By Robert Hunt
The field of study relating to the American Civil War (1861-1865) is vast, yet during the last few years has emerged a new way to look at the war: how it was, and is, remembered. How did the soldiers who fought the war remember it, its events and its consequences? How do we choose to remember the war today? How has the remembrance of the war changed in the nearly 150 years since the guns fell silent?
Dr. Robert E. Hunt, professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, has narrowed down the topic of Civil War memory in two ways; he has first limited his study to the Army of the Cumberland, which fought primarily, and progressively south from Kentucky, through Tennessee, to the battlefields around Atlanta. Secondly, Dr. Hunt has further limited his study to emancipation, or rather the memory of emancipation. The result of his study is his book, “The Good Men Who Won The War: Army Of The Cumberland And Emancipation Memory.”
Dr. Hunt’s thin tome is divided into a prelude and four parts. The prelude provides his readers a brief overview of the Army of the Cumberland’s, formation, organization and history. His chapters explore: how the Cumberland veterans remembered their embrace of a war of emancipation; their understanding of their status as citizen-soldiers, their view of the “real war” and how they remembered the victory they had won; how they incorporated African Americans and former Confederates into their writings; and his last chapter centers on two individuals, Wilber Fisk Hinman, author of the novel, “Corporal Si Klegg and his Pard,” and Joseph Warren Keifer, a Republican congressman who according to Dr. Hunt wrote the most politically charged memoir of all the authors.
Using the histories and memoirs of the Army of the Cumberland, Dr. Hunt argues quite convincingly that the men did not view the war as a crusade against slavery, but emancipation as a by-product of the war, they did not rebel against the idea of fighting to emancipate the slaves of the south, they embraced it as a necessary war measure. And yet he also demonstrates that though the soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland fought for and were proud of the extermination of slavery, they did not consider African Americans their equals.
Using the order of battle at it appeared just prior to the Tullahoma Campaign in June 1863, Dr. Hunt thoroughly sought out every published regimental history and personal memoir, published in 1880 or later, of the units and men that comprised the Army of the Cumberland, which by that time had been formed by the juncture of Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, reinforcements from Missouri, newly formed units from the “western” states in 1862 and Gordon Granger’s “Reserve Corps” having previously been stationed in Kentucky. He did not however use sources such as “Battles and Leaders,” or the Papers of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, for such sources tend to have articles of a singular nature, relating to a battle, anecdotes or incidents. He rather chose to concentrate on sources that treated the war as a whole. Also eliminated from Dr. Hunt’s study are memoirs of major figures from the army such as Philip Sheridan, as he notes other Civil War histories have studied the leadership of the Western armies at length and there is already a large secondary literature available. In doing this culling of sources, Dr. Hunt has assured his readers that his book is from the point of view of the men who did the war’s fighting.
Dr. Hunt’s book includes a single appendix, “Cumberland Regimental Histories and Personal Memoirs Reviewed for This Study,” which serves as a limited bibliography of the sources he consulted, but he frequently quotes, or otherwise alludes to the work of other historians throughout his text, and it would have been preferable to have a fully fleshed out bibliography, not only of the primary sources used, but also of the secondary as well.
Walt Whitman claimed the real war would never get in the books. Dr. Hunt argues that it did.
ISBN 978-0-8173-1688-4, University Alabama Press, © 2010, Hardcover, 192 pages, Photographs, Appendix: “Cumberland Regimental Histories and Personal Memoirs Reviewed for This Study,” Endnotes, & Index. $36.00