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Civil War History: Archive

June 2017, Volume 63, No. 2

Feb 28th, 2017

Civil War History Journal Cover 63.2

Tracing the “Sacred Relics”:  The Strange Career of Preston Brooks’s Cane
by: Michael E. Woods

Preston Brooks’s May 1856 assault on Charles Sumner transformed a common cane into a bitterly contested symbol. For some, it was Exhibit A in the case against the brutally domineering “slave power”; for others, it was a relic of southern chivalry. Crucially, the cane’s materiality – its dimensions, composition, and durability – shaped interpretations of the attack, both in its immediate aftermath and for generations to come. This article first examines how contemporaries in 1856 weighed the seriousness of Brooks’s deed in the heft of his weapon. Then, it traces the cane’s fragmented post-1856 history, which offers few clear answers but many clues about how artifacts influence contests over historical memory.

The Dress of the Enemy: Clothing and Disease in the Civil War Era
by: Sarah Jones Weicksel

In May 1865, American, Bermudian, and Canadian newspapers were covering a “Yellow Fever Plot,” in which a Confederate physician was accused of attempting to infect the northern masses with soiled clothing used during a Bermudian yellow fever epidemic. This article addresses why such a plot was conceivable, exploring the connections among Civil War-era beliefs about clothing, disease, and the nation. Drawing together textual, material, and visual sources, the article takes seriously clothing as a physical object that was worn, soiled, laundered, and destroyed. Considerations about clothing shaped the broader medical knowledge and practices developed within the context of war.  The article argues that, together, period understandings of disease transmission, cloth’s physical ability to carry and transmit disease, and broader fears about the nation’s stability created a context in which it was possible to imagine infected clothing as a threat not just to individuals, but to the nation itself.

Vacationing with the Civil War:  Maine’s Regimental Summer Cottages
by: C. Ian Stevenson

From 1884 to 1893, five of Maine’s Civil War regimental associations erected communal summer cottages on Casco Bay’s harbor islands.  These buildings—individually designed but featuring synonymous spaces—married memory and leisure by incorporating Union veteran reunions with vacation activities that deliberately embraced the participation of wives and children. Much more than comfortable vacation spaces lined with Civil War memorabilia, these cottages attempted to satisfy multivalent veteran needs as places for solidifying memory, promoting healing, and conveying a legacy controlled by the veterans themselves.

To understand the material world of Union veterans, historians must examine the buildings and spaces in which veterans and their families interacted with objects and with each other. The veteran cottages offer a new framework for Civil War era material culture analysis rooted in landscape and architecture. The cottages acted upon objects and people, constructing the architecture for Union soldiers’ memories. Under one roof, they sheltered fraternity, family, and furlough, simultaneously conveying triumph and loss.


Joan E. Cashin received her doctorate from Harvard University, and she is a professor of history at The Ohio State University. She is the author or editor of four books and many articles. She is currently finishing a manuscript on the struggle for material resources during the Civil War.

Brian Luskey is associate professor of history at West Virginia University. He is the author of On the Make: Clerks and the Quest for Capital in Nineteenth-Century America (2010) and coeditor (with Wendy Woloson) of Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America (2015). He is currently writing a book titled “Soldiers and Servants of Fortune: Free Labor’s Frauds in Civil War America.”

Megan Kate Nelson is a writer and historian living in Lincoln, Massachusetts. She is the author of Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (2012) and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (2005). Her third book, Path of the Dead Man: How the West was Won—and Lost—during the American Civil War, will be published by Scribner in 2019.

Jason Phillips is associate professor of history and the Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University. He is the author of Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility (2007) and editor of Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South (2013). He is currently working on a book titled “Civil War Looming: A History of the Future.”

C. Ian Stevenson is a PhD candidate in Boston University’s American and New England Studies Program, where he focuses on architectural history, landscapes, and environmental history. Before pursuing doctoral work, Ian was assistant editor for the Humanities and Administrator of the Loeb Classical Library and The I Tatti Renaissance Library at Harvard University Press.

Sarah Jones Weicksel received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2017.  Her dissertation was titled “The Fabric of War: Clothing, Culture, and Violence in the American Civil War Era.” In 2015–16 she was a fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Michael E. Woods is assistant professor of history at Marshall University. He is the author of Bleeding Kansas: Slavery, Sectionalism, and Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border (2016) and Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States (2014), which won the Southern Historical Association’s James A. Rawley Award in 2015. Woods is currently writing a dual biography of Stephen A. Douglas and Jefferson Davis.


Book Reviews:
Stewart, Catherine A. Long Past Slavery:  Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project. Reviewed by Frank Cirillo.

Karcher, Carolyn L. A Refugee from His Race:  Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy. Reviewed by Kristin Bouldin.

Parsons, Elaine Frantz. Ku-Klux:  The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction. Reviewed by Hilary Green.

Green, Hilary. Educational Reconstruction:  African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890. Reviewed by Catherine A. Jones.

Levine, Robert S. The Lives of Frederick Douglass. Reviewed by Manisha Sinha.

Forret, Jeff. Slave against Slave:  Plantation Violence in the Old South. Reviewed by Tyler D. Parry.

Diggins, Milt. Stealing Freedom along the Mason-Dixon Line:  Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland. Reviewed by Stanley D. Maxson.

Maddox, Lucy. The Parker Sisters:  A Border Kidnapping. Reviewed by Rodney J. Steward.