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Michael C. C. Adams Topic: Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War

March 17, 2016 @ 7:15 pm - 8:45 pm

At our March meeting, Michael C. C. Adams, Regents Professor of History Emeritus at Northern Kentucky University, spoke about his 2014 book, Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War. Prof.

Adams grew up in, holds a Ph.D. from, and has been on the NKU faculty since 1972. His first book, Our Masters the Rebels, won the Jefferson Davis Prize. His 1994 book The Best War Ever, a history of the American experience in World War II, is widely read in undergraduate history courses. He has also published books on World War I and the treatment of war in popular culture. ©2016 The Cincinnati Civil War Round Table 5

In his talk, Prof. Adams recounted the hardships that Civil War participants endured. His approach was to let ordinary people tell what they learned of the dark side of war in their own words, found in contemporaneous memoirs, diaries, correspondence, war reports, news reports, and even poetry. He said that, in doing such research over many years, he was most surprised by the candor with which sometimes awful events were described. His overall theme, reflecting the structure of his book, was that the soldiers fighting the Civil War moved on a road from initial optimism and patriotic or moral fervor to gradually, over time, a state of “war psychosis.” After deprivations in camp and then horrific physical and emotional wounds in battle, many were “on the edge of sanity.” And the longer the war went on, the more likely soldiers were to engage in inhumane behavior.

Prof. Adams read a couple examples of soldiers’ accounts that candidly described such conduct. One involved a Union soldier who saw a battery’s cannon, gunners, and horses blown to bits, and wrote about a badly mutilated survivor begging “to be shot and put out of his misery.” Another involved a Confederate soldier who wrote about how his colleagues laughed at a young girl traveling near them (likely a mentally ill rape victim), who then threw her off a bridge to her death. Prof. Adams also catalogued the many evils that beset the armies in the field, North and South, beyond the scourge of battle – scarcity of essential supplies like food and clean water, harsh punishment by their own commanders, dysentery and other illnesses, coping with the innumerable dead and wounded, unsanitary conditions, the overall climate of brutality, etc. Due to time constraints, Prof. Adams simply referred us to his book to learn more about the problems suffered by those left behind in the cities and particularly on family farms. March Quiz: This Cincinnati CWRT meeting will be our last meeting before the 154th anniversary of the first large scale


March 17, 2016
7:15 pm - 8:45 pm
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