers. Yet, as revealed in the recollections of these two boys—one a Yankee living safely...

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4. A “Rebel to [His] Govt. and to His Parents”: The Emancipation of Tommy Cave

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pp. 65-76

In mid-1862, despite his father’s opposition, fifteen-year-old Tommy Cave ran away from his home in Boone County, Missouri, and joined the Confederate army. Six months later the boy was captured just a few miles from his...

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5. Thrills for Children: The Youth’s Companion, the Civil War, and the Commercialization of American Youth

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pp. 77-91

The week after the Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter, the Boston children’s weekly the Youth’s Companion opened its issue with a didactic tale called “The Counterfeit Quarter,” and its editorial column discussed “Good Friday...

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6. “Good Children Die Happy”: Confronting Death during the Civil War

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pp. 92-109

Willie was “a child of unusual promise,” extraordinarily astute for his age and noted for his grown-up activities and interests. He planned a daily schedule and meticulously followed it in order to make the best use of his time, and in school...

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7. Children of the March: Confederate Girls and Sherman’s Home Front Campaign

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pp. 110-124

In January 1865, as word of the imminent arrival of Union troops filled the streets and homes of Columbia, South Carolina, Emma LeConte bemoaned her fate as a child of war. She was “dreadfully sick . . . of this war” and felt that “we girls whose...

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8. Love in Battle: The Meaning of Courtships in the Civil War and Lost Cause

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pp. 125-141

In 1911, Emma Riely Macon published her remembrances of life in the Union-occupied town of Winchester, Virginia. Born in 1847, young Macon experienced the Civil War as a teenage youth coming of age in a secessionist...

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Part III: Aftermaths

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pp. 143-205

Elizabeth Ware Pearson, who had gone to the Sea Islands of South Carolina in 1862 to teach the newly freed “contraband” children, was in the middle of scolding a small group of black students chattering in the back of the church sanctuary...

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9. Caught in the Crossfire: African American Children and the Ideological Battle for Education in Reconstruction Tennessee

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pp. 145-159

“The Yankee teacher entered the South on the heels of the soldier,” writes historian Henry Swint. “Whenever a foothold had been secured by the Federal Army . . . philanthropic organizations sent out schoolmasters.” Considering education...

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10. “Free Ourselves, but Deprived of Our Children”: Freedchildren and Their Labor after the Civil War

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pp. 160-172

“I am the mother of a woman Dina who is now dead. My Daughter Dina had a child by the name of Porter.” This is how Cyntha Nickols began her appeal, in 1867, to the assistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau...

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11. Reconstructing Social Obligation: White Orphan Asylums in Post-emancipation Richmond

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pp. 173-187

Writing in her diary in May 1865, Emma Mordecai noted the arrival of “Annie,” a white orphan girl from the Richmond Female Humane Association. For Mordecai, the Confederate defeat had unleashed a crisis in domestic labor organization at her farm...

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12. Orphans and Indians: Pennsylvania’s Soldiers’ Orphan Schools and the Landscape of Postwar Childhood

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pp. 188-205

In her 1885 annual report on the status of Pennsylvania’s Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, inspector Elizabeth Hutter strayed from her usual bland descriptions of contented children and smoothly run schools to wax eloquent about the larger meaning of this grand experiment...

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Part IV: Epilogue

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pp. 207-221

One does not need to be a southerner, or even a boy, to feel chills when reading the preceding quotation, one of the most famous passages in midcentury southern literature. The Civil War continues to cast a powerful shadow over Americans...

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13. Preparing the Next Generation for Massive Resistance: The Historical Pageantry of the Children of the Confederacy, 1955–1965

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pp. 209-223

As civil rights activists increased their attack on racial discrimination in the 1950s, many southern white parents feared that “race-mixers” misled white children, inspiring them to question the sanctity of racial segregation...

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Documents: Through the Eyes of Civil War Children

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pp. 225-254

Just as the Civil War inspired untold thousands of American adults to record their thoughts and experiences, their fears and inspirations, it encouraged children and youth to write down their perceptions of the war and its aftermath...

Questions for Consideration

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pp. 255

Suggested Readings

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pp. 257-260

About the Contributors

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pp. 261-264


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pp. 265-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780814763391
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814796078
Print-ISBN-10: 0814796079

Publication Year: 2012