The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction
The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction

The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction

by Mark E Neely

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The Civil War is often portrayed as the most brutal war in America's history, a premonition of twentieth-century slaughter and carnage. In challenging this view, Mark E. Neely, Jr., considers the war's destructiveness in a comparative context, revealing the sense of limits that guided the conduct of American soldiers and statesmen. Neely begins by contrasting Civil War behavior with U.S. soldiers' experiences in the Mexican War of 1846. He examines Price's Raid in Missouri for evidence of deterioration in the restraints imposed by the customs of war; and in a brilliant analysis of Philip Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley campaign, he shows that the actions of U.S. cavalrymen were selective and controlled. The Mexican war of the 1860s between French imperial forces and republicans provided a new yardstick for brutality: Emperor Maximilian's infamous Black Decree threatened captured enemies with execution. Civil War battles, however, paled in comparison with the unrestrained warfare waged against the Plains Indians. Racial beliefs, Neely shows, were a major determinant of wartime behavior. Destructive rhetoric was rampant in the congressional debate over the resolution to avenge the treatment of Union captives at Andersonville by deliberately starving and freezing to death Confederate prisoners of war. Nevertheless, to gauge the events of the war by the ferocity of its language of political hatred is a mistake, Neely argues. The modern overemphasis on violence in Civil War literature has led many scholars to go too far in drawing close analogies with the twentieth century's "total war" and the grim guerrilla struggles of Vietnam.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674041363
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 06/30/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 285
File size: 466 KB

About the Author

Mark E. Neely, Jr., is McCabe-Greer Professor of the History of the Civil War Era, Pennsylvania State University, and the author of a number of books, including his Pulitzer prize-winning The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties.

Table of Contents

Contents Introduction: Destructiveness in the Civil War 1. The Mexican-American War: Republicanism and the Ethos of War 2. Price's Raid: Limited War in Missouri 3. Emperor Maximilian's Black Decree: War in the Tropics 4. The Shenandoah Valley: Sheridan and Scorched Earth 5. The Sand Creek Massacre: The Grand Burning of the Prairie 6. Avenging Andersonville: Retaliation and the Political Uses of Hatred Conclusion: The Cult of Violence in Civil War History Notes Selected Bibliography Acknowledgments Illustration Sources Index

What People are Saying About This

Ari Kelman

Neely tackles a fascinating and important topic: were terror and brutality a key part of the Civil War? He makes a compelling case that the combat was more controlled than we now often accept. His account is original­-in some cases clearly pathbreaking­-and his tone passionate and gripping. This is a major contribution that will capture a wide readership.
Ari Kelman, author of A River and Its City

Gary W. Gallagher

In a perceptive and rigorously argued call to resist the temptation to describe the Civil War as an unusually destructive or brutal war, Mark Neely finds new ways to examine old questions and to challenge prevailing interpretations. This is another first-rate work from one of the best and most imaginative scholars working in the field of Civil War history.

Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Confederate War

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