- Editor's Overview
During the American Civil War, Union and Confederate soldiers fraternized with one another despite strict prohibitions from the high command. As Lauren K. Thompson explains, fraternization was a recurring event in the life of common soldiers, seen both in the extent to which soldiers wrote about it in their letters and diaries, as well as officers' attempts to curtail it. Because of the major gap between what men expected from war and what they actually experienced, soldier accounts suggest a sense of uncertainty, real or imagined. Men saw military service as a way to strengthen and display their independence, but quite the opposite happened under the military mechanism. By using the commodities and environment at their disposal, men fraternized to test boundaries of authority and gain a sense for how much freedom they actually had. Thompson explores the gridlock at Petersburg and the siege warfare that forced the leadership of both armies to prepare their men for the intricate arragement of ceasefires to placate the constant sense of anxiety. Even when the high command cracked down on fraternization through very rigid penalties and public court martial sentences, soldiers continued to assert their autonomy through these means. As Thompson concludes, fraternization allowed men to escape their situation briefly in subtle ways that were socially acceptable to their comrades and did not carry the stigma of cowardice.
Earl J. Hess asks us to think about Robert Fogel's initiated statistical work, the Early Indicators project. The data collection resulted in extensive information related to nearly forty thousand Union soldiers, tracing their military service, medical records, and pension files. Hess asks us to once again consider how this database can potentially shape the field in exciting and important ways.
Our review section begins with a roundtable of historical experts who will dissect the 2016 film The Free State of Jones. Based on Victoria Bynum's acclaimed book The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War, the film boasted an award winning cast, including Academy Award–winners Matthew McConaughey and Mahershala Ali, as well as Golden Globe–winner Keri Russell. The film was panned by most critics (scoring only 47 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that collects movie reviews) and earned just $25 million at the global box office. Our historical film crew will explore the movie and the popular perceptions of internal dissent during the Civil War that help expound on the multifaceted ways Americans understood, expressed, and secured their place in nineteenth-century [End Page 347] American society. This issue's book reviews encompass an array of topics but ultimately focus on two important themes: the political economies and ideologies of the Civil War era. More specifically, topics of the books reviewed speak to the nuances of the northern and southern economies before, during, and after the war, the ways Americans understood and expressed their political identities during this period, religion and radicalism, and the constitutional questions raised by the war. [End Page 348]