Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North
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.
“The quality of Frances M. Clarke’s elegant writing, her imaginative approach to the material, and above all, the argument of War Stories—that the sentimental tales of heroic soldiers reveal a previously unacknowledged veneration of suffering in American culture—are all noteworthy. Clarke's assertion that Civil War soldiers really did behave in the heroic manner described by friends, loved ones, and propagandists will no doubt be controversial—but in the best possible way. This is an excellent work of cultural and intellectual history, one that should interest not only scholars of the Civil War, but also intellectual and gender historians, students of volunteerism, and those engaged with the very public nature of nineteenth-century suffering.”
“A skilled analyst of cultural life, Frances M. Clarke offers an impressively sharp account of the Civil War as a very particular moment in American history when sentimentality was harnessed to national purpose. By adopting a comparative perspective on sentimentality she shows how differently the same developments—the suffering of war wounds, personal preparation for death, and the justification of the national mission—were treated before, in the Napoleonic wars, and after, in World War I. Exemplary in its treatment of sources and graceful in its writing, this book reanimates a discussion about the cultural and intellectual history of the American Civil War. War Stories is a tour de force.”
“Clarke proves her worth as a compelling writer and meticulous researcher with this work set during and after the Civil War.”
List of Illustrations
1 Suffering in Victorian America
2 Heroic Martyrs
3 Exceptional Sufferers
4 Labors of Love
5 Noble Monuments
6 Honorable Scars