Editor’s Note: September 2019 Issue

Editor’s Note: September 2019 Issue

The September 2019 issue is Judy Giesberg’s last as editor of The Journal of the Civil War Era. She has been integral to the journal since its first issue in 2011, and the editorial team would like to thank her for her pathbreaking service. We have been privileged to work with her during her four-year tenure as editor and greatly appreciate the groundwork she and founding editor Bill Blair have laid for the future of the field, through this publication. It has been a true pleasure, Judy. Thank you.

While the Richards Center searches for a new head editor this fall, we look forward to answering inquiries and receiving submissions.

This issue includes essays that offer new perspectives on Ulysses S. Grant and the Compromise of 1850. Two others focus on culture: one takes a fresh look at northern loyalty and patriotism, and the other considers northerners’ darker emotions. Together, these pieces attest to the vibrancy and diversity of Civil War era studies.

George Rable’s Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, “Fighting for Reunion: Dilemmas of Hatred and Vengeance,” starts out this issue. In a sequel to his Damn Yankees! which examined the vitriolic rhetoric Confederates used to describe northerners, Rable measures the depth and temperature of northern hatred of the Confederacy—by comparison, it was never very deep and at most tepid. According to Rable, northerners were slow to demonize Confederates, and when they did, they tried to identify those who really deserved it rather than those who were simply duped and deluded. In the end, Rable finds northern war rhetoric “vague, contradictory, and at times almost schizophrenic” in its denunciations of the enemy, something that makes sense, he reminds us, in a war aimed at reunification. In seeking answers to why northerners never called for vengeance on the South, Rable quotes the most recognizable phrase from Lincoln’s second inaugural: “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Rable’s essay may leave some readers wondering if some of the explanation also lies in the sense—which Lincoln expressed in the lesser known section of that speech—that the war was God’s vengeance on both sides for the sin of slavery: “He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of ‘American slavery’] came.”

Despite popular illustrations of women’s patriotism featuring women bent over in their chairs, knitting socks and stitching together homemade flags for the soldiers, Joanna Cohen’s essay, “‘You Have No Flag Out Yet?’ Commercial Connections and Patriotic Emotion in the Civil War North,” reveals that elite women in the urban North were very happy to buy these items, embracing “the opportunity to mingle commerce and patriotic feeling.” Indeed, some of the very same people who expressed concerns about a purchased patriotism shopped for patriotic stationary and explained away their purchases of machine-made socks and blankets for the soldiers as freeing them to do more work for the cause. Their embrace of a consumerist patriotism was a privilege of their class, and so Cohen’s essay will no doubt leave readers with questions about how other Civil War Americans understood the relationship “between emotion and market relations.” When folks like New York’s elite Woolsey family decided it was “more efficient” to buy supplies rather than make them, they were also rendering a judgement about time and its worth, to themselves and others. Cohen’s essay is a good reminder of how Americans’ relationship to capitalism and class underwent key changes during the war.

Although the scarcity of primary sources prevents our knowing much about Ulysses S. Grant’s early thoughts about slavery, historians have generally asserted that he was opposed to the institution throughout his life. In his essay, “‘I Was Never an Abolitionist’: Ulysses S. Grant and Slavery, 1854–1863,” Nicholas W. Sacco sets aside historians’ “unhelpful mythmaking” about Grant as always an antislavery man for a fuller picture of how Grant, like other military men, was converted to emancipation on the battlefield. To do so, Sacco digs into the sources documenting the Grants’ years at the Dent family’s White Haven plantation, where they benefited—even if they did not profit—from the work of several enslaved people. While among slaveholders, Grant acted comfortably like one, at one point appraising the value of a neighbor’s slaves and making decisions for his family based on securing his family’s enslaved property. The growing sectional conflict did not spur Grant toward a moral reckoning about slavery any more than did his own father’s strong aversion to the institution. Instead, as Sacco argues, it was the war that did that work. Whether or not you were convinced by Ron Chernow’s recent biography of Grant, you will find Sacco’s careful treatment to be imminently sensible.

Michael Woods closes out this issue with an essay reviewing the scholarship on the Compromise of 1850. Woods identifies three types of studies: celebratory accounts that focus on how the measure delayed the war and gave Republicans the chance to build support, an emerging critical approach that dismisses the act as an appeasement of aggressive southern slaveholders, and a third perspective that remains skeptical of the compromise’s reach. While the critics currently own the day, the skeptical approach fits well with new scholarship on the West, where the federal state had the greatest ambitions and the least authority. Woods’s essay is a welcome review of the origins and development of these three interpretative threads, and it provides a useful roadmap for where scholars might take things from here.

Judy Giesberg

Judith Giesberg holds the Robert M. Birmingham Chair in the Humanities and is Professor of History at Villanova University. Giesberg directs a digital project, Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, that is collecting, digitizing, and transcribing information wanted ads taken out by formerly enslaved people looking for family members lost to the domestic slave trade.

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