Literary Cultures of the Civil War

Edited by Timothy Sweet

Essays that explore the expanded canon of Civil War literature


"Despite [the] instances of methodological discord, this multi- and interdisciplinary volume offers much to scholars of American literature and the Civil War, providing illuminating reinterpretations of canonical works and shedding light on underappreciated literary cultures."
—Jordan R. Watkins, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"Literary scholars give far less attention to the Civil War and especially Reconstruction than do historians. Nonetheless, a revival is underway. Timothy Sweet’s Literary Cultures of the Civil War collects some of the best work being done."
—Brook Thomas, Civil War Book Review


Addressing texts produced by writers who lived through the Civil War and wrote about it before the end of Reconstruction, this collection explores the literary cultures of that unsettled moment when memory of the war had yet to be overwritten by later impulses of reunion, reconciliation, or Lost Cause revisionism. The Civil War reshaped existing literary cultures or enabled new ones. Ensembles of discourses, conventions, and practices, these cultures offered fresh ways of engaging a host of givens about American character and values that the war called into question.

The volume’s contributors look at how literary cultures of the 1860s and 1870s engaged concepts of nation, violence, liberty, citizenship, community, and identity. At the same time, the essayists analyze the cultures themselves, which included Euroamerican and African American vernacular oral, manuscript (journals and letters), and print (newspapers, magazines, or books) cultures; overlapping discourses of politics, protest, domesticity, and sentiment; unsettled literary nationalism and emergent literary regionalism; and vernacular and elite aesthetic traditions.

These essays point to the variety of literary voices that were speaking out in the war’s immediate aftermath and help us understand what those voices were saying and how it was received.

Contributors: Faith Barrett, James Berkey, Jillian Spivey Caddell, Kathleen Diffley, John Ernest, Samuel Graber, Christopher Hager, Coleman Hutchison, Shirley Samuels, Jane E. Schultz, Timothy Sweet, and Jeremy Wells

Page count: 280 pp.
13 b&w images
Trim size: 6 x 9

Read more about Civil War Journal, Diaries, and Memoirs at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


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Timothy Sweet is the Eberly Family Professor of American Literature at West Virginia University. He is the author of American Georgics: Economy and Environment in Early American Literature and Traces of War: Poetry, Photography, and the Crisis of the Union.