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Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune

The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

Robert Gould Shaw

On the Boston Common stands one of the great Civil War memorials, a magnificent bronze sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It depicts the black soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry marching alongside their young white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. When the philosopher William James dedicated the memorial in May 1897, he stirred the assembled crowd with these words: "There they march, warm-blooded champions of a better day for man. There on horseback among them, in the very habit as he lived, sits the blue-eyed child of fortune."

In this book Shaw speaks for himself with equal eloquence through nearly two hundred letters he wrote to his family and friends during the Civil War. The portrait that emerges is of a man more divided and complex--though no less heroic--than the Shaw depicted in the celebrated film Glory. The pampered son of wealthy Boston abolitionists, Shaw was no abolitionist himself, but he was among the first patriots to respond to Lincoln's call for troops after the attack on Fort Sumter. After Cedar Mountain and Antietam, Shaw knew the carnage of war firsthand. Describing nightfall on the Antietam battlefield, he wrote, "the crickets chirped, and the frogs croaked, just as if nothing unusual had happened all day long, and presently the stars came out bright, and we lay down among the dead, and slept soundly until daylight. There were twenty dead bodies within a rod of me."

When Federal war aims shifted from an emphasis on restoring the Union to the higher goal of emancipation for four million slaves, Shaw's mother pressured her son into accepting the command of the North's vanguard black regiment, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts. A paternalist who never fully reconciled his own prejudices about black inferiority, Shaw assumed the command with great reluctance. Yet, as he trained his recruits in Readville, Massachusetts, during the early months of 1963, he came to respect their pluck and dedication. "There is not the least doubt," he wrote his mother, "that we shall leave the state, with as good a regiment, as any that has marched."

Despite such expressions of confidence, Shaw in fact continued to worry about how well his troops would perform under fire. The ultimate test came in South Carolina in July 1863, when the Fifty-fourth led a brave but ill-fated charge on Fort Wagner, at the approach to Charleston Harbor. As Shaw waved his sword and urged his men forward, an enemy bullet felled him on the fort's parapet. A few hours later the Confederates dumped his body into a mass grave with the bodies of twenty of his men. Although the assault was a failure from a military standpoint, it proved the proposition to which Shaw had reluctantly dedicated himself when he took command of the Fifty-fourth: that black soldiers could indeed be fighting men. By year's end, sixty new black regiments were being organized.

A previous selection of Shaw's correspondence was privately published by his family in 1864. For this volume, Russell Duncan has restored many passages omitted from the earlier edition and has provided detailed explanatory notes to the letters. In addition he has written a lengthy biographical essay that places the young colonel and his regiment in historical context.

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Blue Smoke

The Recorded Journey of Big Bill Broonzy

Roger House

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The Blue, the Gray, and the Green

Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War

Edited by Brian Allen Drake

The Blue, the Gray, and the Green is one of only a handful of books to apply an environmental history approach to the Civil War. This book explores how nature—disease, climate, flora and fauna, and other factors—affected the war and also how the war shaped Americans’ perceptions, understanding, and use of nature. The contributors use a wide range of approaches that serve as a valuable template for future environmental histories of the conflict. In his introduction, Brian Allen Drake describes the sparse body of environmental history literature related to the Civil War and lays out a blueprint for the theoretical basis of each essay. Kenneth W. Noe emphasizes climate and its effects on agricultural output and the battlefield; Timothy Silver explores the role of disease among troops and animals; Megan Kate Nelson examines aridity and Union defeat in 1861 New Mexico; Kathryn Shively Meier investigates soldiers’ responses to disease in the Peninsula Campaign; Aaron Sachs, John C. Inscoe, and Lisa M. Brady examine philosophical and ideological perspectives on nature before, during, and after the war; Drew Swanson discusses the war’s role in production and landscape change in piedmont tobacco country; Mart A. Stewart muses on the importance of environmental knowledge and experience for soldiers, civilians, and slaves; Timothy Johnson elucidates the ecological underpinnings of debt peonage during Reconstruction; finally, Paul S. Sutter speculates on the future of Civil War environmental studies. The Blue, the Gray, and the Green provides a provocative environmental commentary that enriches our understanding of the Civil War.

