Book Review: 'War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War'


by Joan E. Cashin

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xii, 260. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $24.99 paper. ISBN: 9781108413183

Taking Whatever Was Needed

Author of well-received works on Varina Davis and family life on the southern frontier, Prof. Cashin (Ohio State) takes a look at how both the Union and Confederate armies exploited the resources of the countryside – agricultural, animal, natural, and human – to further the war effort, whether by higher authority or through casual appropriation by the troops.

Cashin opens with a rather sympathetic view of American rural life ante bellum, with its traditionally defined sentiments about gender, property, morality, and kindness, while barely touching on the near poverty of even the white rural population. She goes on to argue that as the war dragged on, with neither government able to fully meet the needs of the troops in the field, especially the Confederacy, the armies as institutions and the troops as individuals largely set aside these sentiments, to take whatever they believed they needed, or wanted. This inflicted great suffering on civilians, particularly in the South, where the war was mostly fought.

Cashin notes that Confederate troops were as willing as Union ones to take what they wanted even from Southern patriots, regardless of consequences. Cashin certainly makes a good case for this, a matter that has until recently been glossed over in the post-war fabrication of the “Lost Cause” myth. In developing her theme, Cashin drew upon numerous wartime writings and many memoirs.

A volume in the series “Cambridge Studies on the American South”, War Stuff makes a valuable contribution to the study of the impact of the war on the Confederate Home Front, and how morality rapidly deteriorates in wartime.


Note: War Stuff is also available in hard cover and several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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