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The American Civil War was largely fought outdoors. Despite this obvious fact, the war’s historians have been loath to examine, in any systematic , analytical way at least, the effects of day-to-day weather and longerterm climactic patterns on the course of the conflict. To be sure, classic studies of the soldier experience starting with Bell Wiley’s relate how soldiers marched and fought in bad weather, stood guard in the rain, and survived cold Virginia winters in jerry-built shanties. Likewise, the authors of battle narratives usually discuss the specific conditions that affected particular fights, be they the drought that shaped Braxton Bragg’s kentucky campaign or the torrential downpours that made the slugfest at Spotsylvania ’s Mule Shoe so horrendously bestial. Civil War popular culture acknowledges the effect of weather and climate in ways as diverse as the memorably moving scene of Morgan Freeman’s character John Rawlins in the film Glory stoically walking his beat in a driving rain, and in battlefield park novices’ daily question for the living historian, “Aren’t those wool uniforms hot?” in 2011 Hurricane irene brought forth a brief flurry of blog entries on the lack of analytical studies of meteorological effects on the war, which were answered in the comments sections largely with factoids about specific battles and assertions of the hoary but completely spurious notion that artillery fire always produced storms after battles.1 All of these manifestations of Civil War weather ultimately are specific and narrow, however, and in many cases function as little more than the sort of interesting trivia that remains a traditional part of Civil War roundtable meetings. There is no overarching narrative. indeed, Robert k. krick’s Civil War Weather in Virginia still remains the only bookoNE Fateful Lightning The Significance of Weather and Climate to Civil War History k E N N ETH W. N o E Fateful Lightning 17 length study in the field solely devoted to the subject. Based largely on the meticulous meteorological records of a Georgetown minister and supplemented with observations from a limited number of additional soldier and civilian records, krick’s annotated historical almanac provides a vital daily record that historians of the northern Virginia theater long needed.2 Yet as krick himself acknowledges, his volume is “designed for reference purposes, not analytical ones,” and he never looks beyond the relatively limited terrain trod by Lee’s army to the war beyond.3 At least pointing in the right direction is Harold Winters’s seminal volume , Battling the Elements, a collaborative work on military geography, incubated at West Point, that seeks to explain “how seemingly evident factors such as weather, climate, terrain, soil, and vegetation are important, cogent, and sometimes decisive in combat.”4 in one essay Winters notably compares the effect of mud in World War i Flanders with Ambrose Burnside’s ill-fated Mud March of January 1863. But while a pathbreaking book chock full of useful cues for period historians, Battling the Elements nonetheless remains a broad introductory text of military history that deals only in part with weather and climate, and one that includes relatively little specific to the American Civil War.5 The impact of climate and weather on the Civil War, then, has an incredibly limited and patchwork secondary bibliography, especially when divorced from specific battles and campaigns. The end result, as kathryn Meier convincingly argues, is that our understanding of the soldier experience —and one might add, the civilian experience—will remain incomplete until scholars have “adequately analyzed environment as an interactive force in the Civil War.”6 This essay accordingly points toward what such an analysis devoted to the elements might look like, and speculates about the significance of wartime weather and climate, partially using ongoing research as a tentative guide.7 First, two definitions are in order. The National oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NoAA) defines “weather” as “the state of the atmosphere at a given point in time and geographic location.” Daily temperatures , precipitation, wind, and clouds are all functions of weather.8 For example, on April 12, 1861, the day the war began at Fort Sumter, the temperature in Greensboro, Alabama, was 58 degrees at 7 a.m., rising to a high of 72 at 2 p.m. The morning was cloudy but the sky increasingly cleared as the day progressed.9 “Climate,” in contrast, “is the longterm prevailing pattern of temperature, precipitation and other weather variables at a given location, described by statistics, such as means...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820347752
Related ISBN
9780820347141
MARC Record
OCLC
898770323
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-23
Language
English
Open Access
No
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