Review of Death and the Civil War

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that American Experience on PBS will be airing a documentary by Ric Burns (younger brother of filmmaker Ken Burns) entitled Death and the Civil War on Tuesday, September 18 at 8:00PM Eastern Time. The airing is timely, as it will be just after the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with the Battle of Antietam on September 17.

This film, based upon Drew Gilpin Faust’s landmark work This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008), illustrated how the Civil War changed how Americans on both sides of the conflict perceived death. Prior to the war, influenced by the religious revival of the Second Great Awakening, people believed in the concept of a “good death”, which involved dying at home, surrounded by loved ones, at peace and ready to go, and possibly and offering of last words to friends and family. This death was rooted in Christian tradition emerging in the nation through the early 19th century, where a new belief in a corporeal heaven, gained wide acceptance by the eve of war. This belief held that the deceased will gain a renewed body upon entering heaven and will reunite with loved ones who passed on before them, as well as the surviving relatives and friends when they die, with all living in everlasting peace and harmony with God.

As the war’s cruel reality shattered notions of a short, relatively bloodless conflict, Americans faced a new concept of death, as hundreds, and soon thousands, of young men were slaughtered in their prime, unable to enjoy the tranquility and dignity of a “good death”. Soldiers soon adapted to this changing circumstance and created the same conditions, in a modified fashion, for their dying comrades. The men were surrounded by photographs of loved ones, their army friends, and were able, when possible, die in relative peace. The deceased’s comrades also took on the unenviable task of notifying loved ones of the demise of the soldier, as well as arranging for shipment of effects and, if able, the body.

This documentary did an outstanding job of analyzing the harsh situation facing the nation in the early years of the war, that stands in stark contrast to how our nation treats the war dead today. Before and during the early years of the war, the federal government did not bear responsibility for identifying, accounting for, and treating its war dead. The result was that many dead were not identified initially, being buried in graves marked “Unknown”. Further, the government had no way of effective notification of casualties, with relatives relying upon the casualty reports in local papers, which could be inaccurate, creating increased anxiety among people as to the fate of their loved one serving, whether they were dead or not. Death was exacerbated by the lack of an ambulance corps, preventing early evacuation of wounded, which caused many to linger on the battlefield, dying of their wounds, without the comfort of the “good death”.

The film revolved around several themes: dying, burial, emotions around death, memorializing, identifying, and slavery. Each of these themes was well treated. Slavery was quite interesting, as the African-American experience with death was quite different through the horrors of slavery, which created a higher mortality possibility for them than whites. They created their own concept of the “good death”, which involved dying in the struggle for freedom. What was interesting to consider was that the historians involved in the film argued that contraband camps, where escaped slaves were initially housed, represented one of the first American examples of refugee camps, where conditions were quite harsh and fostered a higher mortality.

Beyond the overall content of the documentary, there were several things that stood out for me in this piece. One was the early mention of the casualty figure of 750,000, which is based upon new research that appeared in the journal Civil War History (December 2011), that is still gaining acceptance in the scholarly community and will take years to gain full recognition. The use of the figure will go far in terms of generating wider acceptance of the new calculations of just how many died in the war.

In addition to the use of new casualty figures, the story of 19th century methods of embalming and the role photographers played in bringing the savagery of death on the battlefield to Americans’ homes. Further, commemorating the dead, both through establishing national cemeteries and creating Memorial Day (on both sides of the Mason-Dixon) was an important subject. It was quite interesting to consider that without the Civil War, we likely would not have the system of national cemeteries, let alone an accounting of our war dead, at least as we know it. The story of Charleston blacks burying deceased Union POW’s from the racetrack prison camp and leading a commemoration ceremony and parade with Union forces in early May 1865 represented one of the earliest occurrences of what we know as Memorial Day.

With an all-star cast of historians and commentators, including Drew Gilpin Faust, Vincent Brown, David W. Blight, and George Will among others, Ric Burns has crafted a masterful documentary in the vein of his brother’s The Civil War. It combines the use of photographs, filmed scenes, and stirring narration, including powerful and emotional examples from the primary sources of the war, the writings of the people experiencing the war themselves. While Faust’s book is an important read and I urge everyone to read it, Death and the Civil War is a must-see documentary that illustrates the transformative effect of the war on our nation in the midst of its 150th anniversary.

The Great Powers and the American Civil War: A Select Bibliography

 The Great Powers and the American Civil War
A Select Bibliography

Compiled by
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota

The following list of books is valuable for studying the foreign affairs of the Great Powers of Europe before and during the American Civil War.  It also contains diplomatic and other studies dealing with Union and Confederate foreign relations during the conflict.

Adams, Ephraim Douglass. Great Britain and the American Civil War. 2 volumes. New York: Russell and Russell, 1925.

