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At Lincoln's Side

John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

Edited by Michael Burlingame

John Hay believed that “real history is told in private letters,” and the more than 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing Abraham Lincoln in action: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”

Along with Hay’s personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the “literary brilliance of [Hay’s] personal letters,” Burlingame explains, “they help flesh out the historical record.” Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln’s signature, including the celebrated letter of condolence to the Widow Bixby.

More than an inside glimpse of the Civil War White House, Hay’s surviving correspondence provides a window on the world of nineteenth-century Washington, D.C.

 

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At the Precipice

Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis

Shearer Davis Bowman

The third volume in the Littlefield series, this manuscript by Dave Bowman follows (chronologically) Liz Varon's Disunion!, which dealt with the long process of separation of the two regions and its roots in the Constitutional and Federal periods. Bowman's study takes readers into the secession crisis itself, examining the thoughts and actions of key individuals including Lincoln, Buchanan, Davis, Tyler, Van Buren and others. In focusing on major figures from the period and their interactions, Bowman sets his work apart from those that view the crisis through the lenses of major forces, events, and developments. This approach provides especially keen insight into what Americans North and South on the eve of the Civil War believed and thought about themselves and the political, social, and cultural worlds in which they lived, and how their assumptions and thoughts informed their actions and decisions.

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Atlanta, Cradle of the New South

Race and Remembering in the Civil War's Aftermath

William A. Link

After conquering Atlanta in the summer of 1864 and occupying it for two months, Union forces laid waste to the city in November. William T. Sherman's invasion was a pivotal moment in the history of the South and Atlanta's rebuilding over the following fifty years came to represent the contested meaning of the Civil War itself. The war's aftermath brought contentious transition from Old South to New for whites and African Americans alike. Historian William Link argues that this struggle defined the broader meaning of the Civil War in the modern South, with no place embodying the region's past and future more clearly than Atlanta.
Link frames the city as both exceptional--because of the incredible impact of the war there and the city's phoenix-like postwar rise--and as a model for other southern cities. He shows how, in spite of the violent reimposition of white supremacy, freedpeople in Atlanta built a cultural, economic, and political center that helped to define black America.

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Attack and Die

Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage

“In the first twenty-seven months of combat 175,000 Southern soldiers died. This number was more than the entire Confederate military force in the summer of 1861, and it far exceeded the strength of any army that Lee ever commanded. More than 80,000 Southerners fell in just five battles. At Gettysburg three out of every ten Confederates present were hit; one brigade lost 65 percent of its men and 70 percent of its field officers in a single charge. A North Carolina regiment started the action with some 800 men; only 216 survived unhurt. Another unit lost two-thirds of its men as well as its commander in a brief assault.”

            Why did the Confederacy lose so many men? The authors contend that the Confederates bled themselves nearly to death in the first three years of the war by making costly attacks more often than the Federals. Offensive tactics, which had been used successfully by Americans in the Mexican War, were much less effective in the 1860s because an improved weapon – the rifle – had given increased strength to defenders. This book describes tactical theory in the 1850s and suggests how each related to Civil War tactics. It also considers the development of tactics in all three arms of the service during the Civil War.
            In examining the Civil War the book separates Southern from Northern tactical practice and discusses Confederate military history in the context of Southern social history. Although the Southerners could have offset their numerical disadvantage by remaining on the defensive and forcing the Federals to attack, they failed to do so. The authors argue that the Southerners’ consistent favoring of offensive warfare was attributable, in large measure, to their Celtic heritage: they fought with the same courageous dash and reckless abandon that had characterized their Celtic forebears since ancient times. The Southerners of the Civil War generation were prisoners of their social and cultural history: they attacked courageously and were killed – on battlefields so totally defended by the Federals that “not even a chicken could get through.”

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Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand

The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker

Most Civil War historians now agree that the guerrilla conflict shaped the entire war in significant ways. Some of these “bushwhackers”—Nathan Bedford Forrest, William Clarke Quantrill, John Singleton Mosby—have become quite infamous. Illiterate Sam Hildebrand, one of Missouri’s most notorious guerrillas—often compared to “Rob Roy,” and the subject of dime novels—was one of the few to survive the war and have his story taken down and published. Shortly after this he was killed in a barroom brawl. “I make no apology to mankind for my acts of retaliation; I make no whining appeal to the world for sympathy. I sought revenge and I found it; the key of hell was not suffered to rust in the lock while I was on the war path.” —Sam Hildebrand Hildebrand’s reign of terror gave the Union army fits and kept much of the Trans-Mississippi, especially Missouri, roiling in the 1860s. Over seven years of fighting he and his men killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, whites and blacks; he claimed to have killed nearly one hundred himself. He was accused of many heinous acts. The historical significance of Hildebrand’s story is substantial, but his bloody tale is eminently readable and stands quite well on its own as a cold-blooded portrait of a violent time in American history. Like the nightmarish and depraved world of the Kid in Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, Hildebrand’s world is truly ruthless and his story is brutally descriptive in its coolly detached rendering of one man’s personal war. Published in 1870, Hildebrand’s autobiography has long been out of print and has been a rare and highly prized acquisition among Civil War

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Autobiography of Silas Thompson Trowbridge M.D.

