Book Review: Lt. Spalding in Civil War Louisiana: A Union Officer's Humor, Privilege, and Ambition


by Michael D. Pierson

Naton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. xxiv, 190. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $38.00. ISBN: 0807164399

Lieutenant Spalding’s Civil War

On July 8, 1862, 22-year old 1st Lt. Stephen Foster Spalding, 8th Vermont, wrote his former college roommate from Algiers, Louisiana, where he was serving in garrison. The lieutenant’s seven page missive offered some details about his recent activities, both official and unofficial. In this work, Prof. Pierson (U. Mass.) takes Spalding’s letter and uses it to help throw light on American life, civil and military, in the era of the Civil War; in effect, he expands upon Spalding’s experiences and observations, by bringing in evidence from other sources, to develop some deeper insights into the lieutenant’s world.

After a thoughtful preface about exploring archives, Pierson looks at Spalding’s family background and early life. Then, working from Spalding’s experiences and attitudes as reflected in the letter, Pierson discusses the nature of contemporary military service, American racial and social attitudes, and more.

So, for example, Pierson takes Spalding’s two pages about a rather sin-filled leave in New Orleans, to develop a discussion of contemporary attitudes on drink and sex, while his analysis of a bit of gallows humor and the young officer’s musings over death leads him to help us understand how soldiers coped with this ever present aspect of military life; Lt. Spalding himself was killed in action on June 14, 1863, apparently the first time he was under fire.

Anyone interested in soldiering during the Civil War will find Lt. Spalding in Civil War Louisiana a worthwhile read.

Note: Lt. Spalding in Civil War Louisiana is also available in pdf, ISBN 978-0-8071-6440-2, and as an e-Book, ISBN 978-0-8071-6441-9


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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