Across the Divide: Union Soldiers View the Northern Home Front
Steven J. Ramold, New York University Press
The war’s nature made it all but certain that tensions would at some point emerge between the soldiers and the people back home. As in all armed conflicts, there were significant experiential differences between the two in 1861-1865, with soldiers exposed to all manner of physical hardships and dangers that folks on the home front could not fully comprehend. On top of this, the challenge of subduing the Confederacy compelled the U.S. government to adopt measures, such as emancipation and conscription, that did not sit well with much of the Northern populace.
In Across the Divide, Steven J. Ramold looks at how soldiers negotiated issues arising from changes in gender dynamics, the adoption of emancipation and conscription, the peace movement and the 1864 presidential election. Ramold quotes extensively from soldiers’ writings. Most soldiers in blue (but by no means all), he demonstrates, supported Lincoln’s reelection, endorsed emancipation and conscription, and were hostile to Copperheadism. The fact that this was in line with what elections indicated about Northerners’ beliefs raises the question of how significant the divide between soldiers and the home front really was.
The relationships between the soldiers and the civil population have often been distinguished by considerable discord. In his 1957 study The Soldier and the State, Samuel Huntington argued that this was inevitable due to a conflict between the liberal values that are cherished by mainstream Americans and the conservative ethos of the military. It would have been more impressive had Ramold engaged Huntington’s thesis directly, and further extended his analysis into the postwar period, but there’s still plenty here to make this book a fine addition to scholarship on both the common soldier and the war for the Union.
Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.