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.
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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