Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: A More Civil War, How the Union Waged a Just War, by D. H. Dilbeck

[first published in The Civil War News, June 2017]

A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War. 
By D.H. Dilbeck. Notes, bibliography, index, 224 pp., 2016. University of North Carolina Press. $34.95. 

Many texts have focused on the unspeakable violence and destruction of the Civil War as evidence that it ushered in a new era of “total war,” particularly in the way it expanded to target civilians and private property. Other essential studies, most notably Mark Grimsley’s, The Hard Hand of War (Cambridge University Press, 1995), and Mark E. Neely’s The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction (Harvard University Press, 2007), have tempered that assessment by highlighting, among other things, the significant restraint shown by and limits imposed upon Federal forces in enemy territory.

D.H. Dilbeck, in A More Civil War, aims to bring another dimension to our understanding of how the war was fought, and to offer a better understanding of how Federals reconciled support for such savage destruction with their notion of conducting a “just war.” While Grimsley and Neely thoroughly chronicle Union military restraint, Dilbeck maintains that their volumes fall short of explaining exactly why that restraint was manifested.

It is the philosophical, spiritual, and legal underpinnings of that restraint, codified in April of 1863 with the Lieber Code, that the author especially endeavors to illuminate. The Lieber Code outlined the limits to conduct in war, as befits a civilized Christian society, and yet a just war demanded severe prosecution to ensure an expeditious resolution. The idea is expressed in simplest terms in article 29 of the Code itself: “The more vigorously wars are pursued, the better it is for humanity. Sharp wars are brief.”

Of particular interest here is the profile of Francis Lieber, and the evolution of his thinking on the
rules of war. The Code, issued with Lincoln’s signature as General Orders 100 and entitled, “Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field,” was authored by a man who felt keenly the horrors of war, having three sons in uniform. One of his boys was killed fighting for the Confederacy, and another was maimed in the service of an Illinois regiment.

As I read this book, it occurred to me that I had never seen a photo of Francis Lieber, who plays such a monumental role in the “civil” part of the title. I was surprised the publisher did not include one (for interested readers, you can quickly find a portrait of Lieber online at the Library of Congress site, from their Brady- Handy Collection).

A More Civil War is well organized and deeply researched, with ample notes and an impressive bibliography. It breaks new ground to the extent that it adds fresh furrows to the field plowed by Grimsley and Neely, and that’s a meaningful contribution.

David Woodbury was a contributing author and cartographer for The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, and is the editor of Talking About History: Historians Discuss the Civil War. 

[Civil War News is a current events monthly newspaper (12 times a year) published by Jack W. Melton Jr. of Historical Publications LLC.]

Professor Francis Lieber (Library of Congress)

Blue & Gray Magazine Ceases Publication

Sad news today from Dave Roth in Columbus, Ohio. Many or most Civil War enthusiasts who came of age in the post-Centennial years cut their teeth on Blue & Gray magazine. The hallmark "General's Tour," for many years, was the place to go for a modern, driving-tour map of certain battles and campaigns. For certain actions, back issues of B&G probably still remain the only resource for such things. 

I still feel a tinge of excitement just to see the familiar cover. While I regret not always keeping my subscription current every single year -- contributing to the problem Mr. Roth highlights in his farewell address -- my home is nevertheless littered with dozens of issues on every subject, going back to the mid-80's or so. Rarely did I visit a battlefield visitor center without picking up some back issues, quite a few of which I read cover-to-cover in hotel rooms and on long flights home from battlefield tours. 

Thank you to Dave, and Jason and Robin, for so many years of an outstanding publication. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

History revealed: Sgt. Harvey Tucker's Fredericksburg grave

An utterly fascinating blog post from John Banks' Civil War Blog . . . 

The scene at the top of this post, photographed by Mathew Brady's operators in Fredericksburg, Va., on May 19 or 20, 1864, probably was repeated hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the town and the surrounding, war-ravaged countryside during the Civil War. 
 Read the full essay here