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Civil War History: Archive

Sept 2012, Volume 58, No. 3

Jun 7th, 2012


sept 2012 cover


Review Essay: From Battlefield to Fertile Ground: The Development of Civil War Environmental History

By Lisa M. Brady

In the ten years since Jack Temple Kirby urged scholars to unite Civil War and environmental histories, small but growing number of historians have heeded his clarion call to action. This historiographical review provides some basic definitions and considers developments within the field since 2001, focusing in particular on explicitly environmental histories of the military conflict. Some scholars have argued that the war was rooted in environmental ideologies while others have examined the ways that natural environments and resources shaped both military strategy and soldiers’ experiences. The land itself–and the war’s impact on it–has also been the subject of several new works. All of these works demonstrate the enormous potential for nuance and novelty in Civil War studies; this review ultimately argues that an environmental approach can uncover aspects of the Civil War that enrich our understanding of its impact on Americans and their nation.


“The deplorable condition of the country”: Nature, Society, and War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier

By Matthew M. Stith

The natural environment played a dynamic role in the war in the Trans-Mississippi borderlands. And perhaps no other locale brought so many communities into contact with one another: Union regulars, Confederate irregulars, Unionist and Confederate civilians, and Unionist and Confederate Native Americans. These groups competed for scarce natural resources–livestock, crops, and shelter–and were almost constantly on the move, which made them vulnerable to weather and topography. The Civil War on the border therefore evolved into a conflict in which civilians and combatants used the environment for offensive and defensive purposes alike. Civilians, Confederate irregulars, and Union soldiers used nature’s resources–tree cover, hills and streams, and fire–as weapons in their running battles; ultimately, Federal forces were able to gain an equal footing with their counterparts in the challenging landscapes of the border region. This article demonstrates that an examination of how guerrillas, soldiers, and civilians used their environments to wage war is critical for comprehending the complexities and brutality of irregular warfare in the Trans-Mississippi West.


The Nature of Preservation: The Rise of Authenticity at Gettysburg

By Brian Black

Gettysburg, where the preservation of the battlefield occurred over 150 years, has proven to be a bellwether for the shifting priorities of different generations of Americans. This article examines several eras in the process of preservation and production of “the sacred” at Gettysburg; it argues that the public’s growing expectation of historical and environmental authenticity after 1960 required dramatic efforts by the National Park Service to re-envision its preservation mandate. Natural resources played a central role in these efforts, as the NPS sought to purchase land, plant trees, and eradicate deer in their pursuit of historical authenticity. These efforts were not unopposed, however; the landscape of the battlefield that had served as a symbol of commemoration, reconciliation, and patriotism became a consistent symbol of contestation. By emphasizing the connections between Civil War landscapes and the popular consumption of war memory, this article places Gettysburg–which has always been at the heart of Civil War histories–at the center of America’s evolving culture of historic preservation.



Brian Black is professor of history and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona and the author or editor of several books, including Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom and Crude Reality: Petroleum in World History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). This article is part of his forthcoming book Gettysburg Contested: Preserving a Cherished American Landscape (George F. Thompson, 2013).

Lisa M. Brady is associate professor of history at Boise State University. Her first book, War upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War, is published by the University of Georgia Press (2012).

Megan Kate Nelson is a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University. She is the author of Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (University of Georgia Press, 2005) and Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

Matthew M. Stith is assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Tyler. He is completing a book on nature and irregular warfare on the Trans-Mississippi frontier during the Civil War.



Book Reviews

Foreman, Amanda. World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. Reviewd by Samuel Negus.

Thomas, Emory. The Dogs of War: 1861. Reviewed by Mark Miller.

Konig, David Thomas, Paul Finkelman, and Christopher Alan Bracey. eds. The Dred Scott Case: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Race and Law. Reviewed by Michael A. Morrison.

Biddle, Daniel R., and Murray Dubin, eds. Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America. Reviewed by Barbara A. Gannon.

Scott, Sean A. A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War. Reviewed by Luke E. Harlow.

Arenson, Adam. The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War. Reviewed by Frank Towers.

Fowler, John D. and David B.Parker, eds. Breaking the Heartland: The Civil War in Georgia. Reviewed by John C. Inscoe.

Gannon, Barbara A. The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic. Reviewed by John R. Neff.

Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: Slavery, Sacrifice, and Survival. Reviewed by Brian Matthew Jordan.

Browning, Judkin. Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina. Reviewed by David Silkenat.

Hewitt, Lawrence Lee and Arthur W. Bergeron Jr., eds. Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 3: Essays on America’s Civil War. Reviewed by Stephen E. Towne.

Fulton, Joe B. The Reconstruction of Mark Twain: How a Confederate Bushwhacker Became the Lincoln of Our Literature. Reviewed by Susannah J. Ural.

Schultz, Jane E., ed. This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton. Reviewed by Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein.

Brown, Kent Masterson, ed. One of Morgan’s Men: Memoirs of Lieutenant John M. Porter of the Ninth Kentucky
Cavalry. Reviewed by Christopher Tucker.

Book Notes

Carwardine, Richard and Jay Sexton. The Global Lincoln.

Finkelman, Paul and Donald R. Kennon. In the Shadow of Freedom: The Politics of Slavery in the National Capital.

Graham, Martin F. A Pocket History of the Civil War: Citizen Soldiers, Bloody Battles, and the Fight for America’s Future.

Inscoe, John C., ed. The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion.