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Disunion @ the NYTimes
November 2, 2010 1:19 PM   Subscribe

Disunion One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America's most perilous period -- using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded. Updated every Monday.
posted by OmieWise (39 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
And to really make you feel like you're living in 1860, there's no dedicated Disunion RSS feed.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:31 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Road to 1860
posted by clavdivs at 1:36 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a fantastic book called Hanging Henry Gambrill: The Violent Career of Baltimore's Plug Uglies that has a bunch of contemporary accounts of the sheer amount of violence that surrounded elections in Baltimore.

This article gives you the general shape of things
Election rallies were massive provocations, mixing theatrical spectacle with guerrilla warfare, Fourth of July pageantry with thuggery. The American clubs regularly held torchlight processions or grand illuminations featuring floats, fireworks, effigies, banners, speeches, and songs. Because the party that ruled the streets held sway at the polls, partisans regularly marched through opposing wards. They also infiltrated opposition rallies, where they threw the crowd into disarray by jabbing bystanders with the easily concealed shoemaker's awl, similar to a short ice pick. So beloved was the lowly awl that shortly before the presidential election in 1859, the American clubs engaged blacksmiths to forge them en masse, handed out flyers announcing their distribution, and incorporated the awl's image into club banners. A favorite featured “the figure of a man running, with another in pursuit, sticking him with an awl.” At the polling places, the Plug Uglies strapped awls to their knees, surrounded suspect voters and “awled” them into retreat. “Come up and vote; there is room for awl!” became one of many election-time chants intended to amuse and intimidate.
posted by electroboy at 1:37 PM on November 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Amazing how much of electroboy's snippet can be said to reflect the current environment. And yes, I do believe that certain folks would love a modern-day do-over of the civil war.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2010


Ever since I learned about the Taiping Rebellion and its 20 (pinky to lips) million dead (and which was started by Jesus' younger brother), happening at the same time as the Civil War, I can't help but see the Civil War as anything but a scholarly debate.
posted by mullingitover at 2:30 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


True, mullingitover, the dead of the Civil War did not equal the Taiping Rebellion. But still, there had to be some way to solve the slavery issue that didn't involve killing 600,000 Americans, very few of whom either own owned slaves, or had an on the subject that wasn't fundamentally stupid. If there is anything to be proud of in the Civil War, it's the fact that when the scattered rifles of the dead and wounded were collected from the ground after the Battle of Gettysburg, only one in 10 was found ever to have been fired. Meaning that at the majority of the men in uniform at that battle had the common sense not to kill another man over some asinine political opinion.
posted by Faze at 2:40 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good point. Somehow none of the other colonial powers needed to slaughter large portions of their population in order to divorce themselves from the practice.
posted by mullingitover at 2:46 PM on November 2, 2010


Meaning that at the majority of the men in uniform at that battle had the common sense not to kill another man over some asinine political opinion.

HERE COMES DA TROLL.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:56 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


More constructively: thanks for sharing, excellent project and execution.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:15 PM on November 2, 2010


HERE COMES DA TROLL.

Why? I'd be really interested to know what the average civil war soldier thought of the war -- reasons for joining up, and so forth. And if they really did intentionally practice resistance by not firing on the other side. I'm sure this information is out there somewhere, although letters I've read from soldiers writing to their families had much more to do with their physical health and mental outlook than their political opinions.

The one first person account I've read of an opinion of solidering during the CW (an ancestor of mine, writing decades after the war in an attempt to get a pension from the gov't) seemed to be one of resignation, annoyance, and practicality. (He seemed to have joined (Confederate side) mainly because he thought his standing in the community would be hurt if he didn't, was captured and as soon as possible signed an oath of loyalty to the Union in order to get back to his farm and family, thus rendering him ineligible to receive a pension from either the TN gov't. or the federal one. He didn't really seem to be burning with patriotism for either side. (On his way back home his horse died and he got captured again.))
posted by frobozz at 3:19 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


an ill equipped troll at that.

I'd be really interested to know what the average civil war soldier thought of the war
posted by clavdivs at 3:30 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was really disappointed to see this yesterday, because I've been working on a personal site with a very similar idea (blogging the Civil War) as a hobby off and on for a couple of years. (Hey, it's a big project, and I do web development during the day so I don't always want to spend me free time that way.)
posted by kirkaracha at 3:32 PM on November 2, 2010


I'd be really interested to know what the average civil war soldier thought of the war...

