Friday, January 30, 2009

This Republic of Suffering - by Drew Gilpin Faust

This Republic of Suffering - Death and the American Civil War
by Drew Gilpin Faust
Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, 2008
ISBN 9780375703836

The Republic of Suffering was chosen by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2008. Written by Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard, this book examines the ways in which Civil War deaths had an impact on society, both military and civilian.

A most startling statistic is cited in the opening pages of this book:

"The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865 [in the American Civil War], an estimated 620,000 is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. . . . A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities." And "Twice as many Civil War soldiers died of disease as of battle wounds."

The problem of how to deal with the dead was of particular importance in Fredericksburg. Betty Herndon Maury writes of a New York soldier being buried by the kitchen door of her cousin John Minor's house; and there are other local legends of soldiers buried in the yards of Fredericksburg homes.

Many of these dead were later reinterred in cemeteries devoted to Civil War soldiers. Confederate and Union soldiers were segregated in death. While the federal government organized national cemeteries for the Union soldiers, Confederate cemeteries were organized by Ladies Memorial Associations, including the one in Fredericksburg which still exists today. These ladies' groups also arranged monuments to the Confederate dead, such as the huge stone pyramid in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery and a similar pyramid near Fredericksburg, placed so as to be visible to train passengers.

To those who have never visited a Civil War cemetery with rows upon rows of graves marked “Unknown”, it might be surprising that the effort to identify and record the names of the battle dead is of relatively recent origin. One can only imagine the agony of not knowing the fate of a husband, son, brother, not knowing where a loved one is buried.

The new art of photography brought forward images of death on the battlefield, projecting the reality of war in a way never before known. Many of these disturbing images are reproduced on the pages of this book, disturbing even to 21st century readers hardened by television images of the death and destruction of war.

This Republic of Suffering is a profoundly moving book, bringing focus to an aspect of The War of Rebellion/The War Between the States that has been neglected or glossed over. It brings to mind the song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" which would have been popular when Dr. Faust was of college age. How fitting that a woman of the generation which came of age during the Vietnam war and the concurrent protests should write such a tribute to the experiences of those who endured the American Civil War.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Virginia at War - 1862

Virginia at War - 1862
edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr.
ISBN 978-0-8131-2428-5
2007, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington

Of particular interest to me in this book, the second in a series of five volumes, is the Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War, January - July 1862, the diary of Judith Brockenbrough McGuire. Mrs. McGuire was 49 years old at the time she was writing, married, and the step-mother of two daughters. Her experiences will thus match up more closely with those of Betty Herndon Maury than do those of the diaries of the girls studied in Confederate Daughters.

The book contains the following:
  • Preface by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson, Jr.
  • Land Operations in Virginia in 1862 by John S. Salmon
  • Virginia's Industry and the Conduct of War in 1862 by Harold S. Wilson
  • Virginia's Civilians at War in 1862 by John G. Selby
  • The Trials of Military Occupation by Thomas P. Lowry
  • Richmond, the Confederate Hospital City by David J. Coles
  • Virginians See Their War by Harold Holzer
  • Virginia's Troubled Interior by Brian Steel Wills
  • Lee Rebuilds His Army by Dennis E. Frye
  • Diary of a Southern Refugee during the War, January - July 1862: Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Edited by James I. Robertson, Jr.

Virginians See Their War is a fascinating study of the illustrated news coverage of the war, comparing southern periodicals with their northern competitors. Several illustrations show how the shortage of artists in the south resulted in illustrations of notable military and political figures based on old photographs which bore little resemblance to the subject's present day appearance. Robert E. Lee, remembered today for his white hair and beard, is depicted as a dark-haired beardless young man. There were shortages not only of artists, engravers and lithographers but also of paper.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Writing in Dialect

"One of the Best Loved, North and South"
The Appropriation of National Reconciliation by LaSalle Corbell Pickett
by Caroline E. Janney
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 116, No. 4, 2008,
pages 370-406

Continuing with the theme of the use of literature in image building, an article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 116, No. 4 for 2008 discusses the images of former slaves in post-war literature in an article about LaSalle Pickett. Mrs. Pickett published a short story, "In De Miz" in 1893, in which the speech of a former slave is written in the vernacular or dialect.

I have encountered other examples of the speech of former slaves being rendered in dialect, most notably, in my experience, in some of the novels of Ellen Glasgow. I find it to be difficult reading, as I must sound out many of the words in order to understand them. Ms. Janney suggests that "Tales written in dialect likewise suggested that African Americans remained at a primitive stage of development. . ." I had not thought of the issue in that light. I had assumed that reproducing the dialect was an effort to preserve speech patterns that might be disappearing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Confederate Daughters - The Role of Literature in Image Building

Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War
By Victoria E. Ott
Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 2008
ISBN 9780809328284

The role of literature in shaping first the image of the Confederacy and then later preserving that image is discussed in Chapter 5 of Confederate Daughters. Two novels are mentioned: Macaria, or Altars of Sacrifice (1864) by Augusta Jane Evans; and Cameron Hall by Mary Ann Cruse.

Reunification was promoted in some novels of the time by portraying marriages between northern men and southern women. One title with this theme that comes to mind (although not mentioned in Confederate Daughters) is The Carlyles by Constance Cary Harrison.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Confederate Daughters - Indoctrination

Confederate Daughters: Coming of Age during the Civil War
By Victoria E. Ott
Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 2008
ISBN 9780809328284

As I continue to read Confederate Daughters, I was fascinated by the discussion of the ways in which these girls were indoctrinated in the Confederate cause. Parents took an active role in educating their daughters in this regard. Churches defended secession and slavery. News of the war was provided at prayer meetings and other church gatherings. Schools engaged in promoting the causes of the Confederacy through classes using textbooks rewritten to reflect Confederate beliefs, assigned readings, and by equating the Confederate cause to the American revolution. The involvement of churches and schools in promoting a political cause seems unthinkable in today's world.