I thought I would kick off National Poetry Month with short Walt Whitman poem on the first days of the Civil War. Whitman’s Civil War poems are a favorite of mine; his haunting verse shows a dismay of the senseless killing, but also a pride in the unification work he saw Abraham Lincoln doing.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.
Expect more posts on poetry in the days/weeks to come.
Apparently some got to the blog by searching “civil war caused by calvinism vs arminianism.” Now, if for some reason someone was taught the American Civil War was caused because of the Calvinist and Arminian debate, they need to read a bit of history (I highly recommend this book review by a highly esteemed blogger). But, if there was some other civil war caused by Calvinists and Arminians, then I would really like know about it. It sounds intriguing.
Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion; Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 265 pp.
Gospel of Disunion by Mitchell Snay provides an analysis of Southern religion, identifying it as a key factor in Confederate nationalism and eventual secession. Snay is a good writer and researcher who does an excellent job in wading through all of the sources in order to come to the conclusion that religion and secession go hand in hand.
The importance of religion in the antebellum South, as well as the whole of the country, cannot be overstated. Religion played a significant role in virtually everyone’s life, even those who were not religious themselves were affected by Christianity. The prominence of religion in law, politics, and culture transformed the sectional conflict into a moral conflict with nothing less than orthodoxy being at stake.
According to Snay, religion is essential “in order to understand the origins and nature of Southern separatism” (Snay, 3). The work seeks to “Foster a better understanding of the intellectual origins of Southern nationalism, the coming of the Civil War, and the dynamic relationship between religion and politics in American history,” (i).
Proving his case, the author points to three lines of evidence which show the importance of religion in understanding the secessionist movement. First, that religion was central to the culture and society of the pre-war South. Second, that the sectional controversy had a “strongly religious character” (4). The attacks of the North against the South were not merely theological disputes amongst academics, but rather assaults against the moral and religious fiber of Southern society. Finally, “religion played a major role in the formation of Southern national identity” (5). To the Southerner, being Southern was synonymous with being Christian, a very particular brand of Christian at that. Similar to how the early republic was formed by religion, so was the South, especially in opposition to what they viewed as the creeping Northern liberalism and unitarianism.
James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge; Perspectives on the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 260pp.
James McPherson’s This Mighty Scourge is a set of sixteen essays dealing with the origins and repercussions of the Civil War. It is an ambitious work that seeks to give the reader an understanding of why the country went to war, how the Union won and what the ramifications were of such massive bloodshed. McPherson is widely regarded as the premiere Civil War historian of the time and this book proves why. Not only does the work capture the big picture issues of the war, but it does so in an engaging way that will be appreciated by academics and non-academics.
McPherson’s aims in this book are as broad as the Civil War itself. What started the war? What did each side want? What were their respective strategies? How did the leadership hinder or help? Was the war worth the tremendous sacrifice? What impact did the war produce, both nationally and sectionally? How will subsequent generations remember this conflict? He attempts to not only answer these questions, but to force the readers to answer for themselves.
The book is part social history, military history, political history and biography. Since the largest and seemingly most important questions deal with the causes and repercussions of the war, the social history method tends to overwhelm the others. The heart of the book is not an account of dates, battles and great generals, although he does deal with the latter two. The “Great Man” method is only occasionally used; rather, McPherson uses what could be termed the “Common Man” method. More space is devoted to Jesse James, Harriet Tubman, the Brahmins of Boston and the common soldier than most other subjects. Through these historical characters the larger picture of the war is shown.
While it may be widely believed the Confederacy was a unified whole, every man, woman and child believing in the cause and willing to die for it, the reality was far from that. At the beginning of the war there may have been a general feeling of patriotism and perhaps even nationalism, not every Southerner was willing to put their own life on the line for something many believed to be a planter class cause. This divide, seen on a large scale in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, began to grow as the years went on, spreading to a good portion of the yeoman and some of the elite women.
For all women, no matter the class, the war brought little but hardship and heart ache. While they may have been willing to send their husbands and sons off to fight at the beginning, as the war progressed and the cruelties became more apparent, this naiveté soon wore off. Husbands, who were responsible for much of the work in the fields, were absent; the fields often went unplowed and were soon overrun with weeds. Bills piled up, creditors began visiting more frequently, and soon many yeoman women were evicted from their farms. “Especelly [sic] for the sake of suffering women and children,” wrote one woman to her governor, “do try and stop this cruel war,” (Edwards, 85). This summed up many women’s feelings.
(This is part 2 of 3, go here for part 1)
The slaveholding women were not the only ones in the Southern states who had strict standards of womanhood. For the yeoman white woman similar standards still held, although with a greater degree of mobility. Religion played an important role in this area, with congregations being exhorted to “watch over one anothers actions” (Edwards, 43). Those women who did not conform to the standard were brought before the people for church discipline. Women were charged with adultery, desertion, gossiping or quarreling with their husbands, but that did not always hold the same stigma it did for the planter class. Many yeoman women were so respected in their communities that even the charge of adultery was soon forgotten. The system, however, was much the same as in the upper classes, whereby the women “affirmed the basic principle of women’s subordination to men,” by appealing to the men for the respect they had earned (Edwards, 45).
Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Laura F. Edwards presents a view of Southern life for women of varying ages, social classes and races. She sheds light on the incredible hardships, repression, racism and outright aggression that women faced during some of the most troubling times in our country’s history. Edwards looks at how planter class women paid a high price for the privilege their station enjoyed. She examines life, both legal and economic, for yeoman white and free black women and how that influenced their views on the war and the Confederacy. She also shows how the war changed the lives of women of all classes, free and slave.
Decentralized national governments, searching for untested solutions to unprecedented challenges, would continue to rely on the volunteer enthusiasms of its citizens to offset improvised and disorganized military and political bureaucracies. Whichever side could mobilize and sustain that spirit more efficiently would gain the advantage. Yet both sides quickly learned that Mars is a harsh God, a devourer of youthful idealism. As Americans in a divided nation marched behind their respective flags, both literally and figuratively, they lost the innocent romanticism that had propelled so many of them into the conflict. After more than a year of fighting that promised no end, and in the face of the war’s overwhelming human suffering, they developed a ruthless stoicism, so savage and so deep that it would harden them forever.
Fellman, Gordon, and Sutherland This Terrible War, 145
This weekend marks the 146th anniversary of the battle at Wilson’s Creek (more properly called Wilson Creek), the second major battle of the Civil War as well as the first major battle in the west. Wilson Creek is only a few miles out of Springfield and a wonderful place to visit. When you walk in the fields, you can almost hear the gun and cannon fire. You can almost hear the ghosts of the nearly 1,000 dead soldiers. I remember standing at the base of Bloody Hill (so called for obvious reasons) and wondering what would propel a young kid to charge into certain death. Read more about the battle here and here.