Praise for “Scars to Prove It”

June 8th, 2010

Over the last year, I have been pleased by the response to my book, Scars To Prove It: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction.  Below are a few excerpts from reviews:

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“Craig A. Warren’s study is an ambitious attempt to establish the relationship between Civil War fiction and historical sources — in particular, veterans’ narratives — on which this fiction is based. . . . [Overall it is] an important, informed, and eloquently argued study. Scars to Prove It is a valuable contribution to the field of Civil War literary scholarship and it certainly brings new perspectives to what many would consider to be exhaustively mined fictional sources.”

– H-Net Reviews [read full review]

“Warren (Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie) offers an honest, novel approach to fiction written about the Civil War, something no previous scholar has accomplished. . . . [The] author creates a clear picture of Southern literature from modernism to postmodernism and in so doing fills a gap in literary studies. . . . Highly recommended.”

Choice magazine, American Library Association

“Warren’s book demonstrates that an awareness of how fiction writers have relied upon (and sometimes rejected) [soldiers’] diaries, memoirs, and regimental histories as source materials can enrich our understanding of seven of the most important Civil War novels. . . . Craig A. Warren has written Scars to Prove It: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction to appeal to a general audience. No expertise in Civil War history or literary criticism is required to appreciate his insights into this important body of American literature.”

The Journal of Military History

Scars to Prove It offers considerable food for thought regarding how much fiction has to offer toward fully understanding the national cataclysm. It might also inspire many history buffs to reread novels with a fresh eye.”

Civil War Times

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“Scars to Prove It” Table of Contents

June 27th, 2009

A few folks have asked me to post the Table of Contents to Scars to Prove It: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction.  Here are the contents, with the chapter titles conveying something about what can be found in each section.  I have also listed the relevant page numbers, to give one a sense of how the book is divided:

Introduction [1]

1. Various Veterans Had Told Him Tales:
The Red Badge of Courage and an Inclusive Civil War Literature [9]

2. For Was I Not a Soldier, Enlisted for the War?:
Female Veterans in Gone with the Wind and None Shall Look Back [39]

3. The Eggshell Shibboleth of Caste and Color Too:
Civilian Narrators in Absalom, Absalom! and The Unvanquished [83]

4. Each Man Has His Own Reason to Die:
The Triumph of the Individual in The Killer Angels [118]

Conclusion: Grief Crowded the Secret Rooms of Their Hearts:
Haunted Veterans in The Judas Field [160]

Notes [170]

Bibliography [200]

Index [215]

Book Cover Design

June 17th, 2009

I recently received the cover image for my new book, Scars to Prove It: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction, due out next month from the Kent State University Press. The photo is one of my favorites from the Civil War era, and I believe it matches the book’s title and contents. I recommended the picture, and the designer did the rest. I’m quite happy with how it turned out!

scars to prove it

Civil War Talk Radio Interview

June 8th, 2009

Last Friday (June 5, 2009) I appeared as a guest on Gerry Prokopowicz’s Civil War Talk Radio show.  Gerry asked questions about my forthcoming book, Scars to Prove It, which is due out next month from the Kent State University Press.  We also talked about the Ambrose Bierce Project as well as my current book project, tentatively titled Southern Screech: A Cultural History of the Rebel Yell.

I very much enjoyed the experience, even if I was a bit tongue-tied at times.  I thought Gerry’s questions were excellent, and his observations about American folk music have helped to focus my thoughts on the postwar development of the Rebel yell.

To listen to the interview, click here.

Bouncing Baby News

March 21st, 2009

It’s a great joy to announce the birth of our son, Jack Warren.  Jack appeared on the scene on Wednesday, 3/18 at 3:50 p.m.  He weighed 7.3 pounds and stretched a full 21 inches.  His mother is recovering well from surgery, and both are set to come home tomorrow.   Please send good vibrations to both mother and son!

“Robert E. Lee” by James A. DeMoss

March 14th, 2009

On one hand, the following poem is about a wrecked and burned-out steamboat. On the other, it’s about Robert E. Lee’s “immortal” name. The fact that it’s about both makes one suspect sarcasm. But DeMoss published the poem in the 1890s, during the heyday of Reconciliation; I’m therefore confident that he was sincere in his sentiments about Lee being “the bravest/Of all men that grew.”Enjoy this rare nautical tribute to Lee!ROBERT E. LEE(Steamer foundered off Vicksbury, Sept. 30, ‘82.)On, thou proud Robert Lee,No longer you’ll plowThe deep river so free,With thy proud heaving prow.Thy beauty, thy splendor,Thy grandeur, thy fame,Have perished___and tenderWe handle thy name.Brave one of tho bravest,Brave captain, brave crew;Thy namesake the bravestOf all men that grew.No more on the riverSo glassy and smooth,Will float thou, no never,And o’er its deep move.How long you have traveledFrom the gulf to mid land;All others out-rivaledOn the sweet silvered strand.Thy days now are numbered,Though thy name will e’er last;On the page it is numberedOf the immortal past.The flames have consumed thee,And laid thee awaste;But thy name, Robert Lee,It can never efface.– James A. DeMoss, from Kansas Zephyrs (1892)

Underspending on the Military

March 14th, 2009

Lately I have been listening to an excellent series of lectures, by Mark A. Stoler, on the subject of American diplomatic history. One of the points he brings up, following his lecture on Civil War diplomacy, is that the United States underspent on the military in the years after the war. For all the nation’s industrial and economic progress between the 1860s and 1900, the U.S. Government spent less than one percent of its Gross National Product on the army and navy.

Apparently rising powers tend to underspend militarily, “whereas declining powers tend to overspend militarily in a desperate attempt to defend their entire empire when they no longer have the economic power to do so.” (Here Stoler is drawing on the ideas of historian Paul Kennedy.)

