Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil Warby Michael C. C. Adams
Many Americans, argues Michael C. C. Adams, tend to think of the Civil War as more glorious, less awful, than the reality. Millions of tourists flock to battlefields each year as vacation destinations, their perceptions of the war often shaped by reenactors who work hard for verisimilitude but who cannot ultimately simulate mutilation, madness, chronic disease,
Many Americans, argues Michael C. C. Adams, tend to think of the Civil War as more glorious, less awful, than the reality. Millions of tourists flock to battlefields each year as vacation destinations, their perceptions of the war often shaped by reenactors who work hard for verisimilitude but who cannot ultimately simulate mutilation, madness, chronic disease, advanced physical decay. In Living Hell, Adams tries a different tack, clustering the voices of myriad actual participants on the firing line or in the hospital ward to create a virtual historical reenactment.
Perhaps because the United States has not seen conventional war on its own soil since 1865, the collective memory of its horror has faded, so that we have sanitized and romanticized even the experience of the Civil War. Neither film nor reenactment can fully capture the hard truth of the four-year conflict. Living Hell presents a stark portrait of the human costs of the Civil War and gives readers a more accurate appreciation of its profound and lasting consequences.
Adams examines the sharp contrast between the expectations of recruits versus the realities of communal living, the enormous problems of dirt and exposure, poor diet, malnutrition, and disease. He describes the slaughter produced by close-order combat, the difficulties of cleaning up the battlefields—where tens of thousands of dead and wounded often lay in an area of only a few square miles—and the resulting psychological damage survivors experienced.
Drawing extensively on letters and memoirs of individual soldiers, Adams assembles vivid accounts of the distress Confederate and Union soldiers faced daily: sickness, exhaustion, hunger, devastating injuries, and makeshift hospitals where saws were often the medical instrument of choice.
Inverting Robert E. Lee’s famous line about war, Adams suggests that too many Americans become fond of war out of ignorance of its terrors. Providing a powerful counterpoint to Civil War glorification, Living Hell echoes William Tecumseh Sherman’s comment that war is cruelty and cannot be refined.
Praise for Our Masters the Rebels: A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861–1865
"This excellent and provocative work concludes with a chapter suggesting how the image of Southern military superiority endured in spite of defeat."— Civil War History
"Adams's imaginative connections between culture and combat provide a forceful reminder that Civil War military history belongs not in an encapsulated realm, with its own categories and arcane language, but at the center of the study of the intellectual, social, and psychological currents that prevailed in the mid-nineteenth century."— Journal of American History
Praise for The Best War Ever: America and World War II
"Adams has a real gift for efficiently explaining complex historical problems."— Reviews in American History
"Not only is this mythologizing bad history, says Adams, it is dangerous as well. Surrounding the war with an aura of nostalgia both fosters the delusion that war can cure our social ills and makes us strong again, and weakens confidence in our ability to act effectively in our own time."— Journal of Military History
Johns Hopkins University Press
Any who would truly understand the daily trials of the Civil War must have this book!
Provides a vital gut-wrenching counterpoint to the Civil War's glamorization in America's collective memory, a perspective as important to understanding the war as any political history or general's biography. Living Hell will appeal to lovers of military history while being accessible enough for general readers. Those with the fortitude to endure its darkest moments will find it fascinating.
This book is a well researched, well written look down the rabbit hole of the Civil War as it was, not how we have come to imagine and glorify it.
Civil War scholars will find the horrrors recounted [in this book] amplified as they evoke memories of gory and macabre passages they have read in the past.
Adams (Echoes of War) eschews the celebratory patinas of Civil War memorials to reveal the extremely dark sides of the war. Using soldiers' accounts, the author describes the misery, gore, and futility—"the real war"—that poet Walt Whitman omitted in his works. Adams describes it all: the disease and desperation that led soldiers to have mental and physical breakdowns, the life-altering injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders suffered by those on the front lines, the ravages and rapes of civilians by invading and retreating armies, and much more. Insisting that we have glorified the war too much and, thus, betrayed history, Adams aims to right the course with his honesty. He also ponders the questions of how and why we have come to adore the Civil War and have, as a result, minimized its terrible truths. VERDICT This essential book gives soldiers their due and presents the realities of war in a way few have dared. Ideal for anyone interested in military history.—Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
- Johns Hopkins University Press
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Meet the Author
Michael C. C. Adams, Regents Professor of History Emeritus, Northern Kentucky University, is author of The Best War Ever: America and World War II, published by Johns Hopkins, and Our Masters the Rebels: A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861–1865, winner of the Jefferson Davis Prize for the best Civil War book, awarded by the Museum of the Confederacy.
Johns Hopkins University Press
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The author certainly painted a picture that "war is hell" and how we shouldn't necessarily celebrate the carnage and destruction it brings. I do wish there were photos included within the book but the author did explain why they were not.
I already knew about the horrors of this Victorian age, in particular that war, the Civil War. However, this book really brought it home. It is a very finely crafted piece of authorship, highly entertaining in a macabre way. It is horrifying. The best book I've read in years.
the real civil war. the feeling of it in daily American life in 1860's. includes the negatives: effects on civilian life, the rotting gore of dead & dying post battles. the medical care post battles. the desolation of so many farms. the struggling families of the 1860's receiving soldier death notices.