Monday, August 24, 2020

Booknotes: Friendly Enemies

New Arrival:
Friendly Enemies: Soldier Fraternization throughout the American Civil War by Lauren K. Thompson (Univ of Neb Press, 2020).

With so much material published about the common soldier experience during the American Civil War, it is sort of surprising that no one has written a comprehensive study of field fraternization between Union and Confederate fighting men before now. Anecdotes abound in the literature, with picket exchanges along the Rappahannock during the harsh winter of 1862-63 being perhaps the most commonly cited example. "When soldiers found themselves surrounded by privation, disease, and death, many risked their standing in the army, and ultimately their lives, for a warm cup of coffee or pinch of tobacco during a sleepless shift on picket duty, to receive a newspaper from a “Yank” or “Johnny,” or to stop the relentless picket fire while in the trenches."

In many ways, Lauren Thompson's Friendly Enemies: Soldier Fraternization throughout the American Civil War interprets the practice to be a form of resistance as well as an important survival technique. In the book, the author "analyzes the relations and fraternization of American soldiers on opposing sides of the battlefield and argues that these interactions represented common soldiers’ efforts to fight the war on their own terms. Her study reveals that despite different commanders, terrain, and outcomes on the battlefield, a common thread emerges: soldiers constructed a space to lessen hostilities and make their daily lives more manageable."

In the end, "(f)raternization allowed men to escape their situation briefly and did not carry the stigma of cowardice. Because the fraternization was exclusively between white soldiers, it became the prototype for sectional reunion after the war—a model that avoided debates over causation, honored soldiers’ shared sacrifice, and promoted white male supremacy."

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