Northern Character: College-Educated New Englanders, Honor, Nationalism, and Leadership in the Civil War Era

Northern Character: College-Educated New Englanders, Honor, Nationalism, and Leadership in the Civil War Era

Northern Character: College-Educated New Englanders, Honor, Nationalism, and Leadership in the Civil War Era

Northern Character: College-Educated New Englanders, Honor, Nationalism, and Leadership in the Civil War Era

Synopsis

The elite young men who inhabited northern antebellum states the New Brahmins developed their leadership class identity based on the term character : an idealized internal standard of behavior consisting most importantly of educated, independent thought and selfless action. With its unique focus on Union honor, nationalism, and masculinity, Northern Character addresses the motivating factors of these young college-educated Yankees who rushed into the armed forces to take their place at the forefront of the Unions war.
This social and intellectual history tells the New Brahmins' story from the campus to the battlefield and, for the fortunate ones, home again. Northern Character examines how these good and moral men of character interacted with common soldiers and faced battle, reacted to seeing the South and real southerners, and approached race, Reconstruction, and Reconciliation.

Excerpt

Edward Waldo Emerson, in commemorating Harvard graduate Charles Russell Lowell, killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864, explained, “He fought because the war was of a character which left no choice to a man of his condition.” The young men who answered President Lincoln’s call, Emerson maintained, did not volunteer for “mere adventure or glory-seeking.” Rather, they rose to defend “the free institutions” of the republic “from wreck.”

In Elizabeth A. Dwight’s introduction to the letters of her son Wilder, she praised his “character,” claiming that it “developed early” and included his “love of right and aversion to wrong.” Dwight, like Lowell, graduated from Harvard and also died in the war, although death found him at Antietam in 1862. Discussing her son’s generation, Dwight declared that these “true patriots and soldiers” responded when “their country’s life was in danger,” giving “themselves body and soul to her service, thus ‘doing,’ as has been justly said, ‘the highest duty man can do,’ and alas! too early ‘dying,’ some of them, ‘the best death man can die.’” A cynical reader might find the words of these editors and grieving relatives hyperbolic and disingenuous. But these commemorations accurately reflect how many young men of privilege expressed their intentions when they volunteered in the war. Because of the cultural forces at work in American society at the time, and especially among the circle of professional-class individuals, these young men felt compelled to respond to the dictates of proper behavior as honorable northerners living in a world that desperately needed their leadership.

An intellectual and social history of college-educated northerners who came of age in the 1850s and fought in the American Civil War reveals a world animated by gentlemanly codes of conduct and visions of an ever-expanding, free labor–based republic. In this world, the word “character” implied a whole of host of traits, which served to motivate men to fight but also held the seeds for . . .

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.