Thursday, May 23, 2019

Booknotes: A Great Sacrifice

New Arrival:
A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War by James G. Mendez (Fordham UP, 2019).

James Mendez's A Great Sacrifice: Northern Black Soldiers, Their Families, and the Experience of Civil War is "an in-depth analysis of the effects of the Civil War on northern black families carried out using letters from northern black women―mothers, wives, sisters, and female family friends―addressed to a number of Union military officials."

Rather than focusing on black soldiers serving at the front "the letters give a voice to the black family members left on the northern homefront. Through their explanations and requests, readers obtain a greater apprehension of the struggles African American families faced during the war, and their conditions as the war progressed. The original letters that were received by government agencies, as well as many of the copies of the letters sent in response, are held by the National Archives in Washington, D.C."

Early chapters cover life in the North before the war and the process leading to the organization of black regiments. Issues like unequal pay and home front violence against black families are discussed in succeeding chapters, as are family-initiated correspondence with the government over matters including whereabouts information, discharge, and other requests. The study also continues on briefly into the postwar period.

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