The Election of 1856 seems to get a lot less attention than those of 1860 and 1864, which is a shame, because there was a lot of interesting political maneuverings to study. This article, while written a bit too twee-ly for my tastes, is a good shallow dive into the Republican Party’s first nationwide showing.
After Republicans lost their first election in 1856, the nineteenth-century Nate Silvers were happy to declare the antislavery movement a radical, fringe idea. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln won on a radical program of change.
Source: Antislavery Wasn’t Mainstream, Until It Was
I blogged previously about the new Civil War museum in Richmond. It seems to have officially opened now, and the NYTimes has some reflections on it. I’m fascinated by museum design in general, and designing one in the current fraught historical climate is of particular interest.
The new American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Va., sits next to the James River in the historic Tredegar district, where slaves and immigrants once produced munitions for the Confederate Army. The product of a merger of the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy, the new museum seeks to tell an inclusive story of the war in hopes of dispelling some of the myths and misconceptions that still dominate popular understanding.
“This is a period of history that’s been so distorted for a variety of reasons,” the museum’s chief executive, Christy Coleman, told me, “where memory has taken over the actual history, and that collective memory is not historical in many cases.”
Modern scholarship on the American Civil War takes a broad view of the conflict, more interested in social, economic and political circumstances than battlefield tactics; more concerned with the perspectives of ordinary people — soldiers, civilians, Native Americans and enslaved people — than individual military leaders.
Source: Opinion | Undistorting the Civil War – The New York Times
As a historian, one of my favourite aspects of study is to see the ripples that one stone cast in the global pond can have. This article is an excellent little summary of how the American Civil War – fought entirely in the US and by American participants – became a force for change in Britain, India, Egypt and elsewhere.
Yet given all that attention, it is surprising that we have spent considerably less effort on understanding the war’s global implications, especially given how far-reaching they were: The war can easily be seen as one of the great watersheds of 19th-century global history. American cotton, the central raw material for all European economies (and also those of the northern states of the Union), suddenly disappeared from global markets. By the end of the war, even more consequentially, the world’s most important cotton cultivators, the enslaved workers of the American South, had attained their freedom, undermining one of the pillars on which the global economy had rested: slavery. The war thus amounted to a full-fledged crisis of global capitalism—and its resolution pointed to a fundamental reorganization of the world economy.
How Cotton Remade the World – Sven Beckert – POLITICO Magazine.
A new book deals with a subject I’ve been musing on lately: The effects of the war on the social life of postbellum America. Millions of men coming home – some with severe physical and emotional scars – to a world that was profoundly changed. This one sounds like a good read.
Jordan’s handling of civilian behavior toward Union veterans amounts to an unsparing indictment. Widespread callousness consigned former soldiers to “a living ‘republic of suffering.’ . . . Suspended between the dead and the living, the rest of their days were disturbed by memories of the war.” He allocates considerable attention to amputees and former prisoners of war. “Legions of men missing arms and legs,” he contends, posed a special problem for civilians because “throbbing stumps weeping a foul brew of pus and blood were hardly an advertisement for the kind of glorious, sanitized war the public wanted to remember.” Ex-prisoners suffered “enduring psychological injuries” and sought help from comrades who had shared their wartime nightmare. But “while ex-prisoner-of-war associations sustained prison survivors, they had scarcely moved the hearts and minds of the northern public. If anything, ex-prisoner meetings contributed to even greater public suspicion and scorn.” A reluctant nation did create a pension system (though many Americans came to view it “as a problem — not a paradigm”), and national and state soldiers’ homes assisted some of the poorest and least functional veterans.
Former soldiers offered one another empathy and help. They created the Grand Army of the Republic , the largest veterans’ organization and an increasingly powerful lobbying group, which Jordan describes as “one of the most significant social-welfare organizations of the nineteenth century.” They also wrote memoirs and unit histories, gathered at reunions, and erected monuments on battlefields and elsewhere — all to keep alive the memory of their sacrifice.
via Book review: Marching Home, by Brian Matthew Jordan – The Washington Post.
I’ve always been fascinated by the westward expansion after the war, though my focus was always on the Missouri guerrillas and how they laid the shaky foundations of the Wild West. The more sedate yet lasting effects regular immigrants caused hadn’t much occurred to me.
Among those profiled were James, William and Charles Conrad from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. James and wife, Maria, raised 13 children on Wapping Plantation, home to 11 slaves. James Conrad and sons William, 16, and Charles, 14, served the militia, in the boys’ case, with guerrillas.
They returned from the war to find their slaves freed and their plantation in ruins, unable to support the large family. William and Charles eventually moved to Fort Benton with a single silver dollar, according to family lore. They built a business empire on the frontier.