Silas Thompson Trowbridge. Introduction by John S. Haller Jr. and Barbara Mason

Autobiography of Silas Thompson Trowbridge M.D. is a remarkable account of nineteenth-century medicine, politics, and personal life that recovers the captivating experiences of a Civil War–era regimental surgeon who was also a president of the Illinois State Medical Society and a United States consul in Mexico. First published in 1872 by Trowbridge’s family and even printed on a family-owned press, only a handful of copies of the initial publication survive. In this first paperback edition, Trowbridge’s memoirs are reprinted as they originally appeared.

 

Indiana-born Trowbridge moved to Illinois in his early twenties. A teacher by trade, he continued that career while he began the study of medicine, eventually starting a medical practice near New Castle, which he later moved to Decatur. Though respected by the community, Trowbridge lacked an authentic medical degree, so he enrolled in a four-month course of medical lectures at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Autobiography describes the atmosphere of the medical school and delineates Trowbridge’s opinions on the lack of quality control in medical colleges of the day.

 

Although three years of study and two annual terms of sixteen weeks were the actual requirements for the degree, Trowbridge was allowed to graduate after a single course of lectures  and completion of a twenty-page thesis due to his previous experience. He then married a young widow and returned to Decatur, where he began a partnership with two local physicians and inaugurated a county medical society.  In addition to practicing medicine, he was known and respected for regulating it, too, having supported legislation that would legalize dissection and prohibit incompetent persons from practicing medicine.

 

In 1861, Trowbridge began service as a surgeon of the 8th Illinois Volunteer Infantry commanded by Colonel Richard J. Oglesby. Autobiography describes his experiences beginning in Cairo, Illinois, where the infantry was involved in several expeditions and where Trowbridge made his “debut at the operating table.” Revealing a litany of surgical duties, replete with gruesome details, these war-time recollections provide a unique perspective on medical practices of the day. Likewise, his commentaries on political issues and his descriptions of combat serve to correct some of the early written histories of the war’s great battles.

 

After receiving an honorable discharge in 1864, Trowbridge returned to Decatur to resume his partnership with Dr. W. J. Chenoweth and devote himself to surgery. His reminiscences recount several difficult surgeries, his efforts to reorganize the county medical society (which had collapsed during the war), and his communications to the Illinois legislature to set higher qualifications for practicing physicians. He was later elected president of the Illinois State Medical Society and appointed by President Grant United States Consul to Vera Cruz on the eastern coast of Mexico, where he studied and challenged the treatment of yellow fever. The autobiography ends in 1874 with a six-day family vacation and the marriage of his daughter to a merchant of Vera Cruz.

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Awaiting the Heavenly Country

The Civil War and America's Culture of Death

"Americans came to fight the Civil War in the midst of a wider cultural world that sent them messages about death that made it easier to kill and to be killed. They understood that death awaited all who were born and prized the ability to face death with a spirit of calm resignation. They believed that a heavenly eternity of transcendent beauty awaited them beyond the grave. They knew that their heroic achievements would be cherished forever by posterity. They grasped that death itself might be seen as artistically fascinating and even beautiful."-from Awaiting the Heavenly Country

How much loss can a nation bear? An America in which 620,000 men die at each other's hands in a war at home is almost inconceivable to us now, yet in 1861 American mothers proudly watched their sons, husbands, and fathers go off to war, knowing they would likely be killed. Today, the death of a soldier in Iraq can become headline news; during the Civil War, sometimes families did not learn of their loved ones' deaths until long after the fact. Did antebellum Americans hold their lives so lightly, or was death so familiar to them that it did not bear avoiding?

In Awaiting the Heavenly Country, Mark S. Schantz argues that American attitudes and ideas about death helped facilitate the war's tremendous carnage. Asserting that nineteenth-century attitudes toward death were firmly in place before the war began rather than arising from a sense of resignation after the losses became apparent, Schantz has written a fascinating and chilling narrative of how a society understood death and reckoned the magnitude of destruction it was willing to tolerate.

