J. Matthew Gallman
Until fairly recently, histories of the American Civil War paid scant attention to social conditions on the Northern home front. The more comprehensive texts devoted a few paragraphs to New York City's draft riots and perhaps to the voluntary efforts of the United States Sanitary Commission, but then they quickly returned to the more familiar political events and economic conditions. Nineteenth-century social and urban historians traditionally gave the Civil War equally shabby treatment. Case studies spanning the 1860s often made only the barest nod toward the four years of carnage before turning to broader patterns of development. Those scholars who did focus on Northern home front topics did not seem engaged in the debates that framed broader historical discourse. Thus, works on women during the war did not necessarily speak to the emerging literature in women's history; wartime urban studies were cast in traditional city biography fashion. In 1989 Maris Vinovskis surveyed this terrain and asked a Journal of American History audience, "Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War?"
In truth, Vinovskis's essay was less a call to arms than a rallying cry. For a decade or more, graduate students trained in various facets of social history had begun turning their attention to the Civil War. Others, with broader chronological fish to fry, were asking how the Civil War affected their areas of interest. In 1990 Vinovskis brought some of this early work together in an edited collection, Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Exploratory Essays. More recently, these new findings have helped shape not only Civil War histories but other topical texts. The fourth edition of Howard P. Chudacoff and Judith E. Smith fine The Evolution of American Urban Society ( 1994) includes