The Journal of the Civil War Era recently published a roundtable of views looking toward the future of Civil War scholarship. Here’s what Barton A. Myers had to say about Civil War military history. What do you think? What does this tell us about how some people are defining (or redefining) the field of military history?
That is quite an article. Living in Gettysburg and being a frequenter of the bookshops here, I am always overwhelmed at the “micro-histories” of this battle, including much on the civilian side of things, that keep showing up in the stores. While about 99% are not from recognized national historians they often contain a lot of good work.
In visits to other Battlefields of the Civil war I was not exposed to the non-NPS book stores, so I have no handle on a number of “micro-histories” about those Battlefields and their surrounds, and the civilian side of things there.
That said, I believe that perhaps Professor Myers is over doing it a bit. He cites examples of research already published in each of the areas he has singled out as being deficient in Civil War historiography. Certainly other works are available in each of those areas. How many biographies and studies of Quantrill are there, and Mosby…good grief! Mosby even has an “Historical Area” named for him based on his area of operations? And Myers himself did work on Champ Ferguson. He suggests a deeper study of Civil War Urban Warfare, which rarely happened [The only example I can think of at the moment is Fredericksburg…].
Myers does make a good case in some areas, such as the Unionist movement in the South [any good biography of George Pickett will cover this fairly extensively, and there is at least one study specifically which investigates an incident and execution of Southern Unionists by Pickett], and of course the Naval side of Riverine warfare, which, I believe, had never seen its use on such a scale prior to the ACW.
Certainly there should be a study of ACW terrorism, and a comparison between Quantrill and modern terrorist leaders could be valuable.
I am of the opinion that as there already exists an enormous body of scholarly work on the American Civil War, the situation is like the baseball diamond in “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it they will come.” Well, its been built…the rest will come.
The article does broaden the scope of what many may see as truly “civil war” literature, meaning that the new scholarship is going byond the accepted norms of battle, campaign and leadership studies. I believe this to be only a positive. I like that in the generation since Battle Cry of Freedom, that many new areas that delve into the impact of civilian and social history upon the battlefield have been developed. I believe that any link between what civilians were experiencing and how that impacted the soldier in the field is a positive step toawrd a more whole approach. In a conflict so disruptive to the society, I think it valuable to se how that society reacted, and thus, impacted the conflct. I hope we see more of the same.
Of particular note (and personal interest) I am happy to see the increase in studies of what happened aferward. About seven or so years ago I spoke with Carol Reardon of Penn State at a Society of Military Historians convention and asked if she knew of any stuides in the works re. the impact of the war on the veterans, that is, what happened to all those soldiers after the war? In the 1870s, 1880s, etc? How were they affected? What conditions did they live under? Was there such a thing as “Civil War PTSD?” How did the society in general “accept them” when they came home? Was there a backlash, akin to the Vietnam veteran, or did they just keep quiet for so long, as did so many WWII veterans? She responded at the time she was unaware of any such studies. In the seven years or so since, I am glad to see that the situation in that field is starting to shake out. It is a field that is ripe for study.
In addition, it is exciting to see other aspects of the war being looked at in detail. I think a seminal work in this regard and one that I was surprised was not mentioned in Professor Meyers’ essay is Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering. This is an excellent example of the marriage of how the society viewed the war and the experience of the soldier themselves. What a phenomenal, groundbreaking work. I look forward to seeing more like this in the future.
Very thought provoking, interesting essay. Thank you for the link.