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War Stories
Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North
Frances M. Clarke
University of Chicago Press, 2011

The American Civil War is often seen as the first modern war, not least because of its immense suffering. Yet unlike later conflicts, it did not produce an outpouring of disillusionment or cynicism, as most people continued to portray the war in highly sentimental and patriotic terms. While scholars typically dismiss this everyday writing as simplistic or naïve, Frances M. Clarke argues that we need to reconsider the letters, diaries, songs, and journalism penned by Union soldiers and their caregivers to fully understand the war’s impact and meaning.

In War Stories, Clarke revisits the most common stories that average Northerners told in hopes of redeeming their suffering and loss—stories that enabled people to make sense of their hardship, and to express their beliefs about religion, community, and personal character. From tales of Union soldiers who died heroically to stories of tireless volunteers who exemplified the Republic’s virtues, War Stories sheds new light on this transitional moment in the history of war, emotional culture, and American civic life.


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Wartime Washington
The Civil War Letters of Elizabeth Blair Lee
Edited by Virginia Jeans Laas
University of Illinois Press, 1991
Elizabeth Blair Lee was raised in Washington's political circles, and her husband, Samuel Phillips Lee, third cousin to Robert E. Lee, commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War. When they married, Elizabeth promised to write every day they were apart. Of the hundreds of letters with which she kept her promise, Virginia Jeans Laas has edited a choice selection that illuminates the functioning of a nineteenth-century family and the Mrs. Lee's unique perspective on the political and military affairs of the nation's beleaguered capital.

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We Are a People in This World
The Lakota Sioux and the Massacre at Wounded Knee
Conger Beasley Jr.
University of Arkansas Press, 1997
In this compelling book, the author alternately recounts the events and details of the 1890 massacre of the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee and his participation, one hundred years later, in the commemorative Big Foot Memorial Ride. The counterpoint and contrast between the two events produces a powerful effect; the oral accounts of the survivors of the slaughter are sometimes so brutal that the reader needs to be taken away, if only into the cold and wind of a century later.

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We Are in His Hands Whether We Live or Die
The Letters of Brevet Brigadier General Charles Henry Howard
David K. Thomson
University of Tennessee Press, 2013
     Many soldiers who served in the American Civil War found solace in their faith during the most trying times of the war. But few soldiers took such a providential view of life and the Civil War as Charles Henry Howard. Born in a small town in Maine, Howard came from a family with a distinguished history of soldiering: his grandfather was a Revolutionary War veteran and his brother, the older and more well-known Oliver Otis Howard, attended West Point and rose to command an army in the Civil War. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Charles Henry Howard graduated from Bowdoin College in 1859. Following graduation, Charles visited his older brother at West Point during the tumultuous election of 1860. While at West Point, Howard saw the tensions between Northern and Southern cadets escalate as he weighed his options for a military or theological career. The choice was made for him on April 12, 1861, with the firing on Fort Sumter.
     Responding to his brother’s plea for the sons of Maine to join the Union cause, Charles found himself a noncommissioned officer fighting in the disastrous Battle of First Bull Run. All told, Howard fought in several major battles of the Eastern Theater, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, and went on to participate in various military actions in the Western Theater including Sherman’s bloody Atlanta Campaign. He was wounded twice, first at the Battle of Fair Oaks and again at Fredericksburg. Yet, despite facing the worst horrors of war, Howard rarely wavered in his faith and rose steadily in rank throughout the conflict. By war’s end, he was a brevet brigadier general in command of the 128th U.S. Colored Troop Regiment.
     Howard’s letters cover a wide-ranging period, from 1852 to 1908. His concern for his family is typical of a Civil War soldier, but his exceptionally firm reliance on divine providence is what makes these letters an extraordinary window into the mind of a Civil War officer. Howard’s grounded faith was often tested by the viciousness of war, and as a result his letters are rife with stirring confessions and his emotional grappling with the harsh realities he faced. Howard’s letters expose the greater theological and metaphysical dilemmas of the war faced by so many on both sides.

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We Cannot Forget
Interviews with Survivors of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda
Totten, Samuel
Rutgers University Press, 2011

During a one-hundred-day period in 1994, Hutus murdered between half a million and a million Tutsi in Rwanda. The numbers are staggering; the methods of killing were unspeakable. Utilizing personal interviews with trauma survivors living in Rwandan cities, towns, and dusty villages, We Cannot Forget relates what happened during this period and what their lives were like both prior to and following the genocide.

Through powerful stories that are at once memorable, disturbing, and informative, readers gain a critical sense of the tensions and violence that preceded the genocide, how it erupted and was carried out, and what these people faced in the first sixteen years following the genocide.


