Book Reviews

BROOMALL: Private Confederacies (2019)

Posted 7/3/2019 Reviewed By Cecily N. Zander

Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers by James J. Broomall. University of North Carolina Press, 2019. Paper, ISBN: 978-1469651989. $29.95.

 

James J. Broomall’s Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers joins a growing wave of new scholarship investigating the Civil War experiences of common soldiers. Like Peter Carmichael’s The War for the Common Soldier (2018) and Lorien Foote’s The Gentlemen and the Roughs (2010), Broomall considers the thoughts, feelings, and cultures of Civil War soldiers. And just as Stephen Berry did in All That Makes a Man (2004), Broomall elects to consider largely the perspective of Southern men, assessing the war’s impact on their conceptualizations of masculinity and self-reliance. Though Broomall’s book deals with questions Civil War historians have been asking for as long as there has been a history of the conflict, his astute analysis and engaging source material make Private Confederacies a worthwhile addition to the literature on the soldiers of the Civil War.
 

Broomall covers a broad chronology in his work in order to give background and context for the changes experienced in the emotional lives of Southern men and women before, during, and after the Civil War. In six chapters, Broomall covers the period from the 1840s through the 1870s, relying on letters, diaries, public performances, and memoirs to develop his claims. Broomall asserts that “civil war and reconstruction were personal processes that shaped gender, emotions, and Southern identity” as soldiers attempted to make meaning of their decision to serve in Confederate armies (11).
 

The first chapter of Private Confederacies establishes a baseline for Southern conceptions of masculinity and the proper arenas for male emotional expression. Broomall explains how the act of writing, especially keeping a personal diary, could help men channel their emotions by helping to focus their thoughts. Broomall’s explanation of how diaries functioned in the interior lives of nineteenth-century Americans offers valuable insight into his methodology and clearly explains to readers how Broomall came to understand and interpret his sources. In revealing the historical thinking behind this methodology, Broomall has rendered a valuable primer for working with historical materials, as well as convincing readers of the value of his sources.
 

The middle chapters of Private Confederacies move readers into the emotional world of the Civil War. Broomall focuses first on how soldiers described their material world. Since life in military camps differed drastically from any other life experiences of the men who joined Civil War armies, soldiers desired to explain their new circumstances and make meaning of their surroundings. Broomall explains how military uniforms kept soldiers connected to the homefront, as homemade articles of clothing predominated in Confederate armies early in the war when it became obvious that the Confederate government could not meet the uniform needs of its soldiery. When homespun articles were replaced by military issue uniforms, soldiers felt ties to their comrades in arms grow stronger, Broomall suggests.
 

A central element of any scholarly work on the experience of Civil War soldiers remains the experience of battle. Broomall explores how soldiers committed their intellectual experiences of battle to paper, revealing how their emotions varied, reflecting Southern conceptions of masculinity—and the ways in which the war had altered those long-understood patterns of behavior. Broomall does not dwell in the shocking effects battle could have on first time participants, but does underscore how soldiers had to process the exhilaration and horror of combat simultaneously. One of the most important reminders Broomall offers in his battle chapter is that soldiers often separated their experience of battle from their commitment to the Confederate cause. An individual experience of combat could be disheartening, but did have to mean belief in the cause wavered.
 

In his closing chapters, Broomall subscribes to a new historiography that asserts that the Civil War stretched long past Appomattox, as continued small conflicts and civil strife occurred across the former Confederacy. The process of demobilization and reunion could prove violent, according to Broomall. The book offers refreshing new analysis of why former soldiers sought out para-military organizations like the Ku-Klux-Klan. These gangs offered soldiers opportunities reassert their masculinity and claim to be protecting their families. Other soldiers, Broomall reasons, buried their emotional memories of the Civil War in order to facilitate the processes of reunion and reconciliation, turning inward and seldom revealing their deeply personal, and emotional, experiences of the conflict.
 

Altogether, James Broomall’s Private Confederacies stands at the edge of a field of historical inquiry that is sure to gain greater currency among historians as they search for new avenues to interpret sources and reshape popular understanding of the Civil War. Broomall’s work should also appeal to a wide audience of readers interested in the experiences of average citizens during the war, especially as Broomall’s characters are carefully chosen and compellingly portrayed. The men at the heart of the monograph will linger in the minds of readers as they contemplate the lived experience of the Civil War. This thoughtful volume is a worthy edition to the Civil War America series from the University of North Carolina Press, following numerous examples of scholarship that challenge preconceived ideas, blend diverse historical methodologies, and point to exciting new directions in the field of Civil War studies.
 

 

Cecily N. Zander is a doctoral candidate in history at The Pennsylvania State University.

 

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