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The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers

edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean

Availablecloth$40.00x 978-0-8131-2413-1
Availableweb pdf$40.00x 978-0-8131-7158-6
Availableepub$40.00x 978-0-8131-3761-2
New Directions in Southern History
272 pages  Pubdate: 12/22/2006  6 x 9  

With an Afterword by Joseph T. Glatthaar The View from the Ground brings together the perspectives of Civil War soldiers on all aspects of the conflict, revealing as much about nineteenth-century America as it does about the war itself. The contributors investigate the issues engaged by soldiers during the war, including slavery and racial tensions, the isolation that many men of faith felt in the early months of the war, the divide between soldiers and civilians, and the inherent difficulty in reconciling the act of killing with Christian precepts of charity and peacefulness. They also explore the ways veterans remembered the war. The View from the Ground shows that soldiers willfully shaped the course of the war, as soldiers and as citizens. The result is a collection that illustrates how new questions and fresh analyses of participants' lives and writings can expand our knowledge of our nation's greatest conflict.

Civil War scholars have long used soldiers’ diaries and correspondence to flesh out their studies of the conflict’s great officers, regiments, and battles. However, historians have only recently begun to treat the common Civil War soldier’s daily life as a worthwhile topic of discussion in its own right. The View from the Ground reveals the beliefs of ordinary men and women on topics ranging from slavery and racism to faith and identity and represents a significant development in historical scholarship—the use of Civil War soldiers’ personal accounts to address larger questions about America’s past. Aaron Sheehan-Dean opens The View from the Ground by surveying the landscape of research on Union and Confederate soldiers, examining not only the wealth of scholarly inquiry in the 1980s and 1990s but also the numerous questions that remain unexplored. Chandra Manning analyzes the views of white Union soldiers on slavery and their enthusiastic support for emancipation. Jason Phillips uncovers the deep antipathy of Confederate soldiers toward their Union adversaries, and Lisa Laskin explores tensions between soldiers and civilians in the Confederacy that represented a serious threat to the fledgling nation’s survival. Essays by David Rolfs and Kent Dollar examine the nature of religious faith among Civil War combatants. The grim and gruesome realities of warfare—and the horror of killing one’s enemy at close range—profoundly tested the spiritual convictions of the fighting men. Timothy J. Orr, Charles E. Brooks, and Kevin Levin demonstrate that Union and Confederate soldiers maintained their political beliefs both on the battlefield and in the war’s aftermath. Orr details the conflict between Union soldiers and Northern antiwar activists in Pennsylvania, and Brooks examines a struggle between officers and the Fourth Texas Regiment. Levin contextualizes political struggles among Southerners in the 1880s and 1890s as a continuing battle kept alive by memories of, and identities associated with, their wartime experiences. The View from the Ground goes beyond standard histories that discuss soldiers primarily in terms of campaigns and casualties. These essays show that soldiers on both sides were authentic historical actors who willfully steered the course of the Civil War and shaped subsequent public memory of the event.

Aaron Sheehan-Dean, assistant professor of history at the University of North Florida, is the editor of Struggle for a Vast Future: The American Civil War.

These essays use the soldiers' personal accounts to examine their beliefs and practices, creating a most readable treatment of this horrendous conflict. -- Booklist

"The overall effect of this collection is refreshing and two-fold: First, soldiers are given their due agency; they shape, and are in turn shaped by, the realities of the war they made. Second, soldiers are firmly connected to their wider context. As an extension of their homefront societies, Civil War soldiers were political, spiritual and individual beings, struggling with all their might to remain connected to former selves and former lives, even as they remade America. Taken together, these essays make a convincing case that the war was what the common soldiers made it. They led, and the nation followed." -- Stephen Berry, author of All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil W

"Taken together, the essays are particular interesting and informative in revealing the various ways in which the participants remembered this bloody conflict, revealing soldiers and civilians through their experiences as political, spiritual, and individual beeings -- Choice

"The View from the Ground, a collection of essays edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, enhances our understanding of these nineteenth-century combatants. Collectively, these essays reinforce the importance of studying military history beyond technology, battles, and leadership." -- Ohio Valley History

“These nicely crafted and thoroughly noted essays do indeed represent well the recent scholarship on the Civil War soldier and his world.” -- The Journal of Southern History

“This collection of essays is a valuable contribution and a useful tool in the classroom as well.” -- Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"The View from the Ground offers readers a look at some of the most cutting-edge scholarship on Civil War soldiers, demonstrating how far the field has progressed." -- Lesley J. Gordon, University of Akron -- Civil War History

"Readers will find much to ponder and learn from this fine collection." -- Lesley J. Gordon, University of Akron -- Civil War History