Bartlett, C.J. Defense and Diplomacy: Britain and the Great Powers, 1815-1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991.

__________. Peace, War and the European Powers, 1814-1914. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Baumgart, Winfried. The Crimean War, 1853-1856. London: Arnold, 1999.

__________. The Peace of Paris, 1856: Studies in War, Diplomacy, and Peacemaking. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1981.

Berwanger, Eugene H. The British Foreign Service and the American Civil War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Blumberg, Arnold. A Carefully Planned Accident: The Italian War of 1859. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1990.

Boaz, Thomas. Guns for Cotton: England Arms the Confederacy. Shippensburg: Burd Street Press, 1996.

Bourne, Kenneth. Britain and the Balance of Power in North America, 1815-1908. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1967.

Bowen, Wayne H. Spain and the American Civil War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011.

Bridge, F.R. and Roger Bullen. The Great Powers and the European States System, 1814-1914. Second edition. Harlow: Pearson/Longman, 2005.

Brown, David. Warrior to Dreadnought: Warship Development, 1860-1905. London: Chatham, 1997.

Brown, David. Palmerston: A Biography. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Callahan, James M. Diplomatic History of the Southern Confederacy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1901.

Carroll, Daniel B. Henri Mercier and the American Civil War. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Case, Lynn M. and Warren F. Spencer. The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1970.

Chamberlain, Muriel E. British Foreign Policy in the Age of Palmerston. London: Longman, 1980.

__________. “Pax Britannica”? British Foreign Policy, 1789-1914. London: Longman, 1988.

Coppa, Frank J. The Italian Wars of Independence. London: Longman, 1992.

Courtemanche, Regis A. No Need for Glory: The British Navy in American Waters, 1860-1864. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1977.

Crook, David Paul. Diplomacy during the American Civil War. New York: John Wiley, 1975.

__________. The North, the South, and the Great Powers, 1861-1865. New York: Wiley, 1974.

Cross, Coy F., II. Lincoln’s Man in Liverpool: Consul Dudley and the Legal Battle to Stop Confederate Warships. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007.

Cunningham, Michele. Mexico and the Foreign Policy of Napoleon III. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

Ferris, Norman B. Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward’s Foreign Policy, 1861. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.

__________. The Trent Affair: A Diplomatic Crisis. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977.

Fuller, Howard J. Clad in Iron: The American Civil War and the Challenges of British Naval Power. Westport: Praeger, 2008.

Goldfrank, David M. The Origins of the Crimean War. London: Longman, 1994.

Hanna, Alfred J. and Kathryn A. Hanna. Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

Hamilton, C.I. Anglo-French Naval Rivalry, 1840-1870. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Hubbard, Charles M. The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Jenkins, Brian. Britain and the War for the Union. 2 volumes. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974-80.

Jones, Howard. Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

__________. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

__________. Union in Peril: The Crisis over British Intervention in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Lambert, Andrew. Battleships in Transition: The Creation of the Steam Battlefleet, 1815-1860. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984.

__________. The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy against Russia, 1853-56. Second edition. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.

Lester, Richard I. Confederate Finance and Purchasing in Great Britain. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.

Mahin, Dean B. One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the American Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1999.

Matzke, Rebecca Berens. Deterrence through Strength: British Naval Power and Foreign Policy under Pax Britannica. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.

May, Robert E., editor. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1995. Essays by Howard Jones, R.J.M. Blackett, Thomas Schoonover, and James M. McPherson.

McMillan, James F. Napoleon III. London: Longman, 1991.

McPherson, James M. War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Merli, Frank J. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 1861-1865. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

__________. The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Myers, Phillip E. Caution and Cooperation: The American Civil War in British-American Relations. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2008.

Mosse, W.E. The Rise and Fall of the Crimean System, 1855-1871: The Story of a Peace Settlement. London: Macmillan, 1963.

Owsley, Frank L. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931. Second edition published in 1959.

Partridge, Michael S. Military Planning for the Defense of the United Kingdom, 1814-1870. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Rich, Norman. Great Power Diplomacy, 1914-1914. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Price, Roger. Napoleon III and the Second Empire. London: Routledge, 1997.

Ropp, Theodore. “The Navy of Napoleon III. Chapter in The Development of a Modern Navy: French Naval Policy, 1871-1904. Edited by Stephen S. Roberts. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

Saul, Norman E. Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763-1867. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1991.

Schneid, Frederick. The Second War of Italian Unification, 1859-61. Botley: Osprey, 2012.

Sexton, Jay. Debtor Diplomacy: Finance and American Foreign Relations in the Civil War Era, 1837-1873. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.

Spencer, Warren F. The Confederate Navy in Europe. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1983.

Sondhaus, Lawrence. Naval Warfare, 1815-1914. London: Routledge, 2001.

Surdam, David G. Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Tucker, Spencer C. Blue and Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006.

