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Civil War Naval History Thesis Topic and New Book Acquisition: Union Jacks

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I’m narrowing down my thesis topic. I plan to examine the Civil War experience of those who enlisted in the navy under the rank of “Boy” including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class who were under the age of eighteen. From what I’ve seen to date, this is an area not extensively researched. As is always true with the beginning of a research project, I’m gathering a list of sources. If you have any recommendations, PLEASE don’t hesitate to let me know

Union Jacks

I’ve acquired several books in support of the topic above, some directly related, some peripherally so. I’ll be highlighting these in individual posts. First up, Union Jacks: Yankee sailors in the Civil War by Michael J. Bennett. This book is extremely good. Bennett’s bibliography is excellent as is his use of primary resources including several diaries of “Boy” ranked sailors. It is clear that Bennett did a superb job of researching this topic which resulted in a doctoral dissertation from Saint Louis University.

The book won several awards including the 2004 John Lyman Book Award in United States Naval History, North American Society for Oceanic History and the 2004 Fletcher Pratt Literary Award, Civil War Round Table of New York.  The latter puts him in the company of historians like Bruce Catton (1956 for This Hallowed Ground: The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War and 1969 for Grant Takes Command, Shelby Foote (1963 for The Civil War: A Narrative – Vol. 2 and 1974 for The Civil War: A Narrative – Vol. 3) and Steven E. Woodworth (1995 for Davis and Lee at War). Good company.

Union Jacks

I am quite confident that a trip to the National Archives will become a necessity so that I can examine the muster roles and rendezvous (naval recruiting station) reports.

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People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War

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Fred Anderson. A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War. Reprint. The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War

Anderson sets out to examine New England provincial soldiers and their experiences during what he terms the “last and greatest of America’s colonial wars.” He considers it a work of social history because of the quantitative data on which it is based but caveats that its focus is a single conflict, the Seven Years’ War, as opposed to a long term study. His focus is on ordinary men. His conclusion is that the Seven Years’ War was nothing less than world-shaping and thus unifying to the lives it impacted. Their common experience marked them as a unique generation, like others in later times who would be identified with the major events of their lifetime.

He also considers this work to be one of military history because of its focus on war and military service. But he claims an intentional diversion from the classic approaches of military historians whose focus is more on campaigns and the “analysis of generalship.” Anderson’s focus is the story of the common citizen-soldier inclusive of their shared values and their beliefs concerning war and military service.

He divides his study into three parts. The first section titled “The Contexts of War,” provides background for military service of men in Massachusetts. A key conclusion of this section is that “the way in which provincial armed forces were recruited strongly influenced their performance in the field.” The second section, “The Experience of War,” looks at the details of daily life in the military. Anderson examines both the nature and impact of variables such as diet, shelter, disease, discipline, work, and combat. He concludes that the delta between the experiences of these men before and after military service began was so large that it created a unique frame-of-reference from which they subsequently viewed their experience. The third section, “The Meaning of War,” explores in more depth the unique frame of reference possessed by soldiers from Massachusetts and how that remained incomprehensible to both their superiors and British regular officers. Much of the content of the book comes from primary sources of soldier’s own accounts.

The audience for this book is those interested in scholarship on America’s early history, social history, and military history. It has several special features including five informative appendices. One includes as listing of primary sources predominantly in the form of diaries. Another provides a fascinating summary of troop disorders suffered within the Provincial Army between 1755 and 1759. Anderson has chosen to footnote his work rather than have a separate notes section.

Fred Anderson brings strong academic credentials in fact this work is based on his doctoral dissertation. He received his B.A. from Colorado State University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1981. He has taught at Harvard and at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he is currently Professor of History. His has also published Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000) and, with Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (2005). This work is entirely readable and an excellent addition to early American scholarship. Its extensive use of personal accounts adds to its appeal.