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Everyday Life During the Civil War (Writer's Guides to Everyday Life) Paperback – October 15, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From the Author

More than any other episode in U.S. History, the Civil War has captivated the interest of people in the United States and beyond. Over the course of four years, this conflict evolved from unpredictable political turmoil into massive total war that claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans (more than all U.S. personnel killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined) and that has, arguably, done more to influence the course of our nation than has any other single event.

Today, an unprecedented number of people are interested in the American Civil War, fueling the creation of movies, documentaries, history books, and novels about the "War Between the States." Movies like Gettysburg and Glory gained instant followings; Ken Burns' PBS documentary The Civil War is considered by many to be one of the best documentaries ever made; and novels about the Civil War, such as The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals,and Cold Mountain, are regularly on the best seller lists. Indeed, since the Civil War ended in 1865, more non-fiction books and novels have been written about it than about any other war involving the United States.

This fascination with the Civil War has persisted for more than 130 years and is not likely to fade any time soon. One reason for this fervent interest is the proximity of the war's events to the everyday lives of so many modern Americans.

Everyday Life During the Civil War is intended to be a broad-based introduction to the day-to-day conditions, attitudes, and events of the period. For some, this book may be the only tool they need to research the Civil War, or one of just a few, while for others it will serve as one resource among many and a guide toward finding others.

While the war was fought from 1861 to 1865, it is a bit contrived to imagine that this period existed in a vacuum. Thus, the years 1859 to 1877 are also covered to some extent, from John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia, through the end of Reconstruction.

Resources provided in this book include an overview of the North and South before, during, and after the war; descriptions of life during the war, including what people ate, what they wore, the sort of work they did, how they entertained themselves, and where they got their information; an overview of the opposing armies and the soldiers who fought in them; a timeline that describes the major events and battles of the war and its aftermath in chronological order; examples of songs and poems composed during the Civil War; resources readers can use to do further research into specific aspects of the Civil War; and an overview of Civil War reenactors and living historian.

Depending on the historical depths the reader seeks, additional information may be needed. For example, the timeline covers all the major battles of the war, but only briefly. Thus, readers who seek information about specific military actions, such as battles or campaigns, should read more in-depth descriptions of them in history books or memoirs. In any case, this book is intended to be a useful tool in the hands of anyone interested in one of the most interesting aspects of American history.

About the Author

Michael J. Varhola is the founder of Living History magazine and the webmaster for a number of websites, including Living History Online, Skirmisher Online Gaming Magazine, and KoreanWar.net. Other books he has written or contributed to include The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference and 1950 Facts About the Korean War. As a journalist, he writes news and feature articles on many subjects, especially those involving world cultures, military history, and the Middle East, and has served as senior editor for a Middle East newswire, based in Washington, D.C. A U.S. Army veteran, Varhola served with the 1st Infantry Division (Forward) in Stuttgart, Germany, during the Cold War, and in the 3rd Armored Division during Desert Storm.
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Product Details

  • Series: Writer's Guides to Everyday Life
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books (October 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898799228
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898799224
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By K. Bourn on May 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
My reaction to this book was extremely mixed. I ordered it by mistake, after confusing it with another book that had "Everyday Life" in the title. The section about the involvement of the various states in the war was generally excellent--and provided a good reminder that the Civil War didn't affect only the eastern seaboard states that tend to get the most attention. Details about country and city life, military organization and insignia, the war's timeline, shortages in the south, and events leading up to the war were extremely helpful. This information is concise, well organized, and well illustrated.
What concerns me in books that are supposed to serve as a factual resource for others is when I find obvious errors. The women's fashion section perpetuates Hollywood myths about Civil War-era fashions. Mr. Varhola would have done well to consult Juanita Leitch's well-researched "Who Wore What," considered the Bible for those involved in living history depicting the 1850s and 1860s. Instead, he leaves the reader with the impression that most women dressed like Scarlett O'Hara. The two pictures he selected to portray women's fashions are a ruffled ballgown, reminiscent of Scarlett's white dress in GWTW, and a Zoave jacket/Garibaldi shirt combination favored by less-authentic Civil War reenactors. Experts on 1860s fashion consider the latter a high-fashion item that most average women would not have worn. Terminology and descriptions about underpinnings also do not ring true.
I would give the overall book four stars, but the fashion section and some disappointing information about my home state two stars, thus my rating is an average. Someone just learning about the period would find the book quite useful--as long as they ignored the fashion section. Those more familiar with the period likely would regard it as a less useful rehash of information they have already read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chrijeff VINE VOICE on January 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
As is the case in all the "Writer's Guide to Everyday Life" books, it is of course impossible for author Varhola to cover in full depth in so brief a book the vast and complex canvas that was the American Civil War. That much said, he does a very good job with the space he has. His price lists, descriptions of money, and period terms are especially well done and useful, and I found his descriptions of city life fascinating. As is usual, he does slip up once or twice (canned goods, for example, were developed in Napoleonic France and first commercially manufactured in the USA in the 1820's, though it's true that the industry didn't really take off till the War created a huge demand for portable food with a long shelf life), but that's probably inevitable. He also provides a lengthy bibliography which (with the Recommendations on this page) should give interested readers plenty of detailed background on the aspects that most intrigue them. This is definitely a book that should be read by all CW social-history buffs.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David B. Mccoy on May 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
For educators looking for a core source book to use in conjunction with an integrated Civil War era unit, Everyday Life During the Civil War is a must.
Each chapter deals with a particular aspect of the Civil War time period, which could easily be assigned to a group to explore, create a display, and present to the class.
Such topic areas include the people of the North and South; currency, clothing, dry goods; life in cities and rural areas; food and diets; fun and games; the different armed services; technology; and arms, equipment and uniforms. Some areas could be subdivided, and in many cases, comparisons could be made between civilian and military conditions. Also, included in each chapter are important terms and definitions, drawings, and sometimes the cost of items.
Language Arts teachers will find the chapter on slang and idiom particularly useful. Not only are interesting and unique words and phrases presented, but how the language of the North and the South differed. The influence that immigrant groups had on our usage and vocabulary is also explored.
The book concludes with a Civil War time-line, recommended books and internet sites, as well as a short section of Civil War songs and poems.
As noted in the Introduction, "Everyday Life During the Civil War is intended to be a broad-based introduction to the day-to-day conditions, attitudes, and events of the period. For some, this book may be the only tool they need to research the Civil War, or one of just a few." I couldn't agree more.
David B. McCoy, middle school history
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jason Michels on March 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is organized in such away that you could skip around and pick out just the information that you wanted, but I really enjoyed reading it from cover to cover. It gave me a deeper understanding of what life was like during the Civil War. Now I'll enjoy books and movies about that era even more because I'll be able to put them in a richer context. Writers and reenactors will particularly enjoy this book, but it will appeal to anyone who likes history.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
Not just a great guide for writers, this book provides an excellent digest of information about the Civil War to include military and civilian life. It accurately and simply portrays the culture and technology of that period. Of special interest are the sections on slang and idiom and entertainment. The book also provides useful information on resources to include interesting web sites and historic sites.
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