Book Review: Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War


by Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. Pp. xxvi, 215. Illus., tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $27.95. ISBN: 0691137048

Heroes & Cowards attempts to look at how social factors influenced the lives -- and deaths -- of soldiers during the Civil War.

Using official documents, letters, diaries, census returns, and other materials, the authors,  respectively an economic historian and an urban sociologist, used Robert Fogel's data base on roughly 41,000 soldiers, both North and South, among them a substantial number of African-American troops. Based on this material, they discuss the effects of such diverse factors as localism, ethnicity, faith, friendship, class, and numerous other elements of "social capital" on the behavior of these men from their choices about the side they supported and their decisions to enlist, how they adapted to military life, and how they behaved in combat and as prisoners-of-war, and even how these factors influenced their post war experiences.

An insightful look at the things that make soldiers tick, with applicability even in the present, and a valuable read not only for students of the Civil War but for anyone interested in military history.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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