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Bluecoats and Tar Heels

Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina

Mark L Bradley

Though the Civil War ended in April 1865, the conflict between Unionists and Confederates continued. The bitterness and rancor resulting from the collapse of the Confederacy spurred an ongoing cycle of hostility and bloodshed that made the Reconstruction period a violent era of transition. The violence was so pervasive that the federal government deployed units of the U.S. Army in North Carolina and other southern states to maintain law and order and protect blacks and Unionists. Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina tells the story of the army’s twelve-year occupation of North Carolina, a time of political instability and social unrest. Author Mark Bradley details the complex interaction between the federal soldiers and the North Carolina civilians during this tumultuous period. The federal troops attempted an impossible juggling act: protecting the social and political rights of the newly freed black North Carolinians while conciliating their former enemies, the ex-Confederates. The officers sought to minimize violence and unrest during the lengthy transition from war to peace, but they ultimately proved far more successful in promoting sectional reconciliation than in protecting the freedpeople. Bradley’s exhaustive study examines the military efforts to stabilize the region in the face of opposition from both ordinary citizens and dangerous outlaws such as the Regulators and the Ku Klux Klan. By 1872, the widespread, organized violence that had plagued North Carolina since the close of the war had ceased, enabling the bluecoats and the ex-Confederates to participate in public rituals and social events that served as symbols of sectional reconciliation. This rapprochement has been largely forgotten, lost amidst the postbellum barrage of Lost Cause rhetoric, causing many historians to believe that the process of national reunion did not begin until after Reconstruction. Rectifying this misconception, Bluecoats and Tar Heels illuminates the U.S. Army’s significant role in an understudied aspect of Civil War reconciliation.

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Bluejackets and Contrabands

African Americans and the Union Navy

Barbara Brooks Tomblin

One of the lesser known stories of the Civil War is the role played by escaped slaves in the Union blockade along the Atlantic coast. From the beginning of the war, many African American refugees sought avenues of escape to the North. Due to their sheer numbers, those who reached Union forces presented a problem for the military. The problem was partially resolved by the First Confiscation Act of 1861, which permitted the seizure of property used in support of the South’s war effort, including slaves. Eventually regarded as contraband of war, the runaways became known as contrabands. In Bluejackets and Contrabands, Barbara Brooks Tomblin examines the relationship between the Union Navy and the contrabands. The navy established colonies for the former slaves and, in return, some contrabands served as crewmen on navy ships and gunboats and as river pilots, spies, and guides. Tomblin presents a rare picture of the contrabands and casts light on the vital contributions of African Americans to the Union Navy and the Union cause.

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Bonds of Union

Religion, Race, and Politics in a Civil War Borderland

Bridget Ford

This vivid history of the Civil War era reveals how unexpected bonds of union forged among diverse peoples in the Ohio-Kentucky borderlands furthered emancipation through a period of spiraling chaos between 1830 and 1865. Moving beyond familiar arguments about Lincoln's deft politics or regional commercial ties, Bridget Ford recovers the potent religious, racial, and political attachments holding the country together at one of its most likely breaking points, the Ohio River.

Living in a bitterly contested region, the Americans examined here--Protestant and Catholic, black and white, northerner and southerner--made zealous efforts to understand the daily lives and struggles of those on the opposite side of vexing human and ideological divides. In their common pursuits of religious devotionalism, universal public education regardless of race, and relief from suffering during wartime, Ford discovers a surprisingly capacious and inclusive sense of political union in the Civil War era. While accounting for the era's many disintegrative forces, Ford reveals the imaginative work that went into bridging stark differences in lived experience, and she posits that work as a precondition for slavery's end and the Union's persistence.

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Border War

Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War

Stanley Harrold

During the 1840s and 1850s, a dangerous ferment afflicted the North-South border region, pitting the slave states of Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri against the free states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Aspects of this struggle--the underground railroad, enforcement of the fugitive slave laws, mob actions, and sectional politics--are well known as parts of other stories. Here, Stanley Harrold explores the border struggle itself, the dramatic incidents that comprised it, and its role in the complex dynamics leading to the Civil War.

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Border Wars

The Civil War in Tennessee and Kentucky

Kentucky and Tennessee share a unique and similar history, having joined the Union as the fifteenth and sixteenth states in 1792 and 1796, respectively. During the antebellum period, Kentuckians and Tennesseans enjoyed a common culture, pursued a largely agricultural way of life, and shared many values, particularly a deep­seated commitment to slavery. However, the people of these two sister states found themselves on opposing sides at the most critical time in American history, as Tennessee sided with the Southern states seceding from the Union, and Kentucky, after a brief period of neutrality, remained loyal to the Union. Each state assumed enormous importance to both the Union and the Confederacy, for whichever side controlled them commanded vast quantities of resources desperately needed by the South. Perhaps most important, control of this strategic region would determine where much of the fighting in the West would take place, either on northern soil or farther south. Both states felt the hard hand of war as the conflict visited them early and often, and Kentuckians and Tennesseans suffered the same hardships while war was waged within their borders.

Surprisingly, the Civil War in the Volunteer and Bluegrass states has not garnered the attention by scholars that it deserves, and few works have dealt exclusively with both of these states. In Border Wars, prominent Civil War historians Benjamin Franklin Cooling, Stephen D. Engle, Earl J. Hess, Jack Hurst, and Wiley Sword, along with other distinguished scholars, explore the military contests in this vital region.

