Previewing the June 2022 JCWE Issue

Previewing the June 2022 JCWE Issue

This issue exhibits historians’ continuing efforts to grapple with the complexities of the Civil War Era, emphasizing how our collective understanding of the period has been produced, which topics have been neglected or marginalized, and why.

Ryan Hall’s article, “Chaos and Conquest: The Civil War and Indigenous Crisis on the Upper Missouri, 1861–1864,” extends the geography of the Civil War Era to the Upper Missouri River and expands the actors affected by it to include the Native groups who lived along the river’s banks. Drawing our attention to civilian rather than military matters—to federal agents, political patronage, and economic relationships—Hall makes a compelling case that the Civil War had a significant impact on Indigenous people in the northwestern United States because of the corruption and incompetence of the Republican appointees sent there. Seeing the Civil War Era not just from Indian Country but from a lesser-studied vantage helps capture the wide-ranging and significant implications of the war.

In “Rereading the High Private: Restoring Class and Race to Co. Aytch,” Patrick Lewis analyzes a Confederate memoir that was made famous in the twentieth century by historian Bell I. Wiley and filmmaker Ken Burns and that eventually became a staple in public history interpretations of the Civil War, particularly in Tennessee. Lewis shows the ways the memoir’s author, Samuel Rush Watkins, constructed a narrative in the early 1880s that obscured his own elite status (and that of many in his regiment), the significance of slavery and enslaved people, and the white supremacist violence that characterized Middle Tennessee after the war. This piece should change how historians use the famous Watkins quotations, both in teaching and public history settings.

Christina Adkins too explores the production of Civil War memory in the 1880s, taking a close look at Mary Chesnut’s changing descriptions of disease, as both metaphor and historical reality. Combining medical and literary history in “Mary Chesnut’s War Fever: Disease in the Civil War Narrative of a Lost Cause Dissenter,” Adkins examines Chesnut’s revisions of her own work based on changing ideas about illness and contagion, and the relationship between her 1880s vision of a diseased Confederacy and many white Southerners’ growing consolidation of the Lost Cause myth.

Mark Boonshoft’s review essay explores the history of schools and education from the antebellum period to the end of the nineteenth century, representing the Civil War as an “inflection point” in an important, but often overlooked field. Boonshoft demonstrates that the history of schooling and education is not only important in its own right but also offers a revealing window into debates about citizenship, democracy, and the state. The piece makes a strong case that the history of education should occupy a central place in our scholarship and teaching of the era.

Our book review section reflects some of the breadth and diversity of the field, as well as the commitment of our editors and reviewers to historical engagement in an extraordinarily challenging time. We are immensely grateful to the associate editors—Hilary Green, Luke Harlow, and Katy Shively—for their steadfast efforts on behalf of the journal, to the book reviewers and peer reviewers who also make the journal possible, and to you, our readers. 

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

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