For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by McPherson would be a good place to start.

Also General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse attempts to answer some of these questions about the Army of Northern Virginia.

Now, if you want to know why the South seceded, I'd recommend this book.

And yeah, most soldier's letters from that era consist of:

1. I'm feeling well/sick

2. Please send food
posted by marxchivist at 3:36 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why?

I think the phrase asinine political opinion in the context of secession, not to mention slavery, makes the intent crystalline, but whatever.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:36 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ian A.T.: "And to really make you feel like you're living in 1860, there's no dedicated Disunion RSS feed."

Actually, there is.

I stumbled upon this a few days ago too, and it's really interesting so far. I never realized just how unabashedly violent politics were in this era.
posted by Hargrimm at 3:37 PM on November 2, 2010


Meaning that at the majority of the men in uniform at that battle had the common sense not to kill another man over some asinine political opinion.

They weren't protesting any politics, they were people who hadn't been conditioned to kill other people.
Ardant du Picq's surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations on ancient battles, Keegan and Holmes' numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history, Paddy Griffith's data on the extraordinarily low killing rate among Napoleonic and American Civil War regiments, Stouffer's extensive World War II and postwar research, Richard Holmes' assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War, the British Army's laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI's studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations, all confirm Marshall's fundamental conclusion that man is not, by nature, a close-range, interpersonal killer.
See "Men Against Fire: How Many Soldiers Actually Fired Their Weapons at the Enemy During the Vietnam War," Dave Grossman's On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and S.L.A. Marshall's Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command.

I'd be really interested to know what the average civil war soldier thought of the war -- reasons for joining up, and so forth.

Consider James McPherson's What They Fought For 1861-1865, and Chandra Manning's What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Keegans': The Face of Battle
posted by clavdivs at 3:48 PM on November 2, 2010


Can't you forget?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:06 PM on November 2, 2010


Can't you forget?

To fire your musket? ... or the actual origins and history of the Civil War? Evidently both.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:17 PM on November 2, 2010


(Not you, Kirth. Obviously.)
posted by joe lisboa at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2010


(Dammit, that came out wrong, too. Argh. I was not directing my comment at you, Kirth. Gah.)
posted by joe lisboa at 4:24 PM on November 2, 2010


>>And to really make you feel like you're living in 1860, there's no dedicated Disunion RSS feed.
>Actually, there is.


Awesome, thanks. I respectfully withdraw my snark. How did you find it? I looked all over for it...is it linked somewhere on the page and I'm too dense to find it?
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:35 PM on November 2, 2010


Ian A.T.: "Awesome, thanks. I respectfully withdraw my snark. How did you find it? I looked all over for it...is it linked somewhere on the page and I'm too dense to find it?"

On Firefox, at least, there's a little RSS icon that appears in the address bar when there's a feed available for a page. I just clicked on that and there was a 'Disunion Category Feed' available. I assume that's something the NYT does for each category on its blogs, since the format is just:
http://BLOGNAME.blogs.nytimes.com/category/CATEGORYNAME/feed/
posted by Hargrimm at 4:43 PM on November 2, 2010


Heh. I use that little button all the time, but I guess I'm just used to randomly making the seemingly arbitrary choice between Atom & RSS2.0 because I totally didn't realize that my two options had changed.

And for the record, there's a Disunion RSS link at the bottom of the sidebar, too. Not sure how I missed that.

Sorry for the derail, Omie...
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:56 PM on November 2, 2010


I'd be really interested to know what the average civil war soldier thought of the war

You mention having read a few pension records. It's interesting to note that pretty much all of the pension records survived. Most still haven't been transcribed into searchable/readable text, simply due to sheer volume. For whatever reason, almost every detail and historical record of the civil war was meticulously documented and preserved. More and more of it makes its way onto the internet each year.

If you live in the East, odds are that your county library has a complete set of local civil war data and epherma on microfilm. Seriously. They saved everything.

I worked on transcribing and digitizing a few civil war pension files for soldiers from my hometown, and can understand why nobody's tripping head-over-heels to finish the job. The general population wasn't particularly good at spelling or handwriting in the 1860s, and the effects of passing the document between about 10 generations of microfilm over 100 years made the document itself very difficult to read. Also consider that American English has evolved/changed considerably in the past 150 years. In short, they were nigh incomprehensible.

