Reading List on the Aftermath of Battle

One of the nice things about my job is that I get to work one-on-one with seniors who are interested in doing independent work in history.  I am finishing up a project with one of my students on how the Civil War was commemorated here in Charlottesville between 1880 and 1920 and beginning the process of working with a student to formulate a project for next year.  This student wants to explore how Civil War soldiers responded to the horrors of war witnessed in the aftermath of battle.  We still need to nail a few things down, including the question of whether to look at this question over time or in response to one particular battle.

Luckily this student is excited to get started and even broached the idea of doing some reading over the summer.  I’ve decided to assign Drew Faust’s recent book on death and the Civil War, which should provide a helpful context in which to understand the cultural parameters of death in the nineteenth century.  Other studies that I am thinking about include Eric T. Dean’s Shook Over Hell, the section on Fredericksburg’s wounded by George Rable, and Joe Glatthaar’s chapter, “To Slaughter One Another Like Brutes” in General Lee’s Army.

My student is going to spent significant time collecting archival material at UVA, but I want him to do a good amount of reading in the relevant secondary sources.  Obviously, there is plenty of material out there that can be utilized for such a project; however, I am looking for secondary sources (battle/campaign studies, unit histories, biographies) where the historian goes beyond the descriptive and provides some kind of analysis.   If you have something in mind please share it with me even if it is a single book title, journal or magazine essay.  Thanks.

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17 comments… add one
  • Rob Haley May 9, 2010 @ 13:46

    A significant part of Robert Olmstead’s brilliant novel, Coal Black Horse, takes place in Gettysburg during the days after the battle. There are heart-wrenching descriptions of the wounded, as well as of the small kindnesses and cruelties that eased or exacerbated the suffering of the wounded.

  • Larry Cebula May 7, 2010 @ 19:48

    How about some of the studies of Civil War photographers, many of whom did their most famous work showing (and staging!) the aftermath of battle? The LOC exhibit “Does The Camera Ever Lie?” could get your students started.

  • Ed May 6, 2010 @ 8:58

    I wish I had read this one before Faust’s book. It covers how Americans view death in the years leading up to the war. Schantz, Mark S. Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.

    Other books I’ve enjoyed:
    Blair, William. Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
    Neff, John R. Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005.

    • Kevin Levin May 6, 2010 @ 9:17

      I read the Schantz book and highly recommend it. Unfortunately, it came out at the same time as Faust’s book.

  • badgervan May 5, 2010 @ 19:42

    Two more for your student to check out: “The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat” by Earl Hess, and “For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War” by James McPherson. Both contain parts describing the aftermath of battle and the war.

  • Bragg's Eyebrow May 5, 2010 @ 11:34

    I would suggest Ken Noe’s excellent book, “Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle.” Ken has a really good chapter on the aftermath there. I’m fairly certain that he includes a great section about a soldier from the 79th Pennsylvania who was wounded at Perryville and who almost certainly had PTSD as a result of the fight there. Information about Henry P. Bottom, the farmer who owned most of the battlefield land, and how he suffered, is also in “Grand Havoc.”

    For a well-used and easily attainable source, Sam Watkins has a good description of the aftermath of Perryville, too. He discusses pulling men off of the battlefield, including one who has his “underjaw shot off.” Pretty horrific descriptions of Kentucky’s largest battle. Watkins also found his blind lieutenant, shot in the temple and his optic nerve severed, “wandering in a briar patch.”

    So, if your student wants a representative western theater battle, Perryville would provide some good examples and great sources.

    For more information, see the “Research” section on–folks associated with the site have pulled together a great deal of information, including quite a bit of primary source materials (under the “diaries” section on the “research” page.

    It’s also a great place to visit . . . Well-preserved land, an extensive walking trail, and a new exhibit at the site’s museum.

    • Ken Noe May 5, 2010 @ 13:08

      Gee, I’ve never thanked an eyebrow before, especially such an, uh, prominent one.

      • Kevin Levin May 5, 2010 @ 14:54


        If you are going to comment on this post you need to leave a suggestion. 😀

        • Bragg's Eyebrow May 5, 2010 @ 16:18

          And tweezers for my brow, please.

          • Ken Noe May 5, 2010 @ 16:46

            Hedge clippers would be more appropriate. Or my grandfather’s old Bush Hog.

            Kevin, I still think Linderman’s Embattled Courage is still worth reading despite the author’s problematic sample. Jason Phillip’s Diehard Rebels offers much as well in this regard.

  • Jeff McClurken May 5, 2010 @ 10:16

    I’ll follow David’s lead and plug my own work, Take Care of the Living from UVA Press (2009). One of my chapters directly addresses the psychological impact of military service and the war as a whole on Confederate veterans and their families in Virginia through an analysis of mental institution records.

    [I’m looking forward to seeing Moments of Despair come out as well.]

  • James Bartek May 5, 2010 @ 9:57

    Earl Hess, “The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat.” I think the first three chapters or so really captures soldiers’ expectations of battle vs. the reality of battle and its aftermath.

  • David Silkenat May 5, 2010 @ 9:23

    I’m usually apprehensive about plugging my own work, but your student might be interested in some of the research I’ve done on suicide and PTSD among Civil War vets in North Carolina. The book (Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina, UNC Press) won’t be published until next year, but the student might be able to get the dissertation version (UNC 2007) via interlibrary loan.

  • Harry May 5, 2010 @ 9:06

    You can’t do better than “A Stange and Blighted Land.” Roland Maust’s “Grappling with Death” is another good one. Of course, he can’t miss the regular installments of “In Harm’s Way” in Civil War Times, even if the author is a jagoff. Have him consider Kathy Ernst’s “Too Afraid to Cry: Maryland Civilians in the Antietam Campaign”.

  • David Rhoads May 5, 2010 @ 8:24

    How about Gregory Coco’s A Strange and Blighted Land: Gettysburg, the Aftermath of a Battle? Might be a little bit difficult to get ahold of, but I know that copies are available at the book/gift shop in the Gettysburg visitor’s center.

    • Margaret D. Blough May 5, 2010 @ 17:05

      That would be my recommendation as well.

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