Sunday, July 25, 2010

Part of a book review...

Lately, I’ve been reading a collection of essays, edited by Paul Escott, entitled North Carolinians in the Era of Civil War and Reconstruction (UNC 2008) . Instead of reviewing the book as a whole, I thought I would make some observations on various essays as I read through the them.

The first essay in the book is by David Brown and is entitled “North Carolina Ambivalence: Rethinking Loyalty and Disaffection in the Civil War Piedmont.” The author’s thesis is to look at the counties in the central piedmont and gauge enlistment as a litmus test for Confederate loyalty. He also believes that the burden of fighting the war fell upon the yeoman class, and that service was shunned by the upper class.

My problem with all of this is that there is no research to actually back up the author’s premise. Sure, there are a few letters here and there, but nothing to give us a concrete glimpse into the question at hand. Will you ever get precise figures? No, but we can get a better understanding by some simple (but time-consuming) work. Here is my idea: take the 1860 US Census, say for two counties in the piedmont, and take the 17-volume North Carolina Troop book series and create a list. Go through the troop books and list each soldier by the date of enlistment. Then go through the census and match up the men with their worth in 1860. Create a third list for those listed in the 1860 census who do not appear in the Troop books, and look at a copy of the home guard exemptions and see why some of these men of appropriate age did not serve. Create another column while going through the Troop books – this one on desertion of Troops during the war. A fifth column could contain information on those who died for various reasons (battlefield, disease), and the hardest column of all: those who joined the Union army. Sometimes the Troop books have this information; sometimes you will need to use the 1890 veterans census. Really, it is not that difficult. And an author will not need to use such words as “probably “ so often. Do this, and you will have some hard and fast numbers to support your ideas. Unfortunately, Brown has not taken these extra steps, relegating most of his work to the realm of guesswork.

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