Children and Youth during the Civil War Era

Children and Youth during the Civil War Era

Children and Youth during the Civil War Era

Children and Youth during the Civil War Era

Synopsis

The Civil War is a much plumbed area of scholarship, so much so that at times it seems there is no further work to be done in the field. However, the experience of children and youth during that tumultuous time remains a relatively unexplored facet of the conflict. Children and Youth During the Civil War Era seeks a deeper investigation into the historical record by giving voice and context to their struggles and victories during this critical period in American history. Prominent historians and rising scholars explore issues important to both the Civil War era and to the history of children and youth, including the experience of orphans, drummer boys, and young soldiers on the front lines, and even the impact of the war on the games children played in this collection. Each essay places the history of children and youth in the context of the sectional conflict, while in turn shedding new light on the sectional conflict by viewing it through the lens of children and youth.A much needed, multi-faceted historical account of the children's lives who were affected by the Civil War, Children and Youth During the Civil War Era touches on some of the most important historiographical issues with which historians of children and youth and of the Civil War home front have grappled over the last few years.

Excerpt

Steven Mintz

Unlike other books on the Civil War era that focus on key events, epic political controversies, and great men—presidents, members of Congress, and generals—this volume places another cast of characters center stage: children and youth. At the time of the Civil War, fully half of the nation’s population was under sixteen, and the young, like their elders, found themselves caught up in the major developments of the era: the growth of sectionalism, the moral debates over slavery, and the transformation of the sectional struggle into the first modern total war. More than mere bystanders or victims, a surprising number of young people participated directly in the era’s upheavals and carried the impact of the Civil War into the succeeding decades. Viewing this era through children’s ordinary eyes yields extraordinary insights.

Children and youth were anything but bit players in the period’s dramas. Like their parents, young people fashioned their own opinions about slavery and the sectional conflict in the decades preceding the Civil War. Many became highly politicized before or during the war, arguing the issues of the day in debating societies, joining juvenile affiliates of antislavery organizations, and publishing their own newspapers. in an essay on New England college students, Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai shows the extent to which these young men developed an intense anti-Southern ideology, expressing profound contempt for white Southerners and Southern society.

Meanwhile, images of childhood colored the political debates preceding the Civil War. the abolitionists’ single most devastating critique of slavery lay in its impact on children: how the institution separated families and undermined parents’ ability to protect their children and stripped the young of a childhood—making the early years a time of harsh labor and cruel punishment rather than a time of play and wonder. Indeed, as Rebecca de Schweinitz demonstrates, the slavery controversy led many Northern adults to think about childhood in a new way, as a stage of life that should, ideally, be free of work responsibilities and devoted to schooling and play. in the . . .

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