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Belligerent Muse

Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War

Stephen Cushman

War destroys, but it also inspires, stimulates, and creates. It is, in this way, a muse, and a powerful one at that. The Civil War was a particularly prolific muse--unleashing with its violent realities a torrent of language, from soldiers' intimate letters and diaries to everyday newspaper accounts, great speeches, and enduring literary works. Cushman considers the Civil War writings of five of the most significant and best known narrators of the conflict: Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ambrose Bierce, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Considering their writings both as literary expressions and as efforts to record the rigors of the war, Cushman analyzes their narratives and the aesthetics underlying them to offer a richer understanding of how Civil War writing chronicled the events of the conflict as they unfolded and then served to frame the memory of the war afterward.

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Berry Benson's Civil War Book

Memoirs of a Confederate Scout and Sharpshooter

Berry Benson Edited by Susan Williams Benson New Introduction by Edward J. Cash

Confederate scout and sharpshooter Berry Greenwood Benson witnessed the first shot fired on Fort Sumter, retreated with Lee's Army to its surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and missed little of the action in between. This memoir of his service is a remarkable narrative, filled with the minutiae of the soldier's life and paced by a continual succession of battlefield anecdotes.

Three main stories emerge from Benson's account: his reconnaissance exploits, his experiences in battle, and his escape from prison. Though not yet eighteen years old when he left his home in Augusta, Georgia, to join the army, Benson was soon singled out for the abilities that would serve him well as a scout. Not only was he a crack shot, a natural leader, and a fierce Southern partisan, but he had a kind of restless energy and curiosity, loved to take risks, and was an instant and infallible judge of human nature. His recollections of scouting take readers within arm's reach of Union trenches and encampments. Benson recalls that while eavesdropping he never failed to be shocked by the Yankees' foul language; he had never heard that kind of talk in a Confederate camp!

Benson's descriptions of the many battles in which he fought--including Cold Harbor, The Seven Days, Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg--convey the desperation of a full frontal charge and the blind panic of a disorganized retreat. Yet in these accounts, Benson's own demeanor under fire is manifest in the coolly measured tone he employs.

A natural writer, Benson captures the dark absurdities of war in such descriptions as those of hardened veterans delighting in the new shoes and other equipment they found on corpse-littered battlefields. His clothing often torn by bullets, Benson was also badly bruised a number of times by spent rounds. At one point, in May 1863, he was wounded seriously enough in the leg to be hospitalized, but he returned to the field before full recuperation.

Benson was captured behind enemy lines in May 1864 while on a scouting mission for General Lee. Confined to Point Lookout Prison in Maryland, he escaped after only two days and swam the Potomac to get back into Virginia. Recaptured near Washington, D.C., he was briefly held in Old Capitol Prison, then sent to Elmira Prison in New York. There he joined a group of ten men who made the only successful tunnel escape in Elmira's history. After nearly six months in captivity or on the run, he rejoined his unit in Virginia. Even at Appomattox, Benson refused to surrender but stole off with his brother to North Carolina, where they planned to join General Johnston. Finding the roads choked with Union forces and surrendered Confederates, the brothers ultimately bore their unsurrendered rifles home to Augusta.

Berry Benson first wrote his memoirs for his family and friends. Completed in 1878, they drew on his--and partially on his brother's--wartime diaries, as well as on letters that both brothers had written to family members during the war. The memoirs were first published in book form in 1962 but have long been unavailable. This edition, with a new foreword by the noted Civil War historian Herman Hattaway, will introduce this compelling story to a new generation of readers.

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The Best Station of Them All

The Savannah Squadron, 1861-1865

Maurice Melton

The Best Station of Them All is the story of the Confederate navy’s Savannah Squadron, its relationship with the people of Savannah, Georgia, and its role in the city’s economy.

In this well-written and extensively researched narrative, Maurice Melton charts the history of the unit, the sailors (both white and black), the officers, their families, and their activities aboard ship and in port.

The Savannah Squadron worked, patrolled, and fought in the rivers and sounds along the Georgia coast. Though they saw little activity at sea, the unit did engage in naval assault, boarding, capture, and ironclad combat. The sailors finished the war as an infantry unit in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, fighting at Sayler’s Creek on the road to Appomattox.

Melton concentrates on navy life and the squadron’s place in wartime Savannah. The book reveals who the Confederate sailors were and what their material, social, and working lives were like.

The Best Station of Them All is an essential piece of historical literature for anyone interested in the Civil War, its navies, or Savannah.

