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Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front During the Civil War

 Edited by Ginette Aley and J.L. Anderson, Southern Illinois University Press

Ever since Philip Shaw Paludan made home-front studies a viable genre in Civil War historiography, monographs and anthologies have focused on regions, states, gender, ethnicity, families, the economy and social change. The editors of Union Heartland argue that the Midwestern home front deserves detailed analysis because it “comprised a mixed population of northerners and southerners in a way that people from the states of the northeast and south could not claim.” The essays on civilians in seven Midwestern states offer “new treatments of old topics as well as new topics,” including the hardships facing farm women and their families, college life, relations between women and their in-laws while the men were away, the experience of farmers and regional political dissent.

Michael Gray’s essay on Ohio’s Johnson Island prison concentrates on how local entrepreneurs made the facility a tourist attraction. Julie Mujic’s piece on life at the University of Michigan reveals how “students, faculty, and residents managed to integrate the immense changes wrought by the nation’s civil war into their daily lives.” She argues that while many college men chose to enlist, those who did not rationalized continuing their studies as doing their patriotic duty, as they were preparing to lead the postwar nation.

R. Douglas Hurt emphasizes the economic power of regional agriculture and the war’s impact on commodity prices, transportation costs and the availability of livestock. Nichole Etcheson reveals the struggle between soldiers’ wives staying with their Indiana in-laws over money, political affiliation and patriarchal authority. Ginette Aley focuses on rural women and their families. J.L. Anderson uses correspondence between Iowa soldiers and their wives to understand the “vacant chair” experience. Brett Barker explores “the Ohio Republicans’ responses at the community level” to Democratic opponents in three Ohio counties by using “boycotts, intimidation, vigilantism, and violence to silence critics of the war effort.” Taken together, the essays reflect the interrelatedness between struggles on the battlefields and the home front.


Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.