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Libris | May 2016

book cover for Defining Duty in the Civil War

Defining Duty in the Civil War

Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front

J. Matthew Gallman

The Civil War thrust Americans onto unfamiliar terrain, as two competing societies mobilized for four years of bloody conflict. Concerned Northerners turned to the print media for guidance on how to be good citizens in a war that hit close to home but was fought hundreds of miles away. They read novels, short stories, poems, songs, editorials, and newspaper stories. They laughed at cartoons and satirical essays. Their spirits were stirred in response to recruiting broadsides and patriotic envelopes. This massive cultural outpouring offered a path for ordinary Americans casting around for direction.

Examining the breadth of Northern popular culture, J. Matthew Gallman offers a dramatic reconsideration of how the Union’s civilians understood the meaning of duty and citizenship in wartime. Although a huge percentage of military-aged men served in the Union army, a larger group chose to stay home, even while they supported the war. This pathbreaking study investigates how men and women, both white and black, understood their roles in the People’s Conflict. Wartime culture created humorous and angry stereotypes ridiculing the nation’s cowards, crooks, and fools, while wrestling with the challenges faced by ordinary Americans. Gallman shows how thousands of authors, artists, and readers together created a new set of rules for navigating life in a nation at war.


A Civil War Monitor Best Book of 2015
Silver Medal, 2015 Florida Book Awards in General Nonfiction
2016 Bobbie and John Nau Book Prize in American Civil War Era History, John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History


Press Release

About the Author

J. Matthew Gallman is professor of history at the University of Florida and author of Receiving Erin’s Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845-1855


“A splendid book. Gallman is a shrewd historian.”


“Both an enjoyable read and one that expands our understanding of the public discourses occurring on the Union home front.”

“A lavishly illustrated, persuasively argued treatment of Northern popular culture during the Civil War.”

“I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the American Civil War. I say that because this book handles some of the issues of the home front unlike any book I have read before…I praise Gallman for what he has written here and hope that many others see the value of this work. His research is phenomenal, his writing is engaging, and the reader is never left confused. Another fine addition to the Civil War America series.”

“In an intriguing and wonderfully illustrated book, J. Matthew Gallman offers a crucial new take on print culture and citizenship in the North during the Civil War. By looking at print materials in popular media, from political cartoons to short stories, Gallman gives readers surprising insights into the hearts and minds of Northerners by looking at what they wrote and read during this tumultuous era in American history.”

Publisher Notes

The University of North Carolina Press
Ohio State Press