Review: Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War (Civil War America)

by James Durney on June 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War (Civil War America)
edited by Joan Waugh and Gary W. Gallagher

warswithinawargallagherwaughProduct Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (May 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807832758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832752
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches

The Civil War generated a series of military questions that keep us busy almost 150 years after the action occurred.  This book is a series of essays not on those military questions but on social issues occurring during and after the war.  These essays provide a different view of the war; one that military history ignores but can expand our horizons.  Essays on Social History can be written for a select audience and be tedious or impossible to read.  This book contains both.  Additionally, a number of authors chose to display their ample vocabulary at the expense of readability and sentence construction.

Stephanie McCurry leads off with an excellent look at the war’s impact on poor Southern white women.  This is what Social History should be as she covers their entry into politics via petitions.  Not the easiest read but rewarding and thought provoking.

Gary W. Gallagher looks at Hollywood’s depicting the war.  An excellent writer, he knows this subject and provides an informative, interesting, readable piece.

Matthew Gallman looks at the USCT regiments at Olustee in a combination of social and military history.  This is the direction social history should consider.  He has combined looking at the men in these regiments with a good look at one of their major battles.

James Marten looks at the Soldier’s Homes in a very strong essay looks a charity as it was not as we see it.  Drew Gilpin Faust takes up the question of burying the Union dead and the impact it had on America.  These two essays make the reader look at America as it was from 1860 to 1920.  Again, this excellent social history is thought provoking and covers subject that military history ignores.

James McPherson contributes little in an essay on Lincoln and McClellan.  This is the shortest essay and contains nothing that has not been said elsewhere.  There are no insights nor is there anything new or different here.

I was unable to finish the essay on Walt Whitman.  Overly academic, it seemed pointless and boring.  The balance of the essays are readable and of varying interest.  I would have enjoyed Carol Reardon’s piece on Sherman more if I had not just read a book on the subject.

The 12 essays score as five winners, two losers and five fair to good.  This is a social history book and needs to be considered as such.  The more you like social history, the more you may like this book.

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