All that Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South

All that Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South

by Stephen William Berry
     
 

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In May 1861, Jefferson Davis issued a general call for volunteers for the Confederate Army. Men responded in such numbers that 200,000 had to be turned away. Few of these men would have attributed their zeal to the cause of states' rights or slavery. As All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South makes clear, most southern men saw the war

Overview

In May 1861, Jefferson Davis issued a general call for volunteers for the Confederate Army. Men responded in such numbers that 200,000 had to be turned away. Few of these men would have attributed their zeal to the cause of states' rights or slavery. As All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South makes clear, most southern men saw the war more simply as a test of their manhood, a chance to defend the honor of their sweethearts, fiancés, and wives back home.
Drawing upon diaries and personal letters, Stephen Berry seamlessly weaves together the stories of six very different men, detailing the tangled roles that love and ambition played in each man's life. Their writings reveal a male-dominated Southern culture that exalted women as "repositories of divine grace" and treasured romantic love as the platform from which men launched their bids for greatness. The exhilarating onset of war seemed to these, and most southern men, a grand opportunity to fulfill their ambition for glory and to prove their love for women—on the same field of battle. As the realities of the war became apparent, however, the letters and diaries turned from idealized themes of honor and country to solemn reflections on love and home.
Elegant and poetic, All That Makes a Man recovers the emotional lives of unsung Southern men and women and reveals that the fiction of Cold Mountain mirrors a poignant reality. In their search for a cause worthy of their lives, many Southern soldiers were disappointed in their hopes for a Southern nation. But they still had their women's love, and there they would rebuild.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Berry's study combines superb scholarship with a poet's love of language. From his own pen and from those of his sources, he seasons his text with turns of phrase that bring pleasure to eye, ear and tongue."—Baltimore Sun

"Berry frames his character sketches in informative and sometimes provocative essays on sex and gender roles.... This book looks in two direction, toward gender studies and toward the Civil War, and determined readers interested in either can extract considerable value from it."—Publishers Weekly

"Stephen Berry has mined the letters and diaries of Southern white men and women of the Civil War generation to explore the relationship among the competing masculine values of love and ambition, home and honor, sensitivity and stoicism. The wrenching impact of war on the tensions between the outer and inner meanings of masculinity form the central theme of this fascinating study."—James M. McPherson, Princeton University

"Stephen Berry's new book makes powerful contributions to Southern history, Civil War history, and gender history. But, most of all, it is a landmark achievement in historical writing. Addressed as much to the heart as to the head, it leaves an irreducible—and unforgettable—impression. The scene dazzles, the characters live, the prose sings."—John Demos, Yale University

"With an elegance and intellectual breadth rarely found in a first book, All That Makes a Man provides memorable vignettes about how Southern gentlemen of the Civil War era lived, loved, and died—many of them in battle. Stephen Berry's study deeply probes the nature of manliness as they defined it for themselves. Offering fertile readings of letters, diaries, and imaginative literature, he skillfully illuminates a perilous, tragic period in regional history." —Bertram Wyatt-Brown, University of Florida

Publishers Weekly
An expanded doctoral dissertation, this study of the motives of Southern men before and during the Civil War has a trade book's title and subtitle, but in style and substance it is really an academic monograph. Berry-assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke-argues that the pursuit of distinction ("eclat") in the eyes of a virtuous woman was a compelling motive for men to go off to war. He offers six case studies, including fire-eating secessionist Laurence Keit's pursuit of commitment-phobic Susanna Sparks, and the paradoxically named David Outlaw, a lawyer who gave up a political career in revulsion at what he saw as the sexual immorality rampant in Washington, D.C. In wealthy young Henry Dixon, a planter-class playboy, burgeoning adolescent sexuality fought (and eventually won) over his desire to worship women and led him to a case of syphilis. Nathaniel Dawson married a formidable and demanding half-sister of Mary Lincoln, who won his undying love through peace and war. Theodore Montfort was a middle-aged paterfamilias who sought distinction by enlisting, and lawyer Henry Croft went through life worshipping the memory of his fiancee, who died two weeks before the wedding. The author frames his character sketches in informative and sometimes provocative essays on sex and gender roles, and adds a melancholy note by recording that Montfort and Keit died in the war and Dixon died of syphilis. This book looks in two directions, toward gender studies and toward the Civil War, and determined readers interested in either can extract considerable value from it. (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mentalites meet Minie balls in this study of the Old South’s romantic "honor culture" and its collapse into disillusionment.

"You ought to be delighted at my occasionally leaving you," wrote a Confederate officer to his spouse on riding off to war, "for it shows me more plainly than anything else that you are my wife indeed." The battlefield was the place to test and earn honor, the hearth the place to enshrine it: such notions, asserts debut author Berry (History/ Univ. of North Carolina, Pembroke), were central to the "hypermasculinized" culture of the South, which prized women but didn’t find much for them to do apart from serve as vessels of civilization. Working with a body of letters and diaries, Berry explores the emotional world of Southern soldiers, who went off to fight full of high ideas about warfare and womenfolk but returned from four years of bloodshed and starvation with a less glamorous view of things. Those poignant documents are immediate and revealing. One Alabama soldier who later died in combat, for instance, wrote to his wife that he and his comrades "are hardly allowed to sigh at the fall of our friends and relatives, and if we do happen to shed a tear secretly, it is soon dried up to make room for someone else." Berry’s treatment of the documents is respectful but dispassionate, as when he dryly observes that men, "as much as women, depended on members of the opposite sex to validate and make meaningful their struggles and successes, to aid, comfort, and believe in them, even and especially when self-belief began to fade or fail"--as it did, Berry writes, when the Southern fighters discovered that the creed of death before dishonor carried a contradiction:death was dishonor, for "how much nobility is there in dying of dysentery?"

Lively reading, no, but a useful contribution to the scholarly literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195145670
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
12/19/2002
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
9.25(w) x 6.30(h) x 0.94(d)
Lexile:
1290L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Stephen W. Berry II is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. All That Makes A Man is his first book.

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