This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North

This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North

This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North

This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North

Synopsis

While most of the fighting took place in the South, the Civil War profoundly affected the North. As farm boys became soldiers and marched off to battle, social, economic, and political changes transformed northern society. In the generations following the conflict, historians tried tounderstand and explain the North's Civil War experience. Many historical explanations became taken for granted, such as that the Union Army was ideologically Republican, northern Democrats were disloyal, and German Americans were lousy soldiers. Now in this eye-opening collection of elevenstimulating essays, new and important information is unearthed that solidly challenges the old historical arguments.The essays in This Distracted and Anarchical People range widely throughout the history of the Civil War North, using new methods and sources to reexamine old theories and discover new aspects of the nation's greatest conflict. Many of these issues are just as important today as they were a centuryand a half ago. What were the extent and limits of wartime dissent in the North? How could a president most effectively present himself to the public? Can the savagery of war ever be tamed? How did African Americans create and maintain their families?This Distracted and Anarchical People highlights the newest scholarship on a diverse array of topics, bringing fresh insight to bear on some of the most important topics in history today - such as the democratic press in the antebellum North, peace movements, the Union Army and the elections of1864, Liberia and the U.S. Civil War, and African American veterans and marriage practices after Emancipation.

Excerpt

Some forty years ago, I was a member of Mark Neely’s PhD dissertation committee at Yale University and sat in on his defense of that thesis. It may surprise the contributors of essays to this volume on his behalf that the subject of that dissertation, if I remember it correctly—organic theories of society in antebellum America—had virtually nothing to do with the subjects about which he has subsequently written so perceptively and prolifically: Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and nineteenth-century politics and political culture. Neely’s scholarship has consistently been characterized by certain virtues. the most basic concern his research. Not only has he been an indefatigable miner of often difficult-tofind-and-use primary sources strewn across the United States, but on occasion— here The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era comes to mind—he has also been extraordinarily imaginative in identifying surprisingly useful and revealing sources. Second, virtually all his published scholarship in essays as well as books displays a contrarian penchant for challenging the conventional, or at least the current, wisdom about the topics he addresses. These challenges, moreover, have frequently contained stunningly original insights. Probably the two best-known examples of his revisionist bent are the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, in which he dramatically ratchets downward the number of so-called arbitrary arrests of civilians by the Lincoln administration during the Civil War; and The Union Divided: Party Conflict in the Civil War North, in which he sharply disputes the argument that two-party conflict was beneficial to the Union’s war effort. Third, as a concomitant of the second, Neely leaves no doubt in readers’ minds about his thorough command of the historiography relevant to the topic he is exploring. His fellow historians have not always agreed with him, but they have long known they must pay close attention to what he says.

Although not all eleven essays in this volume build directly on Neely’s own lines of research, collectively they embody many of Neely’s own strengths. All of them, for example, display a thorough command of the secondary literature relevant to their topics, and almost all rely on extensive research in primary sources. Several of them, moreover, do in fact provide additional verification of arguments first advanced by Neely himself. in “‘A Press That Speaks Its Opinions . . .

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