“Confederate veterans were in on discovery of most of the largest strikes,” Robison wrote. “Songs ‘Dixie’ and ‘Bonnie Blue Flag’ were on the ‘hit parade’ in the hurdy-gurdy dance halls of Virginia City, and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was cheered and celebrated on the streets. When ex-Confederate soldiers formed Gallatin Masonic Lodge No. 6 in October 1866, they refused admission to African-Americans, which was not surprising, but they also refused to admit whites who had fought for or supported the Union.”
via ‘Dixie’s loss is Montana’s gain’.
Somebody posted this image to Reddit last week, and as usual the userbase filled in some of the questions it inspired about Civil War deaths and mores. There are some well-read historians lurking on there amongst the jokers and the wags – this is a thread word reading.
durutticolumn comments on Godfor, a Gettysburg battlefield vulture. [1396×702].
I wrote earlier of the slaveocrats’ role in bringing about the war; it’s fascinating yet horrific to watch how they lured moderates into their scheme, but after this article it’s slightly easier to see how they did it. Newspapers at the time were not held to much in the way of journalistic standards, and the boom in printing meant any idiot who could afford a press could disseminate his views. Sadly, the general public then was probably as unquestioning as the average consumer today.
In pre-Civil War America, the dominant newspapers were based in New York: James Gordon Bennett’s Herald, Horace Greeley’s Tribune and Henry J. Raymond’s Times. However, as Brayton Harris points out in “Newspapers in the Civil War,” the invention and expanded use of the telegraph and a soaring literacy rate in the U.S. led to a quadrupling of active newspapers across the country between 1825 and 1860.
In Delaware, as the Civil War loomed, erupted and progressed, those seeking control of the political process allied with likeminded newspaper editors to expand and encourage their constituencies. These journals heralded partisan viewpoints on behalf of their political patrons.
via Civil War Profiles: Newspaper partisanship in Civil War Delaware | Coastal Point.
The Smithsonian article I posted previously mentioned a new book that sounds fascinating: A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War. The author has researched one badly mauled regiment to gauge how its veterans did after the war. Predictably, they didn’t do too well.
At war’s end, the emotional toll on returning soldiers was often compounded by physical wounds and lingering ailments such as rheumatism, malaria and chronic diarrhea. While it’s impossible to put a number on this suffering, historian Lesley Gordon followed the men of a single unit, the 16th Connecticut regiment, from home to war and back again and found “the war had a very long and devastating reach.”
The men of the 16th had only just been mustered in 1862, and barely trained, when they were ordered into battle at Antietam, the bloodiest day of combat in U.S. history. The raw recruits rushed straight into a Confederate crossfire and then broke and ran, suffering 25 percent casualties within minutes. “We were murdered,” one soldier wrote.
In a later battle, almost all the men of the 16th were captured and sent to the notorious Confederate prison at Andersonville, where a third of them died from disease, exposure and starvation. Upon returning home, many of the survivors became invalids, emotionally numb, or abusive of family. Alfred Avery, traumatized at Antietam, was described as “more or less irrational as long as he lived.” William Hancock, who had gone off to war “a strong young man,” his sister wrote, returned so “broken in body and mind” that he didn’t know his own name. Wallace Woodford flailed in his sleep, dreaming that he was still searching for food at Andersonville. He perished at age 22, and was buried beneath a headstone that reads: “8 months a sufferer in Rebel prison; He came home to die.”
A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War (Conflicting Words: New Dimensions of the American Civil War): Lesley J. Gordon: 9780807157305: Amazon.com: Books.
The Smithsonian Magazine investigates post-traumatic stress disorder amongst Civil War vets. The condition was not understood then, and as the article states, “had a long reach”; effects were felt on individuals, families and communities long after the firing ceased.
“We’ve tended to see soldiers in the 1860s as stoic and heroic—monuments to duty, honor and sacrifice,” says Lesley Gordon, editor of Civil War History, a leading academic journal that recently devoted a special issue to wartime trauma. “It’s taken a long time to recognize all the soldiers who came home broken by war, just as men and women do today.”
Counting these casualties and diagnosing their afflictions, however, present considerable challenges. The Civil War occurred in an era when modern psychiatric terms and understanding didn’t yet exist. Men who exhibited what today would be termed war-related anxieties were thought to have character flaws or underlying physical problems. For instance, constricted breath and palpitations—a condition called “soldier’s heart” or “irritable heart”—was blamed on exertion or knapsack straps drawn too tightly across soldiers’ chests.
via Did Civil War Soldiers Have PTSD? | History | Smithsonian.
Here’s another entry in this unintentionally unpleasant theme week. Jamed Henry Hammond, a real peach of a man, was the originator of two phrases that distilled the fire-eaters’ essence: “King Cotton” and “Mudsill Theory“. The rest of his biography reads as you’d expect of one who saw the average human being as someone on whom to wipe his feet.
James Henry Hammond – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.