Monday, October 15, 2018

Book News: Raising the White Flag

Accustomed to viewing surrender in wartime as involving a pretty dire set of circumstances (at the very least putting the prisoner-of-war out of action for the duration of the conflict), modern readers new to Civil War studies are probably surprised at how readily and often Civil War soldiers gave up in such large numbers and with such frequently transient consequences (ex. instant parole) to themselves. Of course, the mid to late-war suspension of the previously liberal Dix-Hill cartel system as a form of wholesale prisoner exchange dramatically changed things. In the end though, so many Union and Confederate officers and men became prisoners at one time or another that you could reasonably argue that it was one of the war's defining experiences. According to David Silkenat's upcoming Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War (April 2019) "roughly one out of every four soldiers surrendered at some point during the conflict. In no other American war did surrender happen so frequently." It would be interesting to see how those numbers compare with America's other wars, before and after, and one would assume the book addresses that.

It's a bit surprising that a study of this kind has never turned up before, providing further reminder that there's always new topics to explore and room for fresh thinking on just about anything Civil War related. Raising the White Flag "provides the first comprehensive study of Civil War surrender, focusing on the conflicting social, political, and cultural meanings of the action. Looking at the conflict from the perspective of men who surrendered, Silkenat creates new avenues to understand prisoners of war, fighting by Confederate guerrillas, the role of southern Unionists, and the experiences of African American soldiers. The experience of surrender also sheds valuable light on the culture of honor, the experience of combat, and the laws of war." I'm looking forward to reading it.

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