Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

Synopsis

The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. They read novels, short stories, poems, songs, editorials, and newspaper stories. They laughed at cartoons and satirical essays. Their spirits were stirred in response to recruiting broadsides and patriotic envelopes. This massive cultural outpouring offered a path for ordinary Americans casting around for direction. Examining the breadth of Northern popular culture, J. Matthew Gallman offers a dramatic reconsideration of how the Union's civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime. Although a huge percentage of military-aged men served in the Union army, a larger group chose to stay home, even while they supported the war. This pathbreaking study investigates how men and women, both white and black, understood their roles in the People's Conflict. Wartime culture created humorous and angry stereotypes ridiculing the nation's cowards, crooks, and fools, while wrestling with the challenges faced by ordinary Americans. Gallman shows how thousands of authors, artists, and readers together created a new set of rules for navigating life in a nation at war.

Excerpt

In early 1863 Philadelphian Charles Janeway Stillé published a pamphlet titled How a Free People Conduct a Long War. It seemed a good time to ask the question. the Civil War had been dragging on for nearly two years and gave little sign of ending. the previous September the Union forces under General George McClellan had managed to turn back the audacious invasion north by the Army of Northern Virginia at Antietam Creek, but there was little to celebrate in a bloody day of fighting that produced more than fourteen thousand Federal casualties and saw Confederate general Robert E. Lee escape the battlefield and return south to regroup. in the 1862 elections, Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party had lost twenty-two seats, offering eloquent testimony to the war weariness on the northern home front.

Stillé, a prominent lawyer and member of the United States Sanitary Commission, drew on the historic example set by the British during the Napoleonic Wars to explain how free people of goodwill should respond to a long war. in essence, he called on his readers to stick with the war even though things seemed difficult. in times of adversity a free people must endure hardships to achieve worthy goals. This message struck a nerve among prowar northerners. Stillé’s pamphlet went through multiple printings and sold as many as a half million copies. How a Free People Conduct a Long War was just a single contribution to a complex and multi-layered northern war culture that helped define what it meant to be a citizen of the United States in wartime. in the midst of national crisis, this Union war culture offered advice to people who had every reason to feel confused about their duty. This is a study of the printed advice patriotic northerners sought and received during the American Civil War.

▀ Let me begin with three large observations about the North during the Civil War. the first is that northerners, even prowar northerners, were not . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.