Voices in the Storm: Confederate Rhetoric, 1861-1865

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Voices in the Storm: Confederate Rhetoric, 1861-1865. By Karen E. Fritz. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, c. 1999. Pp. xvi, 173. $26.95, ISBN 1-57441-077-6.)

This book poses large and important questions about the ways in which Confederate "rhetoric"--the public speeches of politicians, generals, and ministers--shaped a meaning for the newly constructed Confederate States of America and, with the onset of war, how these speakers shaped an interpretation of the war from its start in 1861 through the shifting fortunes and defeats that culminated at Appomattox Court House in 1865. To accomplish such a large goal, Karen E. Fritz examines a sampling of especially public speeches, legislative addresses, and occasional sermons, especially Fast Day sermons. To interpret this body of data, Fritz employs the interdisciplinary tools of "rhetorical analysis," by which she means the application of literary analysis employed in speech and communications departments. Such analysis, the author claims, will reveal underlying patterns of meaning that have eluded scholars employing traditional methods of intellectual and cultural history.

Sometimes the fruits of rhetorical analysis are trivializing, as in "speech analysis indicates that the Civil War had a highly disruptive effect on the South" (p. 123). At other points Fritz shares important insights. Contrary to popular notions of southern oratory as pathetically emotional and backcountry, for example, Fritz describes a broad variety of rhetorical techniques that included the emotional, to be sure, but that often went beyond passions to ethical and rational appeals to the understanding. If this doesn't tell us anything that scholars like Drew Faust or George Rable showed through their conventional historical reconstructions, it does confirm their generalizations. By paying particular attention to the rhetorical categories of nature, slavery, honor, and the enemy, the author hopes to describe rhetorical change over time. …


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