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Welcome the Hour of Conflict
William Cowan McClellan and the 9th Alabama
William Cowan McClellan, edited by John C. Carter
University of Alabama Press, 2007
Vivid and lively letters from a young Confederate in Lee’s Army

In the Spring of 1861, a 22-year-old Alabamian did what many of his friends and colleagues were doing—he joined the Confederate Army as a volunteer. The first of his family to enlist, William Cowan McClellan, who served as a private in the 9th Alabama Infantry regiment, wrote hundreds of letters throughout the war, often penning for friends who could not write home for themselves. In the letters collected in John C. Carter’s volume, this young soldier comments on his feelings toward his commanding officers, his attitude toward military discipline and camp life, his disdain for the western Confederate armies, and his hopes and fears for the future of the Confederacy.
McClellan’s letters also contain vivid descriptions of camp life, battles, marches, picket duty, and sickness and disease in the army. The correspondence between McClellan and his family dealt with separation due to war as well as with other wartime difficulties such as food shortages, invasion, and occupation. The letters also show the rise and fall of morale on both the home front and on the battlefield, and how they were closely intertwined.
Remarkable for their humor, literacy, and matter-of-fact banter, the letters reveal the attitude a common soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia had toward the day-to-day activity and progression of the war. John C. Carter includes helpful appendixes that list the letters chronologically and offer the regimental roster, casualty/enlistment totals, assignments, and McClellan’s personal military record.


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Well Satisfied with My Position
The Civil War Journal of Spencer Bonsall
Edited by Michael A. Flannery and Katherine H. Oomens
Southern Illinois University Press, 2007
Well Satisfied with My Position offers a first-person account of army life during the Civil War’ s Peninsula Campaign and Battle of Fredericksburg. Spencer Bonsall, who joined the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry as a hospital steward, kept a journal from March 1862 until March 1863, when he abruptly ceased writing. Editors Michael A. Flannery and Katherine H. Oomens place his experiences in the context of the field of Civil War medicine and continue his story in an epilogue.

             Trained as a druggist when he was in his early twenties, Bonsall traveled the world, spent eight years on a tea plantation in India, and settled in Philadelphia, where he worked in the city surveyor’ s office. But in March 1862, when he was in his mid-forties, the lure of serving his country on the battlefield led Bonsall to join the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry as a hospital steward.

             Bonsall enjoyed his life with the Union army at first, comparing bivouacking in the woods to merely picnicking on a grand scale. “ We are about as jolly a set of old bachelors as can be found in Virginia,” Bonsall wrote. But his first taste of the aftermath of battle at Fair Oaks and the Seven Days’ Battles in Virginia changed his mind about the joys of soldiering— though he never lost his zeal for the Union cause.

             Bonsall details the camp life of a soldier from firsthand experience, outlines the engagements of the 81st, and traces the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Peninsula Campaign. He records facts not available elsewhere about camp conditions, attitudes toward Union generals and Confederate soldiers, and troop movements.

             From the end of June to late October 1862, Bonsall’ s illness kept him from writing in his journal. He picked up the record again in December 1862, just before the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in which the Union suffered a staggering 10,200 casualties and the 81st Pennsylvania lost more than half its men. He vividly describes the bloody aftermath. Bonsall’ s horse was shot out from underneath him at the battle of Gettysburg, injuring him seriously and ending his military career. Although he was listed as “ sick in hospital” on the regiment’ s muster rolls, he was labeled a deserter in the U.S. Army records. Indeed, after recovery from his injuries, Bonsall walked away from the army to resume life in Philadelphia with his wife and child.

Published for the first time, Bonsall’ s journal offers an unusually personal glimpse into the circumstances and motives of a man physically ruined by the war. Seventeen illustrations, including some drawn by Bonsall himself, help bring this narrative to life.


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Widows by the Thousand
The Civil War Correspondence of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862–1864
M. Jane Johansson
University of Arkansas Press, 2000
This collection of letters written between Theophilus and Harriet Perry during the Civil War provides an intimate, firsthand account of the effect of the war on one young couple. Perry was an officer with the 28th Texas Cavalry, a unit that campaigned in Arkansas and Louisiana as part of the division known as “Walker’s Greyhounds.” His letters describe his service in a highly literate style that is unusual for Confederate accounts. He documents a number of important events, including his experiences as a detached officer in Arkansas in the winter of 1862–63, the attempt to relieve the siege of Vicksburg, mutiny in his regiment, and the Red River campaign, just before he was killed in the battle of Pleasant Hill. Harriet’s writings allow the reader to witness the everyday life of an upper-class woman enduring home front deprivations, facing the hardships and fears of childbearing and childrearing alone, and coping with other challenges resulting from her husband’s absence.

