About James McPherson’s List

This past week The New York Times featured James McPherson in its “By the Book” series. McPherson was asked a couple of questions about those books that influenced his development as a scholar and who he sees as currently shaping the field.  Well, his responses touched off an interesting discussion on the feed of one of my Facebook friends. No need to link to the discussion. The concern is not only that McPherson privileges male scholars, but that his responses ignore recent scholarship. Continue reading “About James McPherson’s List”

Sensing the Civil War

Mark SmithEarlier this week Oxford University Press sent me a review copy of Mark Smith’s new book, The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War. It’s a short book so I decided to jump right in and although I enjoyed Listening to Nineteenth-Century America, this one fell short in places. Each chapter is organized around a different sense: “The Sounds of Secession,” “Eyeing Bull Run,” and “Cornelia Hancock’s Sense of Smell” and so on.

There is certainly the potential for gaining a new understanding of important subjects during the war through a cultural analysis of changing sensory patterns. For example, Smith does a very good job of analyzing both the content and rising level of noise in Charleston leading up to and through Lincoln’s election and the secession vote. He explores how these changing patterns may have influenced slaves, the concerns of slaveowners and even Major Robert Anderson and his men as he planned their move from Fort Moultrie to Sumter. The strongest chapter focuses on the impact of Grant’s siege of Vicksburg on the quantity and type of food available to Southern civilians trapped in the town. Smith makes some very perceptive points about the sharp contrast between the menus in town restaurants and the overall diet of civilians before the war with what they were forced to eat during the siege and the threat such a drastic change posed to the community’s social and racial hierarchy, not to mention their own sense of self-identity. Continue reading “Sensing the Civil War”

The Exceptionalism of American Slavery

As I continue to make my way through Edward Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, I can’t help but think about its implications for the way we think about the idea of American Exceptionalism. It’s a timely issue given the recent debates about the revised AP US History curriculum. Continue reading “The Exceptionalism of American Slavery”

New To the Civil War Memory Library, 09/24

Rebel YellBarbara Berenson, Boston and the Civil War: Hub of the Second Revolution (History Press, 2014).

Graham Dozier ed., A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Harold Holzer, Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Simon and Schuster, 2014).

James McPherson, Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief (Penguin, 2014).

Ethan Rafuse, Manassas: A Battlefield Guide (Bison, 2014).

Heather Cox Richadson, To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party (Basic, 2014).

Craig Warren, The Rebel Yell: A Cultural History (University of Alabama Press, 2014).

Is There Room in Dark History…

I was perusing the program for the upcoming AHA in New York City and noticed a couple of interesting Civil War panels. They tend to reflect the recent turn toward exploring the emotional lives of soldiers and the challenges they faced throughout the postwar period – what some people are calling “dark history.” Continue reading “Is There Room in Dark History…”