Thursday, June 19, 2008
"Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat"
Like many essay collections, Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat [general editor Kent Gramm, University of Alabama Press, 2008] covers a range of topics with varying degrees of success in terms of compelling analysis and originality. Scott Hartwig begins it all with a John Keegan [Face of Battle]-inspired treatment of Gettysburg. The rest of the chapters are essentially devoted to the aftermath of battlefield carnage. One may differ with his conclusions, but Eric T. Dean penned a thoughtful article that centered around his critique of the standard scholarly works [e.g. Hess, Linderman] that sought to relate how Civil War soldiers dealt with their combat experiences. Neurologist Bruce Evans contributed one of the better chapter length summaries of Civil War medicine that I've come across. Out of place, in my opinion, were the personalized, emotional chapters by Paul Fussell and Alan Nolan (Nolan's recitation of his now trademark anti-"Lost Cause" presentation seemed particularly so). Finishing up the book is a 'numbers' article by general editor Kent Gramm. While not covering terribly new ground, it serves as a reminder of the importance of analyzing the underlying assumptions behind the calculation of various Civil War numerical figures [they tend to get passed on through the ages with little reflection], and also the significance of context when attaching meaning to the numbers.