Few events in American history have received as much attention as the Civil War. Almost every battle and skirmish has been thoroughly examined and reexamined, and several scholarly and popular journals specialize in analyzing the conflict. Over eight hundred histories of Civil War regiments have been published, and more are under way. More than fifty thousand books and articles have been published on the Civil War. Indeed, much excellent work has been done on that conflict – especially on the military aspects of the war.
Despite this vast outpouring of literature, we do not know much about the effects of the Civil War on everyday life in the United States. Surprisingly little has been written about the personal experiences of ordinary soldiers or civilians during that struggle. The best studies of the lives of common soldiers are still the two volumes written over thirty years ago by Bell I. Wiley. Very little has been published on civilian life in the North or the South during the war years, and almost nothing is available on the postwar life course of Civil War veterans.
If scholars analyzing the Civil War have neglected the lives of common soldiers and civilians, social historians of the nineteenth century appear to have ignored the Civil War altogether. Almost none of the numerous community studies covering the years from 1850 to 1880 discuss, or even mention, the Civil War.