Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Booknotes: Inglorious Passages

New Arrival:
Inglorious Passages: Noncombat Deaths in the American Civil War by Brian Steel Wills (Univ Pr of Kansas, 2017).

I've been looking forward to this one ever since I saw the title pop up. Most particularly, I wanted to see what the author had to say about civilian deaths directly related to the war. Every once in a while a historian offers up some round number guess. It is one of the great mystery numbers of the war, and we'll probably never have a satisfactory answer.

Inglorious Passages is the first comprehensive examination of non-battlefield deaths. "In letters, diaries, obituaries, and other accounts, eminent Civil War historian Brian Steel Wills finds the powerful and poignant stories of fatal accidents and encounters and collateral civilian deaths that occurred in the factories and fields of the Union and the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865. Wills retrieves these stories from obscurity and the cold calculations of statistics to reveal the grave toll these losses exacted on soldiers and civilians, families and society."

Separate chapters explore camp deaths; rail accidents; natural events (presumably things like lightning, flash floods, raging rivers, etc.); death by animal; duels and firearms accidents; water-borne fatalities on rivers and at sea; industrial accidents; military executions and POW deaths; and civilian "collateral damage." An appendix lists all of the troops from the state of Indiana that suffered death by accident. "In its intimate details and its broad scope, his book demonstrates that for those who served and those who supported them, noncombat fatalities were as significant as battle deaths in impressing the full force of the American Civil War on the people called upon to live through it."

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