Academic journal article The Journal of the Civil War Era

Editor's Note

Academic journal article The Journal of the Civil War Era

Editor's Note

Article excerpt

The essays in this volume should inspire us to reconsider how we measure the changes wrought by the Civil War. Two pieces highlight how the postwar South remained littered with traps that ensnared freedpeople and poor whites in poverty and dependency. Confederate widows, too, were directed to new roles that looked a good deal like the old ones--although there were benefits to accepting them. We begin with an essay that suggests a new way to mark one critical change the war set in motion.

Mark Noll uncovers a robust criticism American Catholics offered of Protestants, whose focus on an individual relationship with and interpretation of the scriptures tore at the social fabric and propelled the country into civil war. By contrast, a Catholic approach to scripture, critics insisted, offered a "surer guide for the nation's future," because among other things, it was nurtured and guided by proper authority. This critique, launched in the Catholic press early in the war, put church spokesmen in a good position to exploit the chorus of postwar critics who sought to condemn Protestant fanaticism for nearly destroying the nation during the war. And, Noll suggests, this may in part account for the postwar move toward religious pluralism.

While the Catholic Church engaged in the work of critiquing the war's causes, Confederate widows were enlisted to the work of memorialization through a new type of condolence letter that came into wide usage during the war. "Notification letters," as Ashley Mays refers to them, were distinct in form and substance from condolence letters, for whereas the latter offered instruction about how widows should grieve, the former enlisted widows to the work of caretaking their husbands' memories. Both forms could comfort and coerce, at the same time, opening up new questions about what Drew Faust once described as a "uniformed sorority of grief." Did loss bring Confederate women together?

Erin Stewart Mauldin's essay examines catastrophic ecological changes underway in the postwar South and pinpoints their human causes. …

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