Schantz addresses topics such as the pervasiveness of death in the culture of antebellum America; theological discourse and debate on the nature of heaven and the afterlife; the rural cemetery movement and the inheritance of the Greek revival; death as a major topic in American poetry; African American notions of death, slavery, and citizenship; and a treatment of the art of death-including memorial lithographs, postmortem photography and Rembrandt Peale's major exhibition painting The Court of Death. Awaiting the Heavenly Country is essential reading for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the Civil War and the ways in which antebellum Americans comprehended death and the unimaginable bloodshed on the horizon.

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Baseball in Blue and Gray

The National Pastime during the Civil War

George B. Kirsch

During the Civil War, Americans from homefront to battlefront played baseball as never before. While soldiers slaughtered each other over the country's fate, players and fans struggled over the form of the national pastime. George Kirsch gives us a color commentary of the growth and transformation of baseball during the Civil War. He shows that the game was a vital part of the lives of many a soldier and civilian--and that baseball's popularity had everything to do with surging American nationalism.

By 1860, baseball was poised to emerge as the American sport. Clubs in northeastern and a few southern cities played various forms of the game. Newspapers published statistics, and governing bodies set rules. But the Civil War years proved crucial in securing the game's place in the American heart. Soldiers with bats in their rucksacks spread baseball to training camps, war prisons, and even front lines. As nationalist fervor heightened, baseball became patriotic. Fans honored it with the title of national pastime. War metaphors were commonplace in sports reporting, and charity games were scheduled. Decades later, Union general Abner Doubleday would be credited (wrongly) with baseball's invention. The Civil War period also saw key developments in the sport itself, including the spread of the New York-style of play, the advent of revised pitching rules, and the growth of commercialism.

Kirsch recounts vivid stories of great players and describes soldiers playing ball to relieve boredom. He introduces entrepreneurs who preached the gospel of baseball, boosted female attendance, and found new ways to make money. We witness bitterly contested championships that enthralled whole cities. We watch African Americans embracing baseball despite official exclusion. And we see legends spring from the pens of early sportswriters.

Rich with anecdotes and surprising facts, this narrative of baseball's coming-of-age reveals the remarkable extent to which America's national pastime is bound up with the country's defining event.

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Basil Wilson Duke, CSA

The Right Man in the Right Place

Gary Matthews

By the early twentieth century, Basil Wilson Duke had established himself as one of Kentucky’s most popular storytellers, but unlike many other talented raconteurs, Duke was not merely a man of words. In Basil Wilson Duke, CSA, the first full-length biography of this distinguished American, Gary Robert Matthews offers keen insight into the challenges Duke faced before, during, and after the strife of the Civil War. As first lieutenant of General John Hunt Morgan’s legendary band of Confederate raiders, Duke became Morgan’s most trusted advisor and an integral contributor to his dramatic tactical successes. Duke was twice wounded in battle and was captured during a raid in Ohio in 1863. Held captive for over a year, Duke rejoined Morgan’s cavalry in August 1864, only days before Morgan (who was Duke’s brother-in-law) met his demise in Greeneville, Tennessee. Promoted to brigadier general and appointed commander of Morgan’s men, he helped convince Jefferson Davis of the futility of continued resistance at the close of the war and was assigned to the force escorting Davis in his escape. Duke’s life of action and achievement, however, did not end with the war. He wrote A History of Morgan’s Cavalry, preserving for posterity the experiences of his fellow warriors, and covered for the Louisville Courier-Journal an 1875 horserace that would eventually be known as the first Kentucky Derby. He built a reputation as a skilled historical writer, and his interests led him to help found the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. Duke also applied his talents to public and political life. He opened a law office and was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky House, where he served until 1870. Then applying his legal expertise and political connections at the state and national levels, Duke represented the powerful L&N Railroad as the company’s chief lobbyist in the aftermath of the war and during the emotionally charged era of Reconstruction. Gary Robert Matthews’s comprehensive study of the life of Basil Wilson Duke allows a great soldier and statesman to step out of the shadows of the past.

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Battle Hymns

The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War

Christian McWhirter

In “Liberty’s Great Auxiliary,” Christian McWhirter explores the role of music in Civil War America. McWhirter explains that although music was a significant part of American culture in the antebellum period, the explosion of amateur and professional music during the Civil War was unparalleled, and its popularization during the war had a lasting impact throughout the decades that followed. Drawing on an extensive array of published and archival resources, McWhirter examines how music influenced the popular culture surrounding and supporting the war and makes broad statements about the place Civil War music in American society, north and south (and with attention to the music of African Americans). Finally, McWhirter goes on to examine a resurgence of popularity of Civil War songs during the late nineteenth century and discusses the implications of their continued resonance in the twentieth century.

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