On November 7, CWI and the Gettysburg College History Department hosted a book release reception for CWI Director Pete Carmichael, whose new book The War for the Common Soldier is forthcoming from UNC Press this month. Students, faculty, and staff gathered in Weidensall Lobby on a sunny fall afternoon for punch, conversation, ice cream, and – of course – a cake emblazoned with an exact (and higher calorie) version of the book cover. Carmichael spoke briefly about the special nature of the project, the application of cultural history methodology to the Civil War era, and his approach to exploring not what soldiers thought but rather how they thought.
The culmination of nearly ten years' work, this cultural history of soldiering in Civil War armies explores how soldiers endured the brutal and unpredictable existence of army life during the war years. Based on close examination of the letters and records left behind by individual soldiers from both the North and the South, Carmichael examines the totality of the Civil War experience - the marching, the fighting, the boredom, the idealism, the exhaustion, the punishments, and the frustrations of being away from families who often faced their own dire circumstances. The War for the Common Soldier reveals how, to the shock of most men, well-established notions of duty or disobedience, morality or immorality, loyalty or disloyalty, and bravery or cowardice were blurred by war. The book has already been lauded by reviewers for “bringing to life the complexity of the soldier experience better than any existing book in the field” and blending “exhaustive research, deep analysis, and graceful writing to assemble one of the best such accounts ever produced.”