’Tis Not Our War: Avoiding Military Service in the Civil War North

Stackpole. Jun. 2024. 352p. ISBN 9780811775380. $34.95. MILITARY HISTORY
Award-winning Taylor (The Most Complete Political Machine Ever Known) debunks the notion that Union soldiers in the Civil War were mostly motivated by patriotic or anti-enslavement ideals and proves that northern soldiers had many reasons for not fighting. Taylor shows that by the end of the war, 40 percent of northern enlisted soldiers had deserted. Using primary documents, each chapter delves into a different angle—reasons to stay home, racial animosity, resenting the draft, and more—that show that many northerners prioritized other things (family, maintaining their livelihood, avoiding poverty) over protecting the Union. He relates the history to the present-day themes of cancel culture, social media unfriending/unfollowing, and draft-dodging. He does justice in showing that the romanticized image of the northern soldier was pretty far from the truth for a good part of enlisted men.
VERDICT This work fills a real void in Civil War scholarship. It isn’t a revisionist history so much as a correction of the record, written with understanding and empathy.
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