The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers

By Steward, Rodney J. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers


Steward, Rodney J., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers * Edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean * Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007 * vi, 266 pp. * $40.00

Aaron Sheehan-Dean's The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers is an edited volume containing nine original essays that focus on varied aspects of sol- diers' experiences during the war. The book includes an introduction, nine essays with endnotes, an afterword penned by Joseph Glatthaar, and a selected bibliography. Scholarship on Civil War soldiers has evolved dramatically over the last fifty years. Bell Irvin Wiley's The Life of Johnny Reb and The Life of Billy Yank stand at the head of a long line of soldier studies that includes, among others, Gerald Linderman's Embattled Courage and Mark Grimsley's The Hard Hand of War. The View From the Ground enriches this tradition by emphasizing that soldiers on both sides of the conflict were independent actors whose interpretations of events and issues surrounding them gave shape and texture to the war and its outcome.

The introduction, which places the essays within the categorical context of studies dealing with identity, race, religion, and politics, stresses the importance of "the ways that soldiers identified themselves as Christians, as men, and in racial terms" (p. 3). The volume opens with Sheehan-Dean's survey of the literature on soldier studies and the steady evolution of the field. He points to innovations within the discipline, such as the rise of social history, and to how major historic events of the twentieth century have shaped historians' outlook as explanations for the increased number and mounting sophistication of studies of Civil War soldiers.

Chandra Manning's "A 'Vexed Question: White Union Soldiers on Slavery and Race" relies upon regimental newspapers to counter the perception that white Union soldiers initially refused ro fight for emancipation. Manning asserts that many Union soldiers came to support emancipation as a way of hastening the war's end. Lisa Laskin's essay '"The Army is Not Near So Much Demoralized as rhe Country Is': Soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia an the Confederate Home Front" examines soldiers' responses to flagging support for the cause of southern independence on the home front. …

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