A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854-1877

A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854-1877

A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854-1877

A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854-1877


Claiming more than 600,000 lives, the American Civil War had a devastating impact on countless numbers of common soldiers and civilians, even as it brought freedom to millions. This book shows how average Americans coped with despair as well as hope during this vast upheaval.

A People at War brings to life the full humanity of the war's participants, from women behind their plows to their husbands in army camps; from refugees from slavery to their former masters; from Mayflower descendants to freshly recruited Irish sailors. We discover how people confronted their own feelings about the war itself, and how they coped with emotional challenges (uncertainty, exhaustion, fear, guilt, betrayal, grief) as well as physical ones (displacement, poverty, illness, disfigurement). The book explores the violence beyond the battlefield, illuminating the sharp-edged conflicts of neighbor against neighbor, whether in guerilla warfare or urban riots. The authors travel as far west as China and as far east as Europe, taking us inside soldiers' tents, prisoner-of-war camps, plantations, tenements, churches, Indian reservations, and even the cargo holds of ships. They stress the war years, but also cast an eye at the tumultuous decades that preceded and followed the battlefield confrontations.

An engrossing account of ordinary people caught up in life-shattering circumstances, A People at War captures how the Civil War rocked the lives of rich and poor, black and white, parents and children--and how all these Americans pushed generals and presidents to make the conflict a people's war.


Another book on the Civil War?

Writing in 1932, the humorist James Thurber dreamt up a “Bureau for the Prohibition of Biographies,” established after thirty-two biographies of Abraham Lincoln were published in a single day. At the time of the fictional bureau’s creation, there were ninety-two biographies of Robert E. Lee, ninety-five of Ulysses S. Grant, and forty million copies of books about Abraham Lincoln. By the calculations of a government statistician, if all the biographies were laid end-to-end, they would stretch across the entire surface of the United States ten times over, requiring a “war of aggression and conquest” to create enough space for them all. Such extreme circumstances, in Thurber’s view, demanded extreme measures: Publish another book about Lincoln, and you could land yourself in jail for two years, possibly slapped with $50,000 in fines. Still itching to write a Civil War biography? According to the head of Thurber’s imaginary bureau, only one “Civil War character” had yet to have his quota filled: a Captain Charles O. Schultz of the Sixty-seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

But in the seven decades since Thurber’s musings, books on the Civil War have continued to roll off the presses at a furious pace. By uncovering new evidence or, more often, asking new questions of old evidence, today’s historians still offer fresh insights into time-honored topics, such as the lives of statesmen and military leaders. In recent decades, though, scholars have increasingly turned their attention to the likes of Thurber’s Captain Charles O. Schultz—the less prominent Americans (as well as foreigners) who experienced a war that claimed more than 600,000 lives, freed four million slaves, and wreaked havoc on daily routines and human relationships. Sitting on library shelves next to biographies of Lincoln, Lee, and Grant are monographs and journal articles about people like those pictured on our cover: the men, women, and children who faced the war’s hardships day after day, without fanfare. As generals directed armies and politicians crafted policies, more ordinary soldiers and civilians struggled to sort out their own conflicted feelings about the war itself. They coped with emotional challenges (uncertainty, exhaustion, fear, guilt, betrayal . . .

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