One of the most compelling reasons I read and write about the US Civil War aka War-Between-The-States is that no matter how much is written or discusses, there is always some intriguing aspect left to be uncovered. There remains today, great emotion and heat-felt belief in certain personal figures, battles, weapons,and the like. I find all of these very interesting, but to me, the most compelling story is that of the civilians trying to lead out their lives in the midst of such chaos and turmoil.
When I began researching this period in American history, I admit that I was drawn first to the biggest battles and the larger-than-life generals in control of the armies. Perhaps this is because the vast majority of information written focuses on these facts. As I exhausted some of the more popular research works, I delved deeper into the library. There I found myself stuck for many years, reading about a facet of the war I had rarely, if ever, considered; civilian life.
While soldiers marched and battles raged, mothers and fathers, wives and daughters, holed up back home trying to make the best of it. Fields needed tending, homes needed mending and food cellar supplies grew shorter and shorter. I became increasingly curious as to just how the average man or woman struggled to make ends meet. As I read more about those brave people who suffered through terrible hardships, it also gave me a better outlook on the life we all have today.
Yes, the stock market has been treacherous as of late, and yes gas prices have all given us food for thought, but imagine having to pay more than a month’s wages for a loaf of bread!
Anyway, as a reenactor at the time, I spent much time trying to develop a first-person persona that I could apply at events. I would write letters home as most soldiers did, but I found myself unsure just what to write about. Then, while I was perusing the shelves at a book store, I came across an interesting find. It was a very tall two-volume set of Civil War era newspapers. I tried to move on to other items, but the handsomely bound books kept calling my attention. Eventually I gave in, purchased the books and took them home.
I set Volume One on my dining room table and opened to the first page. Before I knew it, the sky outside had gone dark and I needed to turn on a light to continue reading. I nearly fell asleep that evening right there at the table. The local stories of commerce dotted with reports from the war, as well as adds for house maids and even slave auctions lit up my imagination.
I continue to scan through these great collections from time-to-time and am never dismayed at the content. I learned many years ago that in Civil War research, primary sources are king. These two books are a treasure trove of primary sources, and they are fascinating to boot. If you are in any way interested in learning more about the lives of ordinary citizens during the US Civil War, these books are a must read.