THE VACANT CHAIR by Reid Mitchell

THE VACANT CHAIR

The Northern Soldier Leaves Home
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An insightful glance at the unique cultural and social milieu of the Union soldier. Relying extensively on diaries, letters, and other primary sources, Mitchell (History/University of Maryland; Civil War Soldiers, 1988) discusses how the Union soldier understood his military experience. Antebellum ideology used the family as a metaphor for one's country, emphasizing the ``Republican Mother'' who educated her sons as self-sacrificing patriots; thus, ``the centrality of home and the family made them central to the Northern soldier's understanding of the Civil War.'' Soldiers--serving under officers who often came from the same town and who were thought of as equals--regarded their generals as fathers, their officers as elder brothers, and the war itself as a family quarrel. That men soldiered with lifelong neighbors and friends meant that the Union soldier brought the value of the home front into battle with him, giving war a sense of purpose: It also frequently weakened military discipline. Mitchell discusses in depth the Union soldier's distinctive view of manhood; his complex relationships with white Southern women--and with black soldiers, who were generally excluded from the American ``family''; his peculiar brand of religion; and his attitude toward death in battle. Mitchell sees as significant the Union focus in the late Civil War against Confederate civilian society, a focus that weakened the Southern soldier's will to resist: Observing that the Union soldier's strength was that he fought the war with home in mind, he notes that ``the Confederate soldier fought the war the same way, and, in the end, that proved part of his weakness.'' An eloquent revival of the simple verities of a vanished era- -idealism, patriotism, small-town parochialism, sense of family and manhood, and fear of failing in the eyes of one's community--that drove the soldier of the North. (Twenty-five halftones)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-507893-4
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993