I’m not even halfway through Stoler’s course, but I wonder: having come to appreciate a strong military between 1861 and 1865, why did the United States government let its military spending drop off to almost nothing? After conquering the Confederacy, did the U.S. believe it had nothing to fear from European powers? On one hand, we might reject such thinking as nothing short of foolhardy. The Spanish-American War and World War I, as it turned out, were looming ahead. But considering that the U.S. did not have to enter those conflicts, was it really so absurd to reduce military spending to a trickle? What economic gains might have been lost, during the second half of the nineteenth century, had the U.S. overspent on soldiers, guns, and warships?

From the Ashes…

March 9th, 2009

Welcome to the blog formerly known as Civil War Literature. Last fall, a major database failure erased a couple hundred posts on the subject of Civil War fiction, poetry, song, film, and the like. The collapse corresponded with my family’s move across the city of Erie, and so I decided to let the rubble settle for a few months.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to restore the site as best I can. I will archive those posts from “the old days” that I was able to salvage. New posts will arrive as and when I have something interesting (or at least coherent) to say. In keeping with the site’s broad URL, the new posts will probably vary in subject. The literature of the war will remain an important interest of the site, but other topics will be addressed as well.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to restore the site, or at least to clean up the debris.

Review of “Two Brothers” by David H. Jones

December 8th, 2008

Two Brothers: One North, One South by David H. Jones (Encino, CA: Staghorn Press, 2008).

whitmanWhen I first received a review copy of the novel Two Brothers by David H. Jones, the subtitle gave me pause: One North, One South. Innumerable fictions and filmscripts about the Civil War have offered up the same equation: two brothers fighting on opposite sides, each convinced of the righteousness of his cause. Did we really need another novel to feature siblings-at-odds as a metaphor for America’s great fratricidal struggle? What persuaded me to give the book a chance was the fact that Jones had incorporated into his narrative the figure of Walt Whitman, America’s greatest poet. Whitman served as a nurse during the war, and in Two Brothers he functions as a caretaker of the wounded Prentiss brothers – men hospitalized in the wake of the fighting.

I wondered how Jones would portray Whitman: an innovative artist who resisted clichés and shattered literary conventions. More specifically, I wanted to see how Jones would use Whitman within a framework designed to appeal to readers expecting the standard brother vs. brother interpretation of the war.

I have a longstanding interest in Walt Whitman, particularly his commentary on the men who fought the war. In Memoranda During the War (1875), Whitman reflected on the centrality of soldiers to his own understanding of the struggle: “[These] two or three millions of American young and middle-aged men, North and South, embodied in the armies . . . were of more significance even than the Political interests involved.” Yet if Whitman knew these men firsthand, he knew that many Americans did not: at least not as he did – men broken and bleeding and dying on cots in hospital wards. The poet fully expected that those less familiar with the troops would not view them as “the main interest of the War.”

two brothersYet the public has indeed shared Whitman’s fascination with the men clothed in blue and gray. The Civil War soldier, by virtue of his flesh and blood humanity, has appealed to generations of Americans as the most compelling and accessible aspect of the crisis. Even when fiction writers have examined the principles at stake in the war, both sacred and mundane, they have usually done so in terms of the words and actions of men in uniform. Jones demonstrates this tendency in Two Brothers. Even when he portrays civilians at some distance from the fighting front, the reader cannot forget the soldiers themselves – the men whose lives and actions define the war.

As it turns out, Jones’s Whitman is not the poet I hoped to see. Certainly I sympathize with any 21st-century author who attempts to recreate Whitman’s tone and diction – especially if the novelist wishes to capture Whitman’s vision of his nation and world. The best attempts are usually in the comic mode, where fiction writers can be suitably grandiose in their estimations of Whitman’s speech. My favorite is the Whitman parody, Wade Wordmore, as found in the 1995 story “Ancestors” by Fred Chappell. There the Whitman stand-in proclaims:

I am Wade Wordmore, American, untrammeled by boundaries, unfixed as to station, and at my ease in all climes and latitudes, answer to no laws save those of my perfect nature (for I know I am perfect, how can a man tall and in pure health not be perfect?), and am powerful to overstep any border.

By contrast, Jones’s version of Whitman is often reduced to making dry statements that flesh out the historical background. Consider this example:

“I am not qualified to expound on military matters, but I know people who would agree that Meade’s pursuit of Lee was dilatory at best,” Whitman responded. (201)

Soon thereafter, Whitman is used to describe the decline of Southern fortunes: “Misery tightened its grip on the South after receiving the sad tidings [about Gettysburg]. Gone forever were the glorious times when Southern arms appeared to be invincible – when victory after victory was achieved on the battlefield” (202). Couldn’t the nation’s most important poet here be used to comment on something beyond the basic tenets of the Lost Cause?

Although disappointed by the portrait of Whitman, I did find other qualities of Two Brothers appealing. The now-stilted language of the nineteenth century is reproduced in the novel with care; to his credit, Jones does not follow Michael Shaara in updating the verbiage of the war’s participants. Nor does Jones condescend to the past when describing the beliefs and motivations of his characters, no matter how outdated or wrongheaded those beliefs may seem to modern readers. In these respects, the novel adheres to historical fact – even if it does sometimes shade into Southern apologia.

I can recommend David H. Jones’s Two Brothers to readers new to Civil War fiction and to those for whom the story of the war – no matter how familiar – bears repeating. Both groups will find profit in the book, less for its portrait of Whitman than for its attention to what the poet-nurse treasured above all else: the humanity that both shaped and cursed America’s most costly war.

Craig A. Warren
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College