Children and Youth during the Civil War Era

By Sizer, Lyde Cullen | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Children and Youth during the Civil War Era


Sizer, Lyde Cullen, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Children and Youth During the Civil War Era. Ed. by James Marten. (New York: New York University Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 270, bibliography, index. Paperback, $25.00.)

At the end of this slim volume of essays there is a list of questions for consideration, starting with this one: "How did the wartime experiences of children differ from the wartime experiences of adults? How did children perceive that their experiences differed from those of adults?" (p. 255) These are crucial questions, and the ways they are posed reveal the great strengths of this book and the book's intended audience: the expectation is that the reader knows a fair bit about the wartime experiences of adults. Without that prior knowledge, there would be little way to answer the first question. The second question, with its emphasis on perception, suggests that there was considerable overlap in the way(s) children and adults experienced the war and that the vantage point of each is crucial.

The volume is framed by two prominent historians of children: Steven Mintz and James Marten. In his foreword, Mintz reinforces a crucial thread in the book as a whole, the understanding of children as participants in the war's upheavals, rather than simple bystanders or victims. In a longer introduction Marten situates the war in the arc of family history in the Victorian period, arguing that the Civil War came at a crucial moment in the conceptualization of childhood, as a new form of family emerged, shaped more by affection and "centerfing] on the nurturing of children" (p. 5). Marten organized the volume into four roughly chronological parts: the first considering the political views of children and youth; the second the disruption to their daily lives; the third a close look at the ways children most affected, former slaves and children, became catalysts for larger struggles over the war's meaning; and the final part, a single essay, focusing on the ways white children were used as a part of the massive resistance to the Civil Rights movement in the South.

The range of approaches here is considerable. Rebecca de Schweinitz, for example, reveals "important connections between slavery and the rise of sentimental notions of childhood," (p. 14) by plumbing the literatures of both abolitionists and slavery's apologists, Elizabeth KueblerWolf uses popular images to analyze ideas about connections between black and white children under slavery, while Sean A. …

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