THE VACANT CHAIR by Reid Mitchell


The Northern Soldier Leaves Home
Email this 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