Also, they were dry, dry, dry, but very good for historical documentation, as the soldiers had to document everything they did during the war in order to receive their pension.
posted by schmod at 6:32 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Y'all talking about the War of Northern Aggression?
posted by fuq at 7:00 PM on November 2, 2010


no, we southerners are speaking of the General Strike of Slave Labor.
posted by eustatic at 7:36 PM on November 2, 2010


things began to spin out of control when supporters of a rival presidential contender, John Bell, charged toward the Lincoln men, “calling them ‘negro stealers,’ ‘sons of b____s,’ &c.” At the corner of 12th Street and Fourth Avenue, several dozen volunteer firemen — members of Engine Company 23 — joined the fray, swinging roundhouse blows with clubs and heavy iron wrenches that the Wide Awakes tried to parry with their torches. But the tide of battle turned when the young Republicans brought their Lincoln axes into play. They chased the enemy back into the company firehouse and promptly began smashing down its barricaded doors, as other idealistic marchers flung bricks and cobblestones. (News reports are vague about what finally ended the fracas.)

And people bitch about the fractious nature of our current politics.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:04 PM on November 2, 2010



Meaning that at the majority of the men in uniform at that battle had the common sense not to kill another man over some asinine political opinion.

They weren't protesting any politics, they were people who hadn't been conditioned to kill other people.
Ardant du Picq's surveys of French officers in the 1860s and his observations on ancient battles, Keegan and Holmes' numerous accounts of ineffectual firing throughout history, Paddy Griffith's data on the extraordinarily low killing rate among Napoleonic and American Civil War regiments, Stouffer's extensive World War II and postwar research, Richard Holmes' assessment of Argentine firing rates in the Falklands War, the British Army's laser reenactments of historical battles, the FBI's studies of nonfiring rates among law enforcement officers in the 1950s and 1960s, and countless other individual and anecdotal observations, all confirm Marshall's fundamental conclusion that man is not, by nature, a close-range, interpersonal killer.
See "Men Against Fire: How Many Soldiers Actually Fired Their Weapons at the Enemy During the Vietnam War," Dave Grossman's On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and S.L.A. Marshall's Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command.

I'd be really interested to know what the average civil war soldier thought of the war -- reasons for joining up, and so forth.

Consider James McPherson's What They Fought For 1861-1865, and Chandra Manning's What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War.


Except now, they've realized this and the rates of fire are simply amazing. The Army figured this out and has conditioned its newest soldiers to kill.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:07 PM on November 2, 2010


Amazing how much of electroboy's snippet can be said to reflect the current environment.

Given that I've never been stabbed with an awl, kidnapped, drugged and forced to vote multiple times, shot at with a cannon, or otherwise engaged in running street battles with rival political parties on election day, I'd say the opposite.
posted by electroboy at 9:38 PM on November 2, 2010


Y'all talking about the War of Northern Aggression?

No, we're talking about The Slaveowner's Rebellion, trollboy.
posted by happyroach at 11:57 PM on November 2, 2010


I think Fuq is placing his tongue in his cheek. The naming of the Civil War is something you hear about if you spend any time bopping around the South and/or Southerners.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:32 PM on November 3, 2010


I would agree to the term "The most recent unpleasantness"

there was nothing 'civil' about it"
posted by clavdivs at 5:34 PM on November 3, 2010


The Fratricidal War?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:56 PM on November 3, 2010


"sure"
posted by clavdivs at 9:50 PM on November 3, 2010


Starting tomorrow, the Rosenbach Museum and Library is doing the same thing with items from their collections.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:48 PM on November 5, 2010


Today's entry, on the "Lincoln Column" is particularly good.

So far, I've really enjoyed the length of these...just long enough to interest me, but not so long that they pile up and cause me undue "infoguilt" for not having read them.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:14 PM on November 5, 2010


Um, holy crap you guys: this entry was written by Ted Widmer, who's credited here as "the director and librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University"...but he's also known as the former Lord Rockingham of The Upper Crust!
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:12 AM on November 8, 2010


I never thought an article about the origins of Lincoln's beard would be this fascinating.
posted by Kattullus at 4:24 PM on November 28, 2010


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