The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War
by Joan E. Cashin
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 01 Sep 2018 | Archive Date 18 Sep 2018
With the publication of War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War, award-winning historian Joan E. Cashin offers one of the most original interpretations of the country’s most wrenching internal conflict to date. Rather than pitting Confederate versus Union troops against each other on the battlefield, vying for control of the nation, Cashin’s war is over human and material resources, with Southern civilians and both armies struggling to amass as much “stuff” as possible to ensure survival: access to food, housing, timber, and civilians’ familiarity with their communities and landscapes, which enabled smuggling, correspondence, and other networks vital during wartime to thrive. While civilians were initially willing to help Confederate or Union forces, as the war dragged on it took such a toll on daily lives that ordinary people, regardless of politics, privileged their own survival over assistance to occupying armies, and fought against troops for control over resources. In this life or death contest between civilians and the military, the former lost, and would spent the next several decades rebuilding their lives and land.
This important book makes us aware, as never before, of enormous civilian suffering during
the Civil War. It invigorates Civil War studies by treating military history, material culture, the
environment, gender, cultural history, and military–civilian relations from a fresh perspective
and in a deeply researched manner. Cashin shows that in both sections, but especially in the
South, soldiers ruthlessly competed with civilians for resources. The consequences included
widespread hunger, starvation, deforestation, the invasion and destruction of many homes,
and the breakdown of long-established patterns of communalism in the South. This is an
outstanding work by an energetic, insightful, and accomplished scholar.
Paul D. Escott, author of Lincoln’s Dilemma: Blair, Sumner, and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era
With eloquent prose and rich detail, this book – the first true environmental history of the
Civil War – demonstrates the staggering ecological costs of the conflict and the utter failure
of courts and politicians to safeguard civilians in the face of inadequate supply lines and a
breakdown in military discipline. In this brilliant examination of the intimate connections
between military and environmental history, one of the preeminent historians of the Civil
War era offers strikingly original insights into how the struggle for resources and logistical
challenges shaped military tactics, civilian morale, class and race relations, and the future of
the South’s economy.”
Steven Mintz, author of The Prime of Life: A History of American Adulthood
“Expertly researched and beautifully written, War Stuff is a must-read for anyone interested in
the Civil War and for all who wish to understand the fascinating, complex ways that war (any
war) can fundamentally alter the manner in which humans interact with each other and with
the natural world. Integrating material culture, environmental history, and war and society
studies, Cashin’s book is a tour de force that will shape Civil War studies for years to come.”
Lisa M. Brady, author of War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 5 members
Although this will be of great interest to environmental historians, as Cashin gets into the vast deforestation of the Civil War zone of conflict, and the loss of local spatial and landscape orientation from destruction and land clearance, the real gems are in cataloging the social breakdown in southern networks of favors, local status and possessions. Cashin is careful to lay out bad behavior on both sides, but for southern civilians, the speed with which idealization of their men in uniform turned to horror as they either took things out of necessity or entitlement (and there's a streak of revenge in the "rich man's war/poor man's fight" when the poor man can seize your stuff and butcher your pig), and confronted that they were fighting a war for property rights and social hierarchy that their own government couldn't compel the Confederate army to respect. What deserves a huge follow-up is the pattern in which, with great speed, all of this was transmuted back into "our brave warriors" and all damage blamed on evil yankees.