Towards an Environmental History of the Civil War Era?

This essay by Lisa A. Brady offers food for thought on a subject that does not readily come to mind: the environmental history of the American Civil War.  And yet environmental (and geographical) questions loom large in several discussions of the war (and the coming of the war).  For example, as white southerners pressed for the expansion of slavery into the Southwest, how did they envision the peculiar institution functioning in a different environment than that where plantation slavery flourished?  We know something about the impact of terrain on strategy, operations, and battlefield movements, but what about the impact of conflict on the environment?  How does that environment shape warmaking?  Recall here Robert E. Lee’s argument against moving westward to challenge Grant at Vicksburg … that the diseases characteristic of a swampy environment would decimate Grant’s command?  And one might argue that poor agricultural seasons in 1866 and especially 1867 might have doomed a policy of confiscation and redistribution before it got off the ground in terms of assuring black autonomy.

So give the article a look and share your reactions.

2 thoughts on “Towards an Environmental History of the Civil War Era?

  1. John Foskett March 8, 2012 / 9:17 am

    I’ve always been impressed by the effects on places which saw extended encampments such as the areas near Culpeper, Falmouth, and Petersburg in Virginia. Photographs from c. 1863-1864 give the appearance that a plague of locusts swept through – tree stumps and ravaged terrain. Of course, when you think about c. 100,000 troops setting up house, there should be no surprises.

  2. wgdavis March 8, 2012 / 4:25 pm

    What about the effect of the environment/weather on the battle? And on the troops?

    The Battle of Stones River was fought in a driving rainstorm at cold temperatures [upper 30s?]. The Wilderness was an environment that befuddled most participants, so thick it was hardly passable and so disorienting as to cost at least one commander his life [Old Waddy].

    The death toll for mosquito borne disease during the Civil wAr was extremely high. Malaria was rampant throughout the Union Troops in the Western/Deep Southern theater.

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