The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies

The War for the Common Soldier: How Men Thought, Fought, and Survived in Civil War Armies

by Peter S. Carmichael


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How did Civil War soldiers endure the brutal and unpredictable existence of army life during the conflict? This question is at the heart of Peter S. Carmichael's sweeping new study of men at war. Based on close examination of the letters and records left behind by individual soldiers from both the North and the South, Carmichael explores the totality of the Civil War experience—the marching, the fighting, the boredom, the idealism, the exhaustion, the punishments, and the frustrations of being away from families who often faced their own dire circumstances. Carmichael focuses not on what soldiers thought but rather how they thought. In doing so, he reveals how, to the shock of most men, well-established notions of duty or disobedience, morality or immorality, loyalty or disloyalty, and bravery or cowardice were blurred by war.

Digging deeply into his soldiers' writing, Carmichael resists the idea that there was "a common soldier" but looks into their own words to find common threads in soldiers' experiences and ways of understanding what was happening around them. In the end, he argues that a pragmatic philosophy of soldiering emerged, guiding members of the rank and file as they struggled to live with the contradictory elements of their violent and volatile world. Soldiering in the Civil War, as Carmichael argues, was never a state of being but a process of becoming.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469643090
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 12/06/2018
Series: Littlefield History of the Civil War Era
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 72,171
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Peter S. Carmichael is the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, and author of previous books, including The Last Generation.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

How did Civil War soldiers face the daily pandemonium and dreariness of fighting a war? Bringing us straight into their hearts and minds, Peter Carmichael skillfully illuminates how the men continually juggled patriotism and apathy, obedience and defiance, manliness and vulnerability, zeal and exhaustion, bravery and dread, both on and off the battlefield.—Martha Hodes, author of Mourning Lincoln

Carmichael's deep focus on individual stories brings to life the complexity of the soldier experience better than any existing book in the field.—Lorien Foote, author of The Yankee Plague

In Carmichael's glorious book, Civil War soldiers find themselves, if they are lucky, in the eye of a storm, a pragmatic 'come-what-may' mental state that lasts until they are 'played out' or the war is over, and their former selves come flooding back in a process of unbecoming every bit as fraught as the process of becoming a soldier had been. This is a smart, beautiful book; it is a trenchant demand for us to return again to the study of the Civil War's common soldier; and it is a triumph.—Stephen Berry, author of House of Abraham

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