Book of the Week


The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
by Earl J. Hess

Now available in paperback! "In one volume, Earl Hess has given readers as complete a study as can be found of this theater of battle."
--New York Journal of Books
~~~

Adam Wesley Dean: An Industrial North and an Agricultural South

dean_agrarian_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Adam Wesley Dean, author of An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era. The familiar story of the Civil War tells of a predominately agricultural South pitted against a rapidly industrializing North. However, Dean argues that the Republican Party’s political ideology was fundamentally agrarian. Believing that small farms owned by families for generations led to a model society, Republicans supported a northern agricultural ideal in opposition to southern plantation agriculture, which destroyed the land’s productivity, required constant western expansion, and produced an elite landed gentry hostile to the Union. Dean shows how agrarian republicanism shaped the debate over slavery’s expansion, spurred the creation of the Department of Agriculture and the passage of the Homestead Act, and laid the foundation for the development of the earliest nature parks.

In today’s post, Dean challenges the common historical misconception that the pre-Civil War North was comprised mainly of industrialized and urban populations, while the South was primarily an agricultural society. Dean argues that an accurate view of history will bring clarity to some of the motivations behind the Civil War.

###

Americans often feel comforted in the stories they hear about the past. A former professor of mine used to joke that some passionate visitors to Gettysburg Battlefield Park had memorized the familiar tales of action in the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top given by the park’s historians. One of these favorite stories is the old account of the coming of the Civil War. The narrative goes something like this: an agrarian South of farmers and planters sought to resist the coming of a modern industrial economy by seceding. Even as late as 2008, the Virginia Standards of Learning listed that one of the “cultural” reasons for why the war happened was that “the North was mainly an urban society in which people held jobs,” while the South “was primarily an agricultural society.”

The truth, of course, is much different. Of the North’s population, over 14.5 million lived in rural areas with a population of less than 2,500, while only 5 million lived in what any reasonable person could call an “urban society.” Roughly 60% of northerners worked on farms. Most farms were small, with the average varying between 113 and 169 acres in the states that stayed loyal to the union. The vast majority of historians and museums have long known these figures and their implications for understanding the war. Why, then, does the state board of education cling to the old story? Perhaps the public feels at ease in labeling the slave-holding Confederacy as something distant, something foreign, a relic of a bygone era, rather than a society in many ways just as capitalist and worldly as our own.

Even more critical, as my book An Agrarian Republic shows, if the public continues to understand the war as a conflict between an industrial North and an agricultural South, they cannot possibly understand the world that nineteenth-century Americans inhabited. Since most northerners were farmers, they carried the values and norms cultivated by this lifestyle into politics.

Such a phenomenon could be seen in one of the quintessential events that helped produce the Civil War—the Wilmot Proviso. After the flare-up over slavery’s expansion into Missouri in 1819 and 1820, the two major political parties in America tried hard not to talk about slavery anymore. It is doubtful that war would have happened without attempts at further expansion. But, under the administrations of John Tyler and James Polk, the United States did just that, annexing Texas and launching war of imperial acquisition against the Republic of Mexico. keep reading →

Gary W. Gallagher: Remembering Harry W. Pfanz as a Historian and Friend

We were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Harry W. Pfanz (1921–2015). He served ten years as a historian at Gettysburg National Military Park and retired from the position of Chief Historian of the National Park Service in 1981. He was also author of three major works on the battle of Gettysburg published by UNC Press, which are now available separately in print and together in an omnibus e-book. UNC Press published those works thanks in part to the guidance of series editor Gary W. Gallagher, who here shares with us this remembrance of their long professional and personal connection.

###

 
I have the fondest memories of working with Harry Pfanz in the very early period of developing a Civil War list at UNC Press. In the mid-1980s, Matthew Hodgson, who served as director of the Press from 1970 to 1992, had a number of discussions with me about how such a list might look. We agreed it should be expansive in scope, including books on military and nonmilitary aspects of the conflict and open to historians from inside and outside the academic world. Matt had extensive experience in commercial publishing before going to Chapel Hill and prophesied—correctly, as it turned out—that studies of battles and campaigns probably would sell better than any other titles. Harry’s eventual contributions to UNC Press’s Civil War America series underscored the prescience of Matt’s thinking.

Gettysburg--The Second Day, by Harry W. PfanzI told Matt in the fall of 1985 that Harry had a big manuscript devoted to part of the battle of Gettysburg. Impressed that Harry was chief historian of the National Park Service and had spent many years at Gettysburg National Military Park earlier in his career, Matt asked to see a sample chapter. Harry sent him one, prompting a very enthusiastic reply (Matt usually was not given to obvious enthusiasm). “I have read your chapter with considerable interest,” Matt wrote Harry in December 1985, “and would very much like to read your manuscript in its entirety.” Matt closed with an assurance that UNC Press “has committed itself to publishing (on a continuing basis) outstanding manuscripts on the Civil War and its leaders.”

Harry promptly delivered a narrative of more than 1,000 pages devoted to fighting on the southern end of the battlefield on July 2. After going through the entire text with great care, I assured Matt that it was as an absolute model of the genre that “quickly should take its place among the classic Civil War tactical studies.” I made the same point to Harry a bit later. He responded with his usual quiet modesty, expressing the hope that what he had written would please Matt and the Press. “It covers well known ground that has been scratched but not plowed,” he observed, adding with understatement: “The subject ought to have considerable appeal.”