Van Deusen, Glyndon G. William Henry Seward. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967

Wise, Stephen R. Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running during the Civil War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Infographic on the battles of the Civil War

Civil War Trust put together an interesting and fairly well-done infographic that they are making available to post on websites. I thought I would share it here for your use.


Civil War Trust - Battles of the Civil War

Brought to you by The Civil War Trust

Lecture opportunity at Carlisle, PA

Ethan Rafuse, professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and blogger at Civil Warriors is delivering a lecture as part of the 44th Annual Lecture Series “Perspectives in Military History.” The lecture is entitled “We Always Understood Each Other So Well:  McClellan, Lee and the War in the East.” If you are in the area of Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania on July 18, I urge you to take in his lecture.

Webinar on the Seven Days Battles

Today (Saturday, June 16), from 9am-noon (since it is in Massachusetts, I am assuming it is Eastern Time) the American College of History and Legal Studies will be live-streaming a round table discussion on the Seven Days Battles. It will be led by our founding dean, Civil War Historian and Pulitzer prize nominee Michael Chesson.

You can either check it out via this link, or through the embed provided below.

http://www.ustream.tv/embed/11285871
Streaming Live by Ustream

Below is to participate in the chat:

http://www.ustream.tv/socialstream/11285871

More information is available here.

Apologies on the short notice, but I did not find out about this until two days ago and have been busy packing and traveling to Illinois to visit my folks, but I hope some of you are able to take in this interesting event.

Material culture and Civil War soldiers

In light of Den Bolda’s great inaugural post on Union uniform coats, I thought I would share a paper I wrote for a class I took on material culture a couple years ago that dealt with Civil War soldiers. Being involved in reenacting since then, I have a greater appreciation for the objects and materials that constituted a soldier’s life and person during the war. On Friday, I head to Fort Sisseton for their history festival, so I will be absent from the blog for the weekend, but will post soon after I return on the fun of the weekend.

Yankee Uniforms

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Civil War soldiers are commonly thought to wear blue or gray, for North and South; however that was not always the case, especially in the beginning of the war.  Although many Northern militia units wore gray uniforms early in the war, a variety of uniforms were issued by federal and state governments.  Generally, the federal government issued three standard types of uniform jackets.  Those would be the frock coat, shell jacket, and the sack coat.  There are too many exceptions to include in this brief introduction, so please know that the information provided here is very basic.  This thread will cover a fraction of the uniforms worn by Union soldiers.

The federal frock coat was primarily issued to soldiers in the infantry and heavy artillery.  The frock coat has nine buttons down the front, two on the back and two on each sleeve. They had piping on the collar and cuffs which identified the soldier’s job.  Red piping meant that the soldier was in the artillery, while light blue piping (shown below)  meant that the soldier was in the infantry.  The frock coat was the fanciest coat that a Union soldier might be issued.  It was considered to be a dress or parade jacket.  The frock coat was quilted on the front inside lining.  The quilting added weight and bulk to add to the soldier’s prestige.  Unfortunately, it also added heat on hot Southern days.  It had one inside pocket and two pockets in the tail.

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The shell jacket was usually issued to mounted troops, or troops who rode horses.  This meant that cavalry and artillery soldiers wore this.  Just like the frock coat, it had nine buttons and had trim that identified the soldier’s occupation.  The soldier was an artilleryman if the shell jacket had red piping, but the trim would be yellow if he was a cavalry trooper .  These jackets were shorter than the frock coat because they were more comfortable to wear when riding a horse.  The jacket was quilted on the inside front lining.  Also, the shell jacket had two small “pillows” on the back which are very useful for keeping the army service belt in place!  It had one inside pocket.

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The final jacket mentioned above is the sack coat.  This jacket was made to be a fatigue blouse, or a work jacket.  It was not glamorous in any way.  It was shapeless and made of thin material.  Although almost all Union jackets were made of heavy wool, the sack coat was made of much lighter wool.  This jacket was supposed to be used by the troops when they were on fatigue duty.  By the end of the war the sack coat was used by Union infantry, cavalry, and artillery on all occasions.  It became the standard Union army coat.  The sack coat did not have any kind of color trim and only used four buttons.  It was usually lined with wool flannel or cotton.  It had one inside pocket.

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One addition that I would like to mention is the state jacket.  Many Northern states produced uniforms at their own expense.  The state jackets varied in design from state to state but they were all very similar.  Many people identify the state jacket with New York, but Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and other states also distributed these jackets.  Although they were very common earlier in the war, photographic evidence has shown several examples in service later on.  State jackets did not have piping but were usually of high quality.  They were made short like a shell jacket, so that they could be issued to mounted and foot soldiers indiscriminately.  They were almost always quilted and lined with one inside pocket.  State jackets sometimes had shoulder straps.  Image