Friday, August 28, 2009

Bookends Friday: Was the Civil War more civil than we think?

Robert Citino has an interesting review of Mark Neely's 2007 on The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction on H-net. Read the whole thing, but here's the gist:

the American Civil War was not a particularly brutal one... Volunteer troops in the Mexican War, for example, routinely visited depredations on the local civilians that their counterparts in the later war would never have dreamed of doing. The guerrilla war in Missouri, which has become an obsession of present-day civil war historiography, is here cut down to size as one of a series of “sideshows” (p. 71) to the larger war; sure, generals were more likely to make hard war on guerrillas, but much of the fighting in Missouri (Price’s Raid, for example) was of the conventional, force-on-force variety. The civil war in Maximilian’s Mexico was far more brutal than anything witnessed in the U.S. Civil War, with tens of thousands of liberales killed by the imperial government, their bodies hung upside down to rot as a warning to others who were loyal to Juarez. Sheridan’s alleged “burning” of the Shenandoah Valley was actually a much more surgical operation than usually portrayed, destroying anything that the Confederate Army could use, but leaving civilian supplies, provisions, and dwellings untouched (which is why all the wheat was burned but almost none of the corn). ...Another awful event, the revelation of horrific abuses against Union prisoners at Andersonville, complete with photographs that still shock the viewer today--with Union prisoners looking for all the world like inmates at Dachau or Buchenwald--led to some loose talk among Northern legislators about deliberately starving, shooting, or working to death Confederate prisoners in the North. But again, this is precisely what did not happen. Cooler and wiser heads prevailed, especially President Lincoln’s, and none of these dreadful scenarios came to pass.

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