Religion and the American Civil War

By Randall M. Miller; Harry S. Stout et al. | Go to book overview
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14
Civil War, Religion, and Communications

The Case of Richmond

HARRY S. STOUT AND CHRISTOPHER GRASSO

It was inevitable that the juggernaught of the New Social History would eventually catch up with that last bastion of political and military history, the Civil War. After a century of domination by political and military historians, professional and antiquarian, the war is at last recognized for the "total" event that it was: a social convulsion affecting civilian populations as much as armies, women and children as much as men, slaves as well as free blacks, laborers as well as soldiers. To the 50,000 books and articles already written on the Civil War, entirely new histories are appearing that tell the other stories, the stories of noncombatants at war.

A second development in the 1970s and 1980s also has given shape to the kind of Civil War histories that are now being written. The turn of the French Annales school from social and economic structure toward the history of mentalites, the widespread interest in the cultural anthropology of Clifford Geertz, and interpretive strategies borrowed from literary criticism have all informed what his been called the New Cultural History: the study of texts and discourse, cultural patterns and symbolic meanings, ideology and hegemony. 1 In place of quantitative studies, cultural historians are exploring texts for shared patterns of meaning. What did the Civil War mean to its ordinary participants? What did they believe so strongly that they would venture all? These preoccupations have centered on the categories of popular "ideology," "nationalism," and, in the case of the South, "guilt" and "demoralization." 2

Lying on the periphery of this social and cultural recovery of the Civil War is religion. This has been particularly true in the case of the Confederate South, where recent studies have explored the ways in which religion both

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