Civil War History 49.3 (2003) 295-296
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The Civil War Soldier: A Historical Reader. Edited by Michael Barton and Larry M. Logue. (New York: New York University Press, 2002. Pp. xii, 512. Cloth, $65.00; paper, $24.95.)
The Civil War Soldier is a useful anthology of writings on its subject, one of the most interesting areas of ongoing research in Civil War history. It consists of excerpts from books and articles, ranging from a few writings by Civil War veterans themselves, to the seminal works of Bell Wiley, to more recent efforts by such scholars as James McPherson, James I. Robertson, Jr., Drew Gilpin Faust, and Reid Mitchell. The articles are arranged topically into five categories, covering who Civil War soldiers were, how they lived, fought, felt, and what they believed.
New students to the subject will learn much about how the scholarship on the topic has evolved thematically and methodologically, especially since the 1980s. By its nature, The Civil War Soldier does not attempt to be a definitive, unified treatment of the subject pursuing a set of central arguments, despite the back cover blurb of the proof asserting that the book "answers" many questions on the subject. Instead, the reader encounters a variety of arguments concerning the nature of Civil War soldiers, their experiences, and their beliefs. Were Civil War soldiers ideological, or were they not? If so, were their ideologies and motivations based around political ideals, social and cultural norms, or religious beliefs? How did soldiers react to the experience of combat?
The variety of methodologies used to address these and other questions, which include reminiscences of veterans, analyses of manuscript materials, and more recent statistical and quantitative efforts, are themselves striking. For example, the first section on "Who Soldiers Were" begins with portions of the final chapter of Wiley's The Life of Johnny Reb (1943), in which he discussed the basic character types of Confederate soldiers as revealed in diaries and letters. It is followed by parts of more recent works by Maris A. Vinovskis, Larry M. Logue, and James W. Geary which use various types of statistical data to draw conclusions about Union soldiers from Newburyport, Massachusetts, Confederate volunteers, and Northern draft dodgers and deserters respectively. The section is concluded by an excerpt from Elizabeth D. Leonard's study of female soldiers in both armies, which uses a variety of sources to piece together information on its subject. The juxtaposition of [End Page 295] older with newer material throughout the book in this manner amply illustrates the number of ways in which a historian can approach the study of not only this but other historical topics as well.
For scholars already acquainted with the field, there will be much that is already familiar, from Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson's Celtic theory of Confederate battlefield behavior to excerpts from Gerald F. Linderman's Embattled Courage and McPherson's For Cause and Comrades. There is also much less readily available material included as well, particularly journal articles such as David Donald's 1959 "The Confederate as a Fighting Man." The book would be perhaps even more useful if the editors had commissioned some new articles especially for it. Furthermore, the introduction is very brief. A longer opening discussing the historiography of the field in depth would have been beneficial, although perhaps the editors felt that their introductions to the individual selections accomplished much of that task for them. Despite these quibbles, The Civil War Soldier is recommended as a sampler of much of the best scholarship on its subject, and will make an excellent reader for upper-level and graduate classes.
Michael W. Coffey
University of Southern Mississippi