Gettysburg--Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, by Harry W. PfanzGettysburg—The Second Day was published in December 1987 and became an instant success. It set a standard for tactical studies that few other historians, before or after, have equaled. The History Book Club made it a selection in March 1988, and reviewers praised the quality of Harry’s research, the clarity of his prose, and the soundness of his judgment. “Pfanz was relentless in tracking down every conceivable . . . document,” wrote one reviewer, and another described the book as “a dynamic yet beautifully disciplined piece of work.” keep reading →

Thomas J. Brown: Confederate Retweet

brown_civilWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Thomas J. Brown, author of Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina, which will be published this month. In this expansive history of South Carolina’s commemoration of the Civil War era, Brown uses the lens of place to examine the ways that landmarks of Confederate memory have helped white southerners negotiate their shifting political, social, and economic positions. By looking at prominent sites such as Fort Sumter, Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery, and the South Carolina statehouse, Brown reveals a dynamic pattern of contestation and change. He highlights transformations of gender norms and establishes a fresh perspective on race in Civil War remembrance by emphasizing the fluidity of racial identity within the politics of white supremacy.

In today’s post, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s March to the Sea, Brown will partner with the Historic Columbia Foundation for a “live tweet” event from 15 January to 20 February.

###

My research on South Carolina sites of Confederate memory for Civil War Canon has sharpened my interest in new ventures in public history. For the upcoming anniversary of the burning of Columbia (February 17), I am joining with the Historic Columbia Foundation (@HistColumbia) to “live tweet” Sherman’s March from January 15 to February 20 (#ShermansMarch). The sesquicentennial Twitter feed invites comparison with an ambitious centennial account of Sherman’s visit, the eighty-page commemorative issue published by the two daily newspapers then in Columbia. Both renditions of the oft-told tale propose to refresh the past by presenting history in media used for dissemination of current news. Both initiatives illuminate the relationship between forms of commemoration and implications of Civil War stories.

The February 1965 newspaper shared features with monuments, reliquaries, historic preservation projects, and other Confederate lieux de mémoire developed during the century after the war. The special issue played against the everyday discard of newspapers by seeking a lasting influence. A friend of mine who grew up in Columbia in the 1970s recalls that his grandmother kept her copy in the top drawer of the secretary bookcase in her living room. She would take it out annually on the anniversary of the fire and review the articles and illustrations with her grandson, recalling stories she had heard as a child in Columbia in the 1910s and 1920s and discussing local sites of memory that the two had visited together. This pattern followed rituals of remembrance associated with Lost Cause shrines. The newspaper purported to speak for the community. As in other commemorations, the forging of a collective voice was a negotiation. In this case, the prominence of corporate advertisements nudged the publication more toward pride in Columbia’s recovery than toward the claims of irreparable grievance that often characterized civic memory of Sherman.

Twitter is more similar to commemorative forms that have flourished since the mid-twentieth century. It appeals to commercialized recreation rather than ritualized reverence, much as the Confederate battle flag gained visibility through college sports and sustained influence through sales of t-shirts and beach towels. Enthusiasm for social media is part of the celebration of technology that has recently reshaped memory of the Hunley submarine. The concept of historical “live tweeting” resembles efforts of Civil War re-enactors to reproduce conditions of the past, such as the real-time unfolding of events, though my day-by-day chronicle does not pretend to offer the “period rush” some hobbyists find in simulation. keep reading →

Glenn David Brasher: Top 10 Events in Civil War History, 2014

Today we welcome another great year-end roundup of Civil War history-related events compiled by Glenn David Brasher, author of The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom.

###

A year’s end always brings multiple “Top Ten” lists. The community of Civil War enthusiasts often create lists of the best books. Last year for fun, I humbly offered my own ranking, which was not limited to books. Because of positive feedback, I’ve decided to do it again! Here in carefully considered descending order is my second annual top ten list of “events” in Civil War history.

10. 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture


Unfortunately, the so-called “Lost Cause” still lingers in our culture (an informal poll of my college students this semester revealed that 60 percent were taught some form of it in high school). Scholars have long abandoned the Cause’s major tenets (slavery was a benign institution that would have died without war, defense of slavery was not a fundamental motivator for secession, etc.), but sadly, the academic community’s influence is limited. Fortunately, however, in March 2014 the Lost Cause received a high-profile blow when director Steve McQueen’s brilliant 12 Years A Slave won the Academy Award for best picture. The win increases the cultural impact of a film that lays waste the “moonlight and magnolias” image of the antebellum South. keep reading →

All Civil War Books 40% off for the Holidays!

Save 40% on ALL books!

Save BIG on all Civil War books during our 40% off Holiday Sale! Just enter code 01HOLIDAY at checkout to receive your discount. And, if your order totals $75.00 or more, shipping is FREE.

Below are some great gift ideas. Browse our site to find more Civil War books for everyone on your holiday list. For guaranteed delivery by December 24, please order by December 7.

Note: Forthcoming books will be shipped as soon as they are published.

Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War, by Stephen Cushman A Gunner in Lee's Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter, edited by Graham T. Dozier The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom , by Glenn David Brasher With Malice Towards Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconstruction, by Caroline E. Janney summers_ordeal williams_stonewall prince_stories rubin_through mcwhirter_battle_PB