Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Union Heartland

Edited by Ginette Aley and Joseph L. Anderson

The American Civil War has often been characterized as the North vs. the South, but neither region was as homogenous as to fit within that brief, and incorrect definition.  The many facets of the Southern war experience have been studied and dissected, from its soldiers and generals, its politicians, the secessionists, the Southern Unionists, the enslaved, its women and the war on the Southern home-front.  The Northern perspective on the war is pales in comparison, and often treated as a single identity.  The Civil War was a vast and complicated event; those for and against the war populated on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.  The Northern experience of the war, every bit as factious as its Southern counterpart, but remains largely unexplored in the large body of literature produced about the war.

Geographically speaking those states that comprised “The North” can be split into three distinct regions, the Pacific Coast, the Midwest and the East.  Generally speaking the states comprising the Midwest are those to the west and north of Pennsylvania, and includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Kansas (Missouri and Kentucky, are often treated separately as “Border States”).

Ginette Aley and J. L. Anderson have consorted together and edited a book which tackles the war from the Midwestern perspective in their book “Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front During the Civil War.”  Following a forward by noted Civil War historian William C. Davis, its eight essays cover a wide variety of topics of the war:

Together editors Alley and Anderson present an introduction, “The Great National Struggle in the Heart of the Union.”

In “Captivating Captives: An excursion to Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison” Michael P. Gray discusses Sandusky, Ohio’s entrepreneurial windfall of having a camp for Confederate Prisoners of War just off its shore attracting the curiosity of both the local population and tourists alike.

A group of students at the University of Michigan who took it upon themselves, as their patriotic duty, to stay in school and finish their education instead of enlisting in the Union Army is featured in Julie A. Mujic’s essay “‘Ours is the Harder Lot’: Student Patriotism at the University of Michigan during the Civil War.”

R. Douglas Hart covers “The Agricultural Power of the Midwest during the Civil War.”

Soldiers’ wives left behind often became wards of their in-laws.  Nicole Etcheson delves into theses sometimes troublesome relationships between women and their in-laws in her essay “No Fit Wife: Soldiers’ Wives and Their In-Laws on the Indiana Home Front.”

The theme of the lives of those left behind is continued with Ginette Aley’s essay, “Inescapable Realities: Rural Midwestern Women and Families during the Civil War.”

Many Midwestern farmers who enlisted in the army left their wives at home to run the farm.  J. L. Anderson discusses how women adapted to running their farms, and the changing relationships between them and their soldier husbands in his essay “The Vacant Chair on the Farm: Soldier Husbands, Farm Wives and the Iowa Home Front, 1861-65.”

And lastly Brett Barker presents his essay “Limiting Dissent in the Midwest: Ohio Republicans’ Attacks on the Democratic Press.”

Alone each essay stands on its own merits.  All are well written and easily read.  Endnotes at the end of each essay reveal the depth and breadth of each author’s research, which due to a lack of secondary sources a large percentage of the research was based on primary sources.  Together each essay forms a cohesive portrait of the Midwestern experience of the war.  Is it an in-depth treatment of the Midwestern home-front experience during the war?  No, nor was it meant to be.  It is but a scratch on the ground’s surface of a well waiting to be dug, which when pumped will quench the thirst of those who love to drink from the fountain of Civil War scholarship.

ISBN 978-0809332649, Southern Illinois University Press, © 2013, Hardcover, 224 Pages, Photographs & Illustrations, Chapter End Notes & Index. $39.50.  To Purchase the book click HERE.

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