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  • Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front by J. Matthew Gallman
  • Steven J. Ramold
Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front. J. Matthew Gallman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4696-2099-2, 336 pp., cloth, $45.00.

The historiography of the Civil War is overflowing with examples of Union soldiers fulfilling the definition of military duty by waging epic campaigns, overcoming great obstacles, and persisting through periods of both victory and defeat. The same historiography contains many references to those who opposed the war, ranging from Copperheads who supported the southern cause to draft-resisters to opponents of abolition as a war aim. Seldom examined, however, is the mass of the northern population who did not enlist in the Union army or navy but generally supported the Union cause even if it opposed specific actions or legislation of President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. In his book Defining Duty in the Civil War, J. Matthew Gallman conducts a general overview of how northern civilians generated a consensus of behavior on how civilians, especially the men who remained at home instead of joining the army, were expected to behave as patriotic civilians. This is complemented by a specific study of popular culture in the North and how it created, shaped, and promoted the new expectations of loyal citizens, as well as how to identify and treat those who failed to conform to the new patriotic standard of comportment. [End Page 216]

The book is organized into two broad discussions. The first three chapters examine how popular culture in the North defined individual behavior for civilians who retained their civilian lives while others went to war. Through a mixture of mockery and parody, various literary and illustrated sources sought to create a unified definition of the ideal patriotic citizen. Popular culture punctured the pomposity of those who posed as officers but lacked commissions (“stolen valor,” in today’s parlance) as well as actual officers who shirked their duty by languishing at home by claiming to be recruiting for their regiments. Making money by providing the materials needed by the army was condoned, but those who produced substandard goods or who earned excessive profits fell into what Gallman identifies as the “shoddy aristocracy.” Cartoons and short stories denigrated the shoddy aristocracy by characterizing them as mere profiteers who earned great wealth by lucky circumstance rather than by breeding, education, or honest effort. Furthermore, authors and illustrators often depicted the shoddy aristocracy as ill-bred, and often immigrant, members of the lower class who attempted to posture as members of the upper class, usually failing in the most embarrassing manner and revealing their true nature in the process. The criticism of the shoddy aristocracy underscored the fears of many northerners that the war might disrupt the antebellum social system, an undesired byproduct of the campaign against the Confederacy.

The second discussion in the book treads into more familiar territory of overcoming northern opposition to conscription and defining the obligations of citizens through manifestations of manliness and bravery. As in the first portion, the collective theme of popular culture is to generate compliance with national policies by creating negative stereotyping that proper patriots would seek to avoid. As with the discussion of individual behavior earlier, support for the war demanded citizens comport themselves in accepted ways and comply with the majority’s definition of gender and racial roles. Resistance to the draft was characterized by a lack of masculinity, with many literary depictions of milquetoast “swells” and sunshine patriots. In many accounts, popular culture portrayed the weak-willed as lower class or immigrants, a sharp contrast to “real” Americans. The literature of the era also provided suitable roles for women and African Americans in the nation’s struggle, albeit limited ones that did not challenge the antebellum order in the North as the Union strove to undo the antebellum order in the South.

The book provides a unique look at the Union home front and is a welcome addition to the growing body of work on civilian life during the Civil War...


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pp. 216-218
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