Monday, August 12, 2013

Spring 2014 Sneak Peek

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, scholars continue to shed new light on the Civil War and its effects. The New York Times Disunion blog, for example, regularly hosts posts that include first-person accounts of the war. In a recent post for the blog, Megan Kate Nelson, author of RUIN NATION, shares the plight of Napoleon Perkins, a young Union soldier, who, like tens of thousands of other soldiers, lost a leg as a direct result of the war. During the nineteenth-century, men lost more than a limb when faced with amputation.
[M]any Union and Confederate soldiers recoiled at the thought of amputation. Mid-19th-century gender conventions invested a great deal of meaning in the whole white male body; the loss of an arm or leg, they well knew, would result in the loss of masculinity, and of status and power. . . . As Perkins and other veteran amputees recovered from their surgeries, they had to renegotiate their place in society. Could a veteran amputee woo women, marry, procreate and work to support his family? During a time in which citizenship was seen as 'embodied' in adult white males, could an amputee be considered a full citizen?
Joining Perkins in this new life was Union Army corporal, James R. Tanner. Tanner is the subject of a book coming out next spring: AMERICA'S CORPORAL: JAMES TANNER IN WAR AND PEACE by James Marten. Perhaps the most famous nineteenth-century American that almost no one has heard of, Civil War corporal James Tanner fought at the Second Battle at Manassas, was injured, and lost both of his legs above the knees. He later served as stenographer at Abraham Lincoln's deathbed. AMERICA'S CORPORAL is both a biography of James Tanner, as well as a historiography of the Civil War. The book looks at the life of Corporal Tanner, his humble beginnings, unfortunate tragedy, impressive fortitude, and the controversy and accomplishment of his long-lived career.

This injured Civil War vet became an early advocat and public speaker for veterans' rights. AMERICA'S CORPORAL is crucial as an examination of the dynamics of disability, the reinvention of Tanner and the crafting of a cultural image, his work for veterans’ causes, the culture and politics of the Gilded Age, and a look at the aftereffects of the Civil War, including the philosophical and psychological changes that it prompted. Tanner is a prominent and influential, but often overlooked, figure.

AMERICA'S CORPORAL will be joining Nelson's RUIN NATION and Stephen Berry's WEIRDING THE WAR in the UnCivil Wars series. UnCivil Wars is a series dedicated to new ways of seeing and telling the American Civil War.