Living Hell: The Dark Side of the Civil War
A senior military historian presents an unflinching account of the human costs of the Civil War.
Many Americans, argues Michael C. C. Adams, tend to think of the Civil War as more glorious, less awful, than the reality. Millions of tourists flock to battlefields each year as vacation destinations, their perceptions of the war often shaped by reenactors who work hard for verisimilitude but who cannot ultimately simulate mutilation, madness, chronic disease, advanced physical decay. In Living Hell, Adams tries a different tack, clustering the voices of myriad actual participants on the firing line or in the hospital ward to create a virtual historical reenactment.
Perhaps because the United States has not seen conventional war on its own soil since 1865, the collective memory of its horror has faded, so that we have sanitized and romanticized even the experience of the Civil War. Neither film nor reenactment can fully capture the hard truth of the four-year conflict. Living Hell presents a stark portrait of the human costs of the Civil War and gives readers a more accurate appreciation of its profound and lasting consequences.
Adams examines the sharp contrast between the expectations of recruits versus the realities of communal living, the enormous problems of dirt and exposure, poor diet, malnutrition, and disease. He describes the slaughter produced by close-order combat, the difficulties of cleaning up the battlefields--where tens of thousands of dead and wounded often lay in an area of only a few square miles--and the resulting psychological damage survivors experienced.
Drawing extensively on letters and memoirs of individual soldiers, Adams assembles vivid accounts of the distress Confederate and Union soldiers faced daily: sickness, exhaustion, hunger, devastating injuries, and makeshift hospitals where saws were often the medical instrument of choice.
Inverting Robert E. Lee's famous line about war, Adams suggests that too many Americans become fond of war out of ignorance of its terrors. Providing a powerful counterpoint to Civil War glorification, Living Hell echoes William Tecumseh Sherman's comment that war is cruelty and cannot be refined.
Praise for Our Masters the Rebels: A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861-1865
"This excellent and provocative work concludes with a chapter suggesting how the image of Southern military superiority endured in spite of defeat."--Civil War History
"Adams's imaginative connections between culture and combat provide a forceful reminder that Civil War military history belongs not in an encapsulated realm, with its own categories and arcane language, but at the center of the study of the intellectual, social, and psychological currents that prevailed in the mid-nineteenth century."--Journal of American History
Praise for The Best War Ever: America and World War II
"Adams has a real gift for efficiently explaining complex historical problems."--Reviews in American History
"Not only is this mythologizing bad history, says Adams, it is dangerous as well. Surrounding the war with an aura of nostalgia both fosters the delusion that war can cure our social ills and makes us strong again, and weakens confidence in our ability to act effectively in our own time."--Journal of Military History
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About the Author
Michael C. C. Adams, Regents Professor of History Emeritus at Northern Kentucky University, is the author of The Best War Ever: America and World War II and Our Masters the Rebels: A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861-1865, winner of the Museum of the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis Prize for the best Civil War book.
"Any who would truly understand the daily trials of the Civil War must have this book!"--Midwest Book Review
"Provides a vital gut-wrenching counterpoint to the Civil War's glamorization in America's collective memory, a perspective as important to understanding the war as any political history or general's biography. Living Hell will appeal to lovers of military history while being accessible enough for general readers. Those with the fortitude to endure its darkest moments will find it fascinating."--Shelf Awareness
"In Adams' hands, the Civil War's legacy is unmitigated personal horror, societal suffering, and political factionalism... Living Hell engagingly opens up the 'dark side' of the Civil War to comparative scrutiny with other modern wars."--Civil War Monitor
"This powerful counterpoint to Civil War glorification paints a stark portrait of the true brutality of the conflict... Living Hell is a moving, often graphic, exploration of what the war did to men's bodies and minds."--History Book Club
"This book has made an important contribution to Civil War studies by reminding us graphically of the war's dark side."--New York Review of Books
"This essential book gives soldiers their due and presents the realities of war in a way few have dared. Ideal for anyone interested in military history."--Library Journal (starred review)
"A compelling and salutary reminder of the frightful miseries of war. All students of the Civil War and military history in general should contemplate the lessons of war's terrors revealed in this powerful and uncompromising book."--Michigan War Studies Review
"This book is a well researched, well written look down the rabbit hole of the Civil War as it was, not how we have come to imagine and glorify it."--David Lee Poremba "The Past in Review "
"Civil War scholars will find the horrrors recounted [in this book] amplified as they evoke memories of gory and macabre passages they have read in the past."--Thomas E. Rodgers "Civil War Book Review "
"This was a very powerful book, chronicling the horrors of the Civil War. The author goes into great depth regarding not only the war itself, but on the causes and the aftermath."--History Buffs
"[Adams] writes well, and he has done an impressive job of finding vivid accounts in the letters and memoirs of scores of soldiers and civilians from both sides... Civil War buffs will surely want to buy this book."--Roger Cunningham "The Journal of America's Military Past "
"In his short but tightly organized and strongly argued book, Adams guides his readers to reconsider some cherished beliefs about this long-ago war... Michael Adams has provided a sober reminder of the real costs of this war. This book should be on the shelves of all students and teachers of the Civil War, to be reached for every time one is tempted to call the worst war in American history grand and glorious."--John G. Selby "History "
"Living Hell is a very lucid text by senior American Civil War historian who can look back on not only this war but also on its vast literature in order to highlight that which remains dark and disturbing. His work is a very readable reminder about the hardship and suffering involved in such conflict--and of the many kinds of costs borne both by those directly involved in that conflict and also by all."--Leonard Hummel "Seminary Ridge Review "
"Professor Adams brings together in a single volume many of these aspects of the Civil War's encompassing and grim nature. The book is a starkly painted portrait of a divided nation engulfed in a four-year nightmare."--Civil War News