Letters to the Editor
Al Nofi’s Knapsack
by Al Nofi
Al Nofi’s Knapsack is a regular column in North & South that features vignettes and other reminiscences of the late War Between the States. In this issue, Al discusses topics ranging from the use of desiccated vegetables in the Union Army, to Stonewall Jackson’s bungled drill just after graduating from West Point in 1846, to luck in war to the Civil War as a young man’s fight.
Do You Know?
When Metal Meets Mettle: The Hard Realities of Civil War Soldiering
by Stephen Berry
Stephen Barry, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, writes about both how soldiers dealt with their sudden hardships as soldiers (their “mettle”) and also what happened after soldiers had been wounded (by “metal”). Berry relates the transformation of many men from normal human beings into hardened pieces of iron, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many men were afraid of going back into civilian life, declaring themselves unworthy of their loved ones. Despite all of the difficulties in dealing with hard marches, bad food, and boredom, however, nothing compared to being wounded. The author describes the ordeal many wounded men had to endure, especially when placed in the hands of the enemy. Many times, men had to help themselves in order to be saved. The experiences of Andrew Roy was particularly noteworthy. Over the course of 30 years, Roy had pieces of necrotic hip bone pulled from the wound he suffered during the Peninsula Campaign. In other words, the experiences of these soldiers, for good and for bad, stayed with them for the rest of their lives.
Civil War Society News
Johnny Reb, Billy Yank, and Betty Sue
by Thomas P. Lowry
Thomas P. Lowry, author of The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War, talks about exactly that in this article. Dr. Lowry and his wife have compiled a large database of Civil War court martials, and a lot of the material listed here comes from those trials. Dr. Lowry presents “this material under seven general headings: prostitution, venereal disease, onanism, passionate love letters, commercial pornography, rape, and homosexuality.”
Civil War Round Tables
“Like a Handle on a Jug”: Union Soldiers and Abraham Lincoln
by Chandra Miller Manning
Chandra Miller Manning explores the strong bond between President Lincoln and the common soldiers through four long years of war. According to Ida Tarbull and William Davis, the typical fighting man liked Lincoln for two main reasons. First, Lincoln seemed to genuinely care for the common soldier. Second, Lincoln allowed anyone who wished to approach him to air their grievances while also visiting the soldiers in the field. Manning says these two reasons are insufficient to fully explain the bond. She continues, saying soldiers were partial to the President because he did not “take on airs” and was a humble man. His “careworn” looks also appealed to them because they could see he had suffered and was suffering as they were. Manning maintains that the soldiers realized long before regular citizens that slavery needed to be abolished, and that this needed to be one of the Union war aims. Some Union soldiers, especially those who disliked emancipation, preferred McClellan in the election of 1864. Black soldiers almost unanimously rejected McClellan, but they were “wary of Lincoln because he had followed what they viewed as a tardy and sluggish route to abolishing slavery.” Despite some negative feelings, the vast majority of troops “disdained” McClellan’s presidential bid. They embraced Lincoln because his “platform matched the vision of the war for soldiers had sacrificed years, limbs, and even lives.” Soldiers believed they were not just fighting for their country, but to sustain the “experiment of popular government” and provide hope for freedom around the world. Northern soldiers grew to believe that slavery was the point of contention most responsible for the start of the war, a belief they saw that Lincoln shared. Further, they saw that a country dedicated to freedom needed to free all people then residing there in order to truly pursue freedom for all. The soldiers believed that emancipation would bring an end to the war much more quickly than otherwise. In addition, ending slavery would improve the Union in the postwar years. Manning explores soldiers’ changing attitudes on slavery as men grew more and more determined to eradicate it forever. Northern soldiers began to see slavery as a stain not only on the south but upon the whole country as the war progressed. In the end, the soldiers believed Lincoln shared their views on the war, even when their own families in some cases did not. When Lincoln was assassinated, writes Manning, the “grief-stricken response” of the soldiers was overwhelming. Lincoln and these men shared not only emotional bonds, according to the author, but ideological ones as well.
