- Editor's Overview
Our first issue for 2018 explores new directions in the medical history of the Civil War. Zachery Fry examines the Army of the Potomac after the Seven Days' battles in July 1862. The soldiers faced poor health and even poorer spirits. For six weeks, soldiers suffered in diseased swamps and meadows on the James River, wondering aloud what their sacrifices had accomplished for the Union struggle. Politically aware officers argued over who was to blame for the hardship, Republicans castigating McClellan and Democrats calling out the administration. Embittered and ill-supplied enlisted men, many just beginning to understand the war's policy dimensions, complained of conservative officers protecting southern property and called for greater sacrifices from those on the northern home front. The health crisis of Harrison's Landing, as Fry concludes, energized the emergence of a partisan divide in McClellan's army that would remain in place long after "Little Mac" had departed as its commander.
Although many historians have examined the influence of literature on Confederate nationalism and vice versa, few have examined the role medical literature played in this process. Lindsay Rae Privette explores how the Confederate Medical Department published a number of texts aimed at creating an efficient medical corps. Many of these argued that being a good Confederate was synonymous with being a good doctor. She examines the medical literature printed and circulated through the Confederacy and argues that Confederate physicians' quest for professional and intellectual authority was intimately linked with their nationalism.
Our review section includes another stellar roundtable skillfully edited by our own Ryan Keating, which tackles the film The Birth of a Nation. Despite some rave reviews, the film floundered at the box office (grossing only $15 million), and the director, Nate Parker, found himself mired in controversy over his acquittal of charges of sexual assault in 1999, which contributed to the film receiving very little attention during awards season—other than the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. Our group of esteemed scholars tackle the film and the legacy of Nat Turner.
Our reviews touch on a number of subjects, including the recently emerging focus on the Civil War West, with recent books by Christopher Phillips, Joseph Beilein, Matthew Hulbert, and Kristen Epps. Questions of the Union's "hard war," the success of the U.S. Colored Troops, and the important intersection between the policies of Reconstruction and the growth of African American political voice also appear. Readers should take special note of the ways historians test the boundaries [End Page 5] of our traditional understandings of the Civil War era and the ways studies such as these expand our understanding of the nuances of identity, politics, and military service during this period.
During the construction of the roundtable, one of our participants, Anthony (Tony) Kaye suddenly passed away. Tony was a gifted scholar, an exceptional human being, and a passionate advocate for history and the humanities. We are saddened by his loss and would like to dedicate this roundtable to his memory. [End Page 6]