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William & Rosalie
A Holocaust Testimony
William Schiff
University of North Texas Press, 2007

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A Wisconsin Boy in Dixie
Civil War Letters of James K. Newton
Selected and Edited by Stephen E. Ambrose
University of Wisconsin Press, 1995
“Unlike many of his fellows, [James Newton] was knowledgeable, intuitive, and literate; like many of his fellows he was cast into the role of soldier at only eighteen years of age. He was polished enough to write drumhead and firelight letters of fine literary style. It did not take long for this farm boy turned private to discover the grand design of the conflict in which he was engaged, something which many of the officers leading the armies never did discover.”—Victor Hicken, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society
    “When I wrote to you last I was at Madison with no prospect of leaving very soon, but I got away sooner than I expected to.” So wrote James Newton upon leaving Camp Randall for Vicksburg in 1863 with the Fourteenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Newton, who had been a rural schoolteacher before he joined the Union army in 1861, wrote to his parents of his experiences at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, on the Red River, in Missouri, at Nashville, at Mobile, and as a prisoner of war. His letters, selected and edited by noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose, reveal Newton as a young man who matured in the war, rising in rank from private to lieutenant.
                A Wisconsin Boy in Dixie reveals Newton as a young man who grew to maturity through his Civil War experience, rising in rank from private to lieutenant. Writing soberly about the less attractive aspects of army life, Newton's comments on fraternizing with the Rebs, on officers, and on discipline are touched with a sense of humor—"a soldier's best friend," he claimed. He also became sensitive to the importance of political choices. After giving Lincoln the first vote he had ever cast, Newton wrote: "In doing so I felt that I was doing my country as much service as I have ever done on the field of battle."

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With Lincoln in the White House
Letters, Memoranda, and other Writings of John G. Nicolay, 1860-1865
Edited by Michael Burlingame
Southern Illinois University Press, 2000

From the time of Lincoln’s nomination for the presidency until his assassination, John G. Nicolay served as the Civil War president’s chief personal secretary. Nicolay became an intimate of Lincoln and probably knew him as well as anyone outside his own family. Unlike John Hay, his subordinate, Nicolay kept no diary, but he did write several memoranda recording his chief’s conversation that shed direct light on Lincoln. In his many letters to Hay, to his fiancée, Therena Bates, and to others, Nicolay often describes the mood at the White House as well as events there. He also expresses opinions that were almost certainly shaped by the president

For this volume, Michael Burlingame includes all of Nicolay’s memoranda of conversations, all of the journal entries describing Lincoln’s activities, and excerpts from most of the nearly three hundred letters Nicolay wrote to Therena Bates between 1860 and 1865. He includes letters and portions of letters that describe Lincoln or the mood at the White House or that give Nicolay’s personal opinions. He also includes letters written by Nicolay while on troubleshooting missions for the president.

An impoverished youth, Nicolay was an unlikely candidate for the important position he held during the Civil War. It was only over the strong objections of some powerful people that he became Lincoln’s private secretary after Lincoln’s nomination for the presidency in 1860. Prominent Chicago Republican Herman Kreismann found the appointment of a man so lacking in savoir faire

“ridiculous.” Henry Martin Smith, city editor of the Chicago Tribune, called Nicolay’s appointment a national loss. Henry C.Whitney was surprised that the president would appoint a “nobody.”

Lacking charm, Nicolay became known at the White House as the “bulldog in the ante-room” with a disposition “sour and crusty.” California journalist Noah Brooks deemed Nicolay a “grim Cerberus of Teutonic descent who guards the last door which opens into the awful presence.” Yet in some ways he was perfectly suited for the difficult job. William O. Stoddard, noting that Nicolay was not popular and could “say 'no'about as disagreeably as any man I ever knew,” still granted that Nicolay served Lincoln well because he was devoted and incorruptible. Stoddard concluded that Nicolay “deserves the thanks of all who loved Mr. Lincoln.”

For his part, Nicolay said he derived his greatest satisfaction “from having enjoyed the privilege and honor of being Mr. Lincoln’s intimate and official private secretary, and of earning his cordial friendship and perfect trust.”


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Without History
Subaltern Studies, the Zapatista Insurgency, and the Specter of History
Jose Rabasa
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010
On December 22, 1997, forty-five unarmed members of the indigenous organization Las Abejas (The Bees) were massacred during a prayer meeting in the village of Acteal, Mexico. The members of Las Abejas, who are pacifists, pledged their support to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a primarily indigenous group that has declared war on the state of Mexico. The massacre has been attributed to a paramilitary group composed of ordinary citizens acting on their own, although eyewitnesses claim the attack was planned ahead of time and that the Mexican government was complicit.