Refusing to Fight: The Breakdown of Combat Morale in the Civil War
by Earl J. Hess
Most soldiers who volunteered were brave enough men, says Earl Hess, but “a minority of Civil War soldiers hesitated to give fully of themselves on the battlefield. Hess describes three types of refusing to fight. First, and most common, individual soldiers could fail to do their duty and run away. Second, units ordered into dangerous situations might do just enough to make their commander believe they were following orders in good faith. Third, and most rare, entire units would refuse to move forward. In this article, Hess presents instances where units either refused to fight, or decided to advance anyway after being given the choice of refusal. These instances included the refusal of the 17th Maine to obey a staff officer’s orders to move forward on May 10, 1864 during the Battles for Spotsylvania Courthouse; the 72nd Pennsylvania’s refusal to move after a direct order from brigade commander Alexander Webb at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge; the decision of the 20th Massachusetts to obey suicidal orders from James Wadsworth, a division commander from another corps during the Battle of the Wilderness; the refusal to fight by large groups of men in several southern brigades on May 3, 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville; and the sever effects of the Overland Campaign on the Union II Corps. Hess concludes that no matter how dedicated men were to their cause, there sometimes occurred situations where they were unwilling to give the amount asked of them. In many of these situations, the commanders of units who failed to do their whole duty were not reprimanded in official reports. These leaders believed their men would do their duty the next time around. Hess says that the common men had “surprisingly many opportunities to decide for themselves how far they could execute an order to perform perilous duty, and they often got away with a great deal in the process.”
BioFile: The “Bomb Brothers” of the Confederacy
contributed by Chuck Lyons
Gabriel and George Rains were called the “Bomb Brothers” of the Confederacy. Both men were West Pointers, though the elder brother Gabriel graduated quite a few years earlier than his younger sibling George. George Rains was assigned to the Confederate Ordnance Department and charged with the task of obtaining crucial gunpowder for the Confederate cause. George established a gunpowder manufacturing plant in Augusta, Georgia, and by war’s end George Rains had helped produce around 2.75 million pounds of gunpowder for the Confederacy. In addition, the younger Rains was placed in command of all the troops in and around Augusta. Gabriel Rains initially commanded a brigade of infantry during the Peninsula Campaign, and he planted torpedoes in the road to greatly slow a Union pursuit. This turned out to be an extremely controversial action, one which was eventually approved by the Confederate government. In late 1862, the elder Rains was placed in charge of the Confederacy’s Volunteer and Conscription Bureau. In the summer of 1864, he assumed command of the Torpedo Bureau and again planted his land mines, this time along approaches to major Confederate cities then being attacked by northern forces. Rains also invented “spar” torpedoes and mines that were meant to look like lumps of coal.
“His Eyes Indicated Wildness and Fear”: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Civil War Soldier and Veteran
by Eric T. Dean, Jr.
Eric Dean explores instances of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during the Civil War. PTSD wasn’t even known or diagnosed until the Vietnam War, and some psychiatrists and psychologists argues that this disorder was unique to Vietnam. Using the terminology of PTSD, Dean examines many cases of Civil War veterans that fit the diagnosis. Some of the typical symptoms one sees in a person suffering from PTSD include fear, flashbacks, intrusive recollections, survivor guilt, ideas of being “tainted by sin”, and cognitive disorders. Dean asks, “to what extent did these problems result from military service itself?” He concludes that military service was the primary reason for these symptoms. Apparently soldiers suffering from PTSD were treated with sympathy and “regarded as medical patients.” Dean closes the article by discussing the emergence of military psychiatry and “manpower preservation.”
Spotlight: The Strange Case of Thomas Drayton
by Mark H. Dunkelman
Thomas Drayton enlisted in the 154th New York in June 1864, but due to some very strange circumstances, neither he nor his companion Harvey Holt served a day with their regiment. Drayton’s experience came to light as a result of his efforts to obtain a pension after the war.
Battlelines & Headlines: The Debate Over “Negro Soldiers”
by Andrew S. Coopersmith
Andrew Coopersmith uses the newspapers of the day, both North and South, to discuss the suitability of blacks becoming soldiers. Southerners generally thought that blacks were too lazy or dimwitted to fight, and many in the North believed blacks would not enlist either. Northern Democrats especially joined in the chorus, saying blacks would not fight. After several African-American regiments proved blacks could and would fight, many white newspapers, especially northern Republican newspapers, greatly changed their tune. Eventually some Confederates relented as well, and some even suggested that they arm their slaves, especially in the Mississippi Valley. Despite all of this, Coopersmith says, their persisted a view in newspapers both North and South that blacks were inferior to whites. Black troops who had gone to war hoping to change the view of the average white man regarding their equality were bound to be disappointed in the aftermath of the war. Prejudices die hard.
Rather than book reviews, in this issue North & South asks a group of historians to list their five favorite books on Civil War soldiers.