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Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

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The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. They read novels, short stories, poems, songs, editorials, and newspaper stories. They l The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. They read novels, short stories, poems, songs, editorials, and newspaper stories. They laughed at cartoons and satirical essays. Their spirits were stirred in response to recruiting broadsides and patriotic envelopes. This massive cultural outpouring offered a path for ordinary Americans casting around for direction. Examining the breadth of Northern popular culture, J. Matthew Gallman offers a dramatic reconsideration of how the Union's civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime. Although a huge percentage of military-aged men served in the Union army, a larger group chose to stay home, even while they supported the war. This pathbreaking study investigates how men and women, both white and black, understood their roles in the People's Conflict. Wartime culture created humorous and angry stereotypes ridiculing the nation's cowards, crooks, and fools, while wrestling with the challenges faced by ordinary Americans. Gallman shows how thousands of authors, artists, and readers together created a new set of rules for navigating life in a nation at war.


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The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. They read novels, short stories, poems, songs, editorials, and newspaper stories. They l The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. They read novels, short stories, poems, songs, editorials, and newspaper stories. They laughed at cartoons and satirical essays. Their spirits were stirred in response to recruiting broadsides and patriotic envelopes. This massive cultural outpouring offered a path for ordinary Americans casting around for direction. Examining the breadth of Northern popular culture, J. Matthew Gallman offers a dramatic reconsideration of how the Union's civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime. Although a huge percentage of military-aged men served in the Union army, a larger group chose to stay home, even while they supported the war. This pathbreaking study investigates how men and women, both white and black, understood their roles in the People's Conflict. Wartime culture created humorous and angry stereotypes ridiculing the nation's cowards, crooks, and fools, while wrestling with the challenges faced by ordinary Americans. Gallman shows how thousands of authors, artists, and readers together created a new set of rules for navigating life in a nation at war.

31 review for Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fred Svoboda

    Excellent study draws on magazines, novels and newspapers from the North to reveal a rather different definition of duty than one might expect if judging by the experience of more recent American wars. Civilians and soldiers, women and men, people of all classes are examined as Gallman teases out whites' primarily individual and quite varied responses. African-Americans' responses were different from those of white Americans, reflecting their different experiences and also reflecting a discussio Excellent study draws on magazines, novels and newspapers from the North to reveal a rather different definition of duty than one might expect if judging by the experience of more recent American wars. Civilians and soldiers, women and men, people of all classes are examined as Gallman teases out whites' primarily individual and quite varied responses. African-Americans' responses were different from those of white Americans, reflecting their different experiences and also reflecting a discussion that focused much more on collective rather than individual responsibility. Illustration from satirical cartoons and broadsides of the time adds effectively to the presentation of material appearing in print sources.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tim Williams

    Exquisite! This is the second of three books I'm reviewing for an essay for Reviews in American History. I dread the third. Exquisite! This is the second of three books I'm reviewing for an essay for Reviews in American History. I dread the third.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Damian Shiels

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Cox

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Bartlett

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

  9. 4 out of 5

    Will Haynes

  10. 4 out of 5

    J.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle

  12. 5 out of 5

    James Hill "Trae" Welborn III

  13. 5 out of 5

    MHS Reference Librarian

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carol Johnson

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lacey Holley

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  18. 5 out of 5

    Noah

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    Elspeth

  20. 4 out of 5

    Vince

  21. 5 out of 5

    Diana

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  24. 4 out of 5

    Reason522

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicollette Brewster

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Friesen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

  31. 4 out of 5

    Marcella

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