Monday, June 08, 2015

Rape in the American Civil War

By Kim Murphy

This is a very gritty book that will forever change your view of the Civil War as a clash involving knights errant and their ladies fair.  War is nasty and brutish, and author Kim Murphy pulls no punches as she attacks the darkest side of the Civil War. 

In the chaos and disorder of war, the weak and vulnerable suffered the most.  Women and children bore the brunt of rape and brutality in the Civil War.  Poor women more than rich women, and black women most of all.  Reading like a police blotter, Murphy’s book catalogs in detail the crimes perpetrated against the weak.  This is the real history, of real people, often overlooked by those historians primarily interested in the military and political aspects of the war and not in the impact of war on ordinary people.  It is not a pretty story.

Murphy spent some seven years researching this book, and the end result is a remarkable piece of scholarship, in an area of the Civil War avoided by male historians.  Her spare style adds to the gravity of the subject.  Rather than editorializing, or pontificating, Murphy lets the facts speak for themselves, which makes the record even more damning. 

Most of the available records involve Union soldiers (most Confederate records having been destroyed during the war), and are an indictment of the military system of justice, up the chain of command, and including President Abraham Lincoln.  Many soldiers committed atrocities, but skipped away from their crimes either free or with minimal sentences because of their records as “good soldiers.”  Far more were excused than punished. 

This book is a must read for all serious students of the Civil War.

A brief look at the impact of war on civilians living around Manassas based on first person narratives and family histories.

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

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