In Without History, José Rabasa contrasts indigenous accounts of the Acteal massacre and other events with state attempts to frame the past, control subaltern populations, and legitimatize its own authority. Rabasa offers new interpretations of the meaning of history from indigenous perspectives and develops the concept of a communal temporality that is not limited by time, but rather exists within the individual, community, and culture as a living knowledge that links both past and present.

Due to a disconnection between indigenous and state accounts as well as the lack of archival materials (many of which were destroyed by missionaries), the indigenous remain outside of, or without, history, according to most of Western discourse. The continued practice of redefining native history perpetuates the subalternization of that history, and maintains the specter of fabrication over reality.

Rabasa recalls the works of Marx, Lenin, and Gramsci, as well as contemporary south Asian subalternists Ranajit Guha and Dipesh Chakrabarty, among others. He incorporates their conceptions of communality, insurgency, resistance to hegemonic governments, and the creation of autonomous spaces as strategies employed by indigenous groups around the globe, but goes further in defining these strategies as millennial and deeply rooted in Mesoamerican antiquity. For Rabasa, these methods and the continuum of ancient indigenous consciousness are evidenced in present day events such as the Zapatista insurrection.

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Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight
The Civil War Diary of Brigadier General Harris Reynolds, 1861-1865
Robert Patrick Bender
University of Arkansas Press, 2011
Worthy of the Cause for Which They Fight chronicles the experiences of a well-educated and articulate Confederate officer from Arkansas who witnessed the full evolution of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Department and western theater. Daniel Harris Reynolds, a community leader with a thriving law practice in Chicot County, entered service in 1861 as a captain in command of Company A of the First Arkansas Mounted Rifles. Reynolds saw action at Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge before the regiment was dismounted and transferred to the Army of Tennessee, the primary Confederate force in the western theater. As Reynolds fought through the battles of Chickamauga, Atlanta, Nashville, and Bentonville, he consistently kept a diary in which he described the harsh realities of battle, the shifting fortunes of war, and the personal and political conflicts that characterized and sometimes divided the soldiers. The result is a significant testimonial offering valuable insights into the nature of command from the company to brigade levels, expressed by a committed Southerner coming to grips with the realities of defeat and the ultimate demoralization of surrender.

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The Wounded River
The Civil War Letters of John Vance Lauderdale, M.D.
Peter Josyph
Michigan State University Press, 1993

The Wounded River takes the reader back more than 130 years to reveal a marvelous, first-hand account of nineteenth-century warfare. In the process, the work cuts the legends and mythology that have come to frame and define accounts of America's bloodiest war. Of equal significance, Peter Josyph's editorial work on this superb collection of letters from the Western Americana Division of Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library enhances and clarifies Lauderdale's experinces as a surgeon aboard the U.S. Army hospital ship D. A. January.  
      The reader looks on while Lauderdale, a New York civilian contract surgeon, operates on hundreds of Confederate and Union wounded. The young doctor's clear writing style and his great compassion for these unfortunate men whose bodies were ripped apart by bullets, shell fragments, and bayonets permits us to catch a disturbiing glimpse of what modern warfare does to humanity. Finally, we learn of Lauderdale's motives for volunteering, his impressions of the "hospital ship" D. A. January, Confederate morale, the Abolitionist cause, and black slavery. The Wounded River is a must read for anyone interested in the real American Civil War.


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Writing That Breaks Stones
African Child Soldier Narratives
Joya Uraizee
Michigan State University Press, 2020
Writing That Breaks Stones: African Child Soldier Narratives is a critical examination of six memoirs and six novels written by and about young adults from Africa who were once child soldiers. It analyzes not only how such narratives document the human rights violations experienced by these former child soldiers but also how they connect and disconnect from their readers in the global public sphere. It draws on existing literary scholarship about novels and memoirs as well as on the fieldwork conducted by social scientists about African children in combat situations. Writing That Breaks Stones groups the twelve narratives into categories and analyzes each segment, comparing individually written memoirs with those written collaboratively, and novels whose narratives are fragmented with those that depict surreal landscapes of misery. It concludes that the memoirs focus on a lone individual’s struggles in a hostile environment, and use repetition, logical contradictions, narrative breaks, and reversals of binaries in order to tell their stories. By contrast, the novels use narrative ambiguity, circularity, fragmentation, and notions of dystopia in ways that call attention to the child soldiers’ communities and environments. All twelve narratives depict the child soldier’s agency and culpability somewhat ambiguously, effectively reflecting the ethical dilemmas of African children in combat.

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