Monday, February 12, 2018

Booknotes: "This Infernal War"

New Arrival:
"This Infernal War": The Civil War Letters of William and Jane Standard edited by Timothy Mason Roberts (Kent St Univ Press, 2018).

In the pages of "This Infernal War" readers will find Standard but not standard Civil War letters. "Among collections of letters written between American soldiers and their spouses, the Civil War correspondence of William and Jane Standard stands out for conveying the complexity of the motives and experiences of Union soldiers and their families. The Standards of Lewiston in Fulton County, Illinois, were antiwar Copperheads" with strongly negative "attitudes toward Abraham Lincoln, Black Republicans, and especially African Americans."

"Scholars who argue that the bulk of Union soldiers left their families and went to war to champion republican government or to wipe out slavery will have to account for this couple's rejection of the war's ideals." I wonder if Standard clearly articulates somewhere in his letters his reason(s) for joining the Union Army.

More from the description: "Yet the war changed them, in spite of themselves. Jane's often bitter letters illuminate the alienation of women left alone and the impact on a small community of its men going to war. But she grew more independent in her husband's absence. Enlisting in the 103rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment in October 1862, William participated in General Sherman's Siege of Vicksburg, the Battles of Missionary Ridge and Atlanta, and the March to the Sea. At the war's end he proudly marched in the Grand Review of the Armies in the national capital. Meanwhile, he expressed enthusiasm for stealing and foraging (a.k.a. cramping) and unhappiness with his service, complaints that fed Jane's intermittent requests that he desert or be captured and paroled. William's odyssey illustrates the Union military's assimilation of resentful Northern men to support a long, grueling, and, after 1862, revolutionary war on the South.

I think today's scholars in general too readily acquiesce to the war period's overly broad branding of dissenters as "Copperheads." For the sake of fairness, we perhaps should be a bit more circumspect when applying such a derogative term to a soldier that, however distasteful his personal feelings were then and now, apparently faithfully sacrificed and served in the army for his entire enlistment period. "The Standards antiwar opinions hearken to modern expressions of pacifism and condemnation of government. Jane's and William's opposition to the war helped sustain their commitment to and dependence on each other to survive it." Looks like a very interesting book. Hearkening back on my own reading experience, I'm trying to think of another published soldier-to-home letter collection similar to what this one seems to be and am coming up empty.

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