Thursday, September 20, 2018

Booknotes: Crossing the Deadlines

New Arrival:
Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered edited by Michael P. Gray
  (KSU Press, 2018).

In Crossing the Deadlines, editor Michael Gray has assembled nine essays representative of current trends in the Civil War prisons scholarship. It "crosses those boundaries of old scholarship by taking on bold initiatives with new methodologies, filling a void in the current scholarship of Civil War prison historiography, which usually does not go beyond discussing policy, prison history and environmental and social themes."

More from the description: "As the historiography of Civil War captivity continues to evolve, readers of Crossing the Deadlines will discover elaboration on themes that emerged in William Hesseltine’s classic collection, Civil War Prisons, as well as interconnections with more recent interdisciplinary scholarship. Rather than being dominated by policy analysis, this collection examines the latest trends, methodologies, and multidisciplinary approaches in Civil War carceral studies. Unlike its predecessor, which took a micro approach on individual prisons and personal accounts, Crossing the Deadlines is a compilation of important themes that are interwoven on broader scale by investigating many prisons North and South."

Gray's introduction informatively traces the evolution of the Civil War prison historiography. The three essays comprising Part 1 begin with a chapter that employs a "sensory approach" to studying the environment of Civil War prisoner of war camps. The self-described sense of being 'caged animals' is reinforced by the following essay, which looks at prisons and prisoners as tourist attractions for the home front civilian population. Prisoners seeking solace often turned to religion and the final contribution in the section examines the role of Catholicism and priests in military prisons.

Part 2 focuses on issues of race and retaliation, with the first essay discussing hostages and other punitive measures aimed at ensuring the other side adhered to what they viewed as the tenets of civilized warfare. The next offering looks at the experiences of black prisoners in Confederate POW camps, but it also studies interactions between slaves and white Union prisoners in order to show how such encounters shaped the latter group's views on race and emancipation. Another essay examines the use of black soldiers as prison guards.

Two essays in Part 3 recognize the important role of archaeology in the study of Civil War prisons. The first is an appreciation of both material culture studies and multi-disciplinary approaches as bettering our understanding of the captive experience at Johnson's Island, and the second, in another good example of the use of material culture to resurrect lost history, discusses the ongoing evolution of the work being done uncovering Georgia's Camp Lawton. The final essay in the volume investigates the topic of prison memory and the historical challenges it represents.

The Kent State UP makes frequent contributions to the Civil War prison literature, and this newest one looks like another very useful addition.

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