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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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A Slapdash War

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Historian Bruce Catton

A common theme among authors I have read this term who have written about the experiences of Civil War soldiers is the informality with which the war was conducted. Historian Bruce Canton called it

slapdash.”

Now there’s a word we don’t use much today. I looked it up. Here’s Princeton’s take:

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Slapdash

adjective – marked by great carelessness; “a most haphazard system of record keeping”; “slapdash work”; “slipshod spelling”; “sloppy workmanship” [syn: `haphazard]

adverb – in a careless or reckless manner; “the shelves were put up slapdash”

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It started with loose regimental recruitment methods. Drill and discipline were a far cry from today’s standards. Gerald Linderman, in his book Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, spoke of the common practice of men within a community signing up together so pre-war relationships were undoubtedly difficult to set aside. Winter quarters; soldiers in front of their wooden hut, Catton supported this indicating that “in the average regiment of officers were people whom the enlisted men had known all their lives.” Election of officers by the men was a practice that continued long into the war and contributed to the problem. Even though recruits pledged to obey their officers, informality remained the rule. Catton’s quote of an Indiana soldier illustrates this point perfectly.

We had enlisted to put down the rebellion and had no patience with the red-tape tomfoolery of the regular service. Furthermore, the boys recognized no superiors, except in the line of legitimate duty. Shoulder straps waived, a private was ready at the drop of a hat to thrash his commander – a thing that occurred more than once.

“Regular army” officers shared frustration with this lack of regard for authority on both sides as it wasn’t unique to one army or the other. Catton noted astutely that men “could be led anywhere, but they could hardly be driven at all.”

A very fine lecture by Gerald Linderman covering more on this topic can be found here.

Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

Embattled Courage

W. Bruce Catton, America Goes to War: The Civil War and Its Meaning in American Culture, (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press), 51.
Gerald E. Linderman,
Embattled Courage: The Experiences of Combat in the American Civil War,
(New York: The Free Press, 1987), 40.
slapdash. Dictionary.com.
WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/slapdash(accessed: November 19, 2007).