by Stephen Berry, editor
Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Pp. xiv, 386.
Notes., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 0820341274
Based on a series of papers originally presented at a symposium in 2009, Weirding the War deals with curious, odd, neglected, or overlooked ideas, events, or aspects of the Civil War that help throw fresh light on war and society during the great national crisis.
In his introduction, Prof. Berry (Georgia) notes that we have heard much about the politics, battles, commanders, and “homesick soldiers and their wives,” but “less from soldiers who looted bodies and joyfully blew things up; from men who guiltlessly made money from the war; from madams trafficking in the war’s wake; and from African American troops who decided desertion was the better part of valor.” The essays, by nearly 20 scholars, are grouped into six broad categories: “the appetite for destruction”; new looks at civil war women; confrontations with death; contrabands, “colored troops,” and the KKK; honor and soldiering;, and the aftermath. Each of the essays examines some seemingly trivial subject, such as noted in Berry’s comment, that opens a new window into the times. So we learn about William Quantrill’s adolescent “wife,” soldier slang, an historian’s encounters with death, hunger in the wartime South, the war’s effect on courtship rituals and pre-marital sex, a Kentucky cold snap and its influence on the emancipation of thousands, the origins of the KKK, desertion among black troops, PTSD, and more, even a “what if” presupposing that James A. Whistler had not washed out of West Point.
These essays on off-beat aspects of the period’s history often give useful insights into the Civil War, Reconstruction, and memory, and make Weirding the War a valuable, informative, and often amusing read.