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The Better Angels of Our Nature

Freemasonry in the American Civil War

Michael A. Halleran

The first in-depth study of the Freemasons during the Civil War
 
One of the enduring yet little examined themes in Civil War lore is the widespread belief that on the field of battle and afterward, members of Masonic lodges would give aid and comfort to wounded or captured enemy Masons, often at great personal sacrifice and danger. This work is a deeply researched examination of the recorded, practical effects of Freemasonry among Civil War participants on both sides.
 
From first-person accounts culled from regimental histories, diaries, and letters, Michael A. Halleran has constructed an overview of 19th-century American freemasonry in general and Masonry in the armies of both North and South in particular, and provided telling examples of how Masonic brotherhood worked in practice. Halleran details the response of the fraternity to the crisis of secession and war, and examines acts of assistance to enemies on the battlefield and in POW camps.
 
The author examines carefully the major Masonic stories from the Civil War, in particular the myth that Confederate Lewis A. Armistead made the Masonic sign of distress as he lay dying at the high-water mark of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg.

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Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress

Ezra J. Warner Jr

"This is a very valuable reference work, the non-existence of which has long been deplored by Civil War historians. The research, which is impressive, has turned up a considerable amount of detail not generally known, even among Civil War specialists." -- Bell I. Wiley This vital addition to Civil War scholarship is an attempt to rescue members of the Confederate Congress from "postbellum obscurity." Modeled after Ezra J. Warner's two earlier books, Generals in Gray and Generals in Blue, the register contains an introduction describing the makeup of the Confederate Congress, biographical sketches of the congressmen, and a substantial bibliography. The biographical sketches include the place and date of birth, family background, education, means of libelihood, politics, public-service record, and degree of financial and political success of each congressman. The authors describe each congressman's participation in (or opposition to) secession and detail the circumstances of his election to the Confederate Congress. A prominent section of each sketch is devoted to the congressman's activities in the Congress: his position on major issues; his chief interest and the measures he sponsored; and the reason he left Congress. Then, the authors attempt to pick up the lives of the congressmen after the Civil War. The sketches include the place and date of death of each man, as well as the place of burial. Anyone interested in Civil War history will find Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress an indipensable aid.

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Black Flag Over Dixie

Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War

Edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin

Black Flag over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War highlights the central role that race played in the Civil War by examining some of the ugliest incidents that played out on its battlefields. Challenging the American public’s perception of the Civil War as a chivalrous family quarrel, twelve rising and prominent historians show the conflict to be a wrenching social revolution whose bloody excesses were exacerbated by racial hatred. 

 

Edited by Gregory J. W. Urwin, this compelling volume focuses on the tendency of Confederate troops to murder black Union soldiers and runaway slaves and divulges the details of black retaliation and the resulting cycle of fear and violence that poisoned race relations during Reconstruction. In a powerful introduction to the collection, Urwin reminds readers that the Civil War was both a social and a racial revolution. As the heirs and defenders of a slave society’s ideology, Confederates considered African Americans to be savages who were incapable of waging war in a civilized fashion. Ironically, this conviction caused white Southerners to behave savagely themselves. Under the threat of Union retaliation, the Confederate government backed away from failing to treat the white officers and black enlisted men of the United States Colored Troops as legitimate combatants. Nevertheless, many rebel commands adopted a no-prisoners policy in the field. When the Union’s black defenders responded in kind, the Civil War descended to a level of inhumanity that most Americans prefer to forget.

 

In addition to covering the war’s most notorious massacres at Olustee, Fort Pillow, Poison Spring, and the Crater, Black Flag over Dixie examines the responses of Union soldiers and politicians to these disturbing and unpleasant events, as well as the military, legal, and moral considerations that sometimes deterred Confederates from killing all black Federals who fell into their hands. Twenty photographs and a map of massacre and reprisal sites accompany the volume. 

 

The contributors are Gregory J. W. Urwin, Anne J. Bailey, Howard C. Westwood, James G. Hollandsworth Jr., David J. Coles, Albert Castel, Derek W. Frisby, Weymouth T. Jordan Jr., Gerald W. Thomas, Bryce A. Suderow, Chad L. Williams, and Mark Grimsley.

 

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Black Legislators in Louisiana during Recontruction

Charles Vincent

Concentrating on the performance and presence of blacks in the Louisiana legislature from the Civil War through Reconstruction, Vincent shows that although black legislators were a minority, they were not powerless.

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Black Troops, White Commanders and Freedmen during the Civil War

Howard C. Westwood

Recounting the experiences of black soldiers in the Civil War

 

In the ten probing essays collected in this volume, Howard C. Westwood recounts the often bitter experiences of black men who were admitted to military service and the wrenching problems associated with the shifting status of African Americans during the Civil War.

Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War covers topics ranging from the roles played by Lincoln and Grant in beginning black soldiery to the sensitive issues that arose when black soldiers (and their white officers) were captured by the Confederates. The essays relate the exploits of black heroes such as Robert Smalls, who singlehandedly captured a Confederate steamer, as well as the experiences of the ignoble Reverend Fountain Brown, who became the first person charged with violating the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although many thousands were enlisted as soldiers, blacks were barred from becoming commissioned officers and for a long time they were paid far less than their white counterparts. These and other blatant forms of discrimination understandably provoked discontent among black troops which, in turn, sparked friction with their white commanders. Westwood's fascinating account of the artillery company from Rhode Island amply demonstrates how frustrations among black soldiers came to be seen as "mutiny" by some white officers.

 

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Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags

The Constitutional Conventions of Radical Reconstruction

Richard L. Hume

After the Civil War, Congress required ten former Confederate states to rewrite their constitutions before they could be readmitted to the Union. An electorate composed of newly enfranchised former slaves, native southern whites (minus significant numbers of disenfranchised former Confederate officials), and a small contingent of "carpetbaggers," or outside whites, sent delegates to ten constitutional conventions. Derogatorily labeled "black and tan" by their detractors, these assemblies wrote constitutions and submitted them to Congress and to the voters in their respective states for approval. Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags offers a quantitative study of these decisive but little-understood assemblies—the first elected bodies in the United States to include a significant number of blacks.

Richard L. Hume and Jerry B. Gough scoured manuscript census returns to determine the age, occupation, property holdings, literacy, and slaveholdings of 839 of the conventions' 1,018 delegates. Carefully analyzing convention voting records on certain issues—including race, suffrage, and government structure—they correlate delegates' voting patterns with their racial and socioeconomic status. The authors then assign a "Republican support score" to each delegate who voted often enough to count, establishing the degree to which each delegate adhered to the Republican leaders' program at his convention. Using these scores, they divide the delegates into three groups—radicals, swing voters, and conservatives—and incorporate their quantitative findings into the narrative histories of each convention, providing, for the first time, a detailed analysis of these long-overlooked assemblies.

Hume and Gough's comprehensive study offers an objective look at the accomplishments and shortcomings of the conventions and humanizes the delegates who have until now been understood largely as stereotypes. Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags provides an essential reference guide for anyone seeking a better understanding of the Reconstruction era.

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Bleeding Borders

Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas

Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel

In Bleeding Borders, Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel offers a fresh, multifaceted interpretation of the quintessential sectional conflict in pre–Civil War Kansas. Instead of focusing on the white, male politicians and settlers who vied for control of the Kansas territorial legislature, Oertel explores the crucial roles Native Americans, African Americans, and white women played in the literal and rhetorical battle between proslavery and antislavery settlers in the region. She brings attention to the local debates and the diverse peoples who participated in them during that contentious period. Oertel begins by detailing the settlement of eastern Kansas by emigrant Indian tribes and explores their interaction with the growing number of white settlers in the region. She analyzes the attempts by southerners to plant slavery in Kansas and the ultimately successful resistance of slaves and abolitionists. Oertel then considers how crude frontier living conditions, Indian conflict, political upheaval, and sectional violence reshaped traditional Victorian gender roles in Kansas and explores women’s participation in the political and physical conflicts between proslavery and antislavery settlers. Oertel goes on to examine northern and southern definitions of “true manhood” and how competing ideas of masculinity infused political and sectional tensions. She concludes with an analysis of miscegenation—not only how racial mixing between Indians, slaves, and whites influenced events in territorial Kansas, but more importantly, how the fear of miscegenation fueled both proslavery and antislavery arguments about the need for civil war. As Oertel demonstrates, the players in Bleeding Kansas used weapons other than their Sharpes rifles and Bowie knives to wage war over the extension of slavery: they attacked each other’s cultural values and struggled to assert their own political wills. They jealously guarded ideals of manhood, womanhood, and whiteness even as the presence of Indians and blacks and the debate over slavery raised serious questions about the efficacy of these principles. Oertel argues that, ultimately, many Native Americans, blacks, and women shaped the political and cultural terrain in ways that ensured the destruction of slavery, but they, along with their white male counterparts, failed to defeat the resilient power of white supremacy. Moving beyond a conventional political history of Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Borders breaks new ground by revealing how the struggles of this highly diverse region contributed to the national move toward disunion and how the ideologies that governed race and gender relations were challenged as North, South, and West converged on the border between slavery and freedom.

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