- Environmental Histories
Consider the following statements: weather and geography critically influenced the planning and outcome of Civil War battles; disease killed more Civil War soldiers, sailors, and marines than combat; the South's reliance on cotton monoculture hampered the Confederacy's ability to feed and provision its forces and contributed to its military defeat. Each of these facts, separately and together, has been the subject of myriad studies aimed at elucidating the war's events and its greater meaning. Until recently, however, one fundamental lesson of these three points has gone unexplored by students of the Civil War: nature matters in history.
Over the past decade or so, environmental historians have turned their attention to the connections between war and nature, with at least a dozen undertaking studies of the Civil War. Most of these scholars have examined the military conflict, though a handful have discussed the home front as well. Each has made compelling arguments about the fundamental role nature played in the war, encompassing both its material implications and its intellectual import. Two major areas have captured the interest of these scholars: soldier health and strategic decision-making. Through their work, we have gained important insight into nature's place in the war and into the ways Americans of all loyalties and backgrounds responded to the changes wrought by the conflict.
Rich new ground invites future research: We still need an environmental analysis of mobilization, which affected ecosystems of all descriptions. We still need a comprehensive environmental history of the war, from its origins to its long-term impact on nature. As this subfield merges with the mainstream, and as this proliferation of environmental histories gets aggregated, how does it change our understandings of the Civil War era and American environmental history? [End Page 8]