There were several wars taking place simultaneously along the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. There was, of course, the war between the Union and the Confederacy, but there was also fighting between the Union occupiers and the pro­Southern civilians they encountered. Hostilities even existed between the Federal army and local Unionists in some areas, and there was conflict among some Union generals and among Confederate commanders in the region. With its unique exploration of these wars and conflicts and the individuals involved, Border Wars adds an important chapter to our nation’s history.

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The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era

Mark E. Neely Jr.

Did preoccupations with family and work crowd out interest in politics in the nineteenth century, as some have argued? Arguing that social historians have gone too far in concluding that Americans were not deeply engaged in public life and that political historians have gone too far in asserting that politics informed all of Americans' lives, Mark Neely seeks to gauge the importance of politics for ordinary people in the Civil War era. Looking beyond the usual markers of political activity, Neely sifts through the political bric-a-brac of the era--lithographs and engravings of political heroes, campaign buttons, songsters filled with political lyrics, photo albums, newspapers, and political cartoons. In each of four chapters, he examines a different sphere--the home, the workplace, the gentlemen's Union League Club, and the minstrel stage--where political engagement was expressed in material culture. Neely acknowledges that there were boundaries to political life, however. But as his investigation shows, political expression permeated the public and private realms of Civil War America. Arguing that social historians have gone too far in concluding that Americans were not deeply engaged in public life and that political historians have gone too far in asserting that politics informed all of Americans' lives, Mark Neely seeks to gauge the importance of politics for ordinary people in the Civil War era. Looking beyond the usual markers of political activity, Neely sifts through the political bric-a-brac of the era--lithographs and engravings of political heroes, campaign buttons, songsters filled with political lyrics, photo albums, newspapers, and political cartoons. In each of four chapters, he examines a different sphere--the home, the workplace, the gentlemen's Union League Club, and the minstrel stage--where political engagement was expressed in material culture. Arguing that social historians have gone too far in concluding that Americans were not deeply engaged in public life and political historians have gone too far in asserting that politics informed all of Americans' lives, Neely seeks to gauge the importance of politics for ordinary people in the Civil War era. Looking beyond the usual markers of political activity, Neely sifts through the political bric-a-brac of the era--lithographs and engravings of political heroes, campaign buttons, photo albums, newspapers, and political cartoons. In each of four chapters, he examines a different sphere--the home, the workplace, the gentlemen's Union League Club, and the minstrel stage--where political engagement was expressed in material culture. Did preoccupations with family and work crowd out interest in politics in the nineteenth century, as some have argued? Arguing that social historians have gone too far in concluding that Americans were not deeply engaged in public life and that political historians have gone too far in asserting that politics informed all of Americans' lives, Mark Neely seeks to gauge the importance of politics for ordinary people in the Civil War era. Looking beyond the usual markers of political activity, Neely sifts through the political bric-a-brac of the era--lithographs and engravings of political heroes, campaign buttons, songsters filled with political lyrics, photo albums, newspapers, and political cartoons. In each of four chapters, he examines a different sphere--the home, the workplace, the gentlemen's Union League Club, and the minstrel stage--where political engagement was expressed in material culture. Neely acknowledges that there were boundaries to political life, however. But as his investigation shows, political expression permeated the public and private realms of Civil War America.

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Boy Soldier of the Confederacy

The Memoir of Johnnie Wickersham

Edited by Kathleen Gorman

Johnnie Wickersham was fourteen when he ran away from his Missouri home to fight for the Confederacy. Fifty years after the war, he wrote his memoir at the request of family and friends and distributed it privately in 1915. Boy Soldier of the Confederacy: The Memoir of Johnnie Wickersham offers not only a rare look into the Civil War through the eyes of a child but also a coming-of-age story.

Edited by Kathleen Gorman, the volume presents a new introduction and annotations that explain how the war was glorified over time, the harsh realities suppressed in the nation’s collective memory. Gorman describes a man who nostalgically remembers the boy he once was. She maintains that the older Wickersham who put pen to paper decades later likely glorified and embellished the experience, accepting a polished interpretation of his own past.

Wickersham recounts that during his first skirmish he was "wild with the ecstasy of it all" and notes that he was "too young to appreciate the danger." The memoir traces his participation in an October 1861 Confederate charge against Springfield, Missouri; his fight at the battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862; his stay at a plantation he calls Fairyland; and the battle of Corinth.

The volume details Wickersham’s assignment as an orderly for General Sterling Price, his capture at Vicksburg in 1863, his parole, and later his service with General John Bell Hood for the 1864 fighting around Atlanta. Wickersham also describes the Confederate surrender in New Orleans, the reconciliation of the North and the South, and his own return and reunification with his family.

While Gorman’s incisive introduction and annotations allow readers to consider how memories can be affected by the passage of time, Wickersham’s boy-turned-soldier tale offers readers an engaging narrative, detailing the perceptions of a child on the cusp of adulthood during a turbulent period in our nation’s history.

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