1. German 001-Drake University-Final Project
2. The Civil War: Impact of Interpersonal Relationships
The emotional and physical strain placed on those touched by the civil war made a deep impact on relationships and would forever change how relationship dynamics would function. Human interaction occurred in every corner of the war: in the north, the south, black or white, between soldiers and amid those left on the home front. This trying time undoubtedly tested the cohesiveness of families and comrades alike; but conversely, the strength of these bonds challenged the effect that the loss and destruction would ultimately have on these individuals and their communities. This can be seen in the four photos I have selected, taken in the years of 1862 and 1865 illustrating a family of mournful women, a proud slave family, a weary Iowan infantry, and a noble Irish brigade.
The first photograph I examined was taken in Cedar Mountain, Virginia in the August of 1862 . In this image, four women, a child, and a likely slave pose in front of the house where General Charles S. Winder was killed. The older woman is most likely Mrs. Winder and is adorned in black dress. Her pose is such that she clearly wants to express her sorrow for her husband and perhaps the larger picture of loss of which people on the home front are beginning to encounter. Elizabeth Patterson outlines this onset of questioning behavior in her letter to John C. Breckenridge, secretary of war for the Confederate Army. In her petition, she notes that she is a widow and has “sacrificed three sons upon the alter of freedom” . One can see in this photo that each of these proud southern women have her own expression of sacrifice. The young lady on the far right is holding a small child while holding a questioning look on her face. Perhaps here she is waiting for her soldier to come home and fears her child will not grow up with his father. The woman on the far left, however, chooses to pose looking away from the photographer, lending to a contemplative and maybe even disgusted demeanor. Lastly, there is a young black male standing in the background, seemingly out-of-place. This could be a symbol that either the photographer or the women in the photo wished to portray of showing he is the last male available to accompany these four women—sending the message of how important the people of the south found it to maintain their rights to own slaves. If the Union were to win and thwart the idea of Virginian’s succession, ultimately impeding on their way of life, they would be in some aspects helpless. In this instance, if these ladies’ men are all lost to the war and they lost this young man as well, what would become of their livelihood? In retrospect, these women were likely able to look back on this difficult time and appreciate each other’s support and cohesiveness. One can identify the closeness of the people in the photo just by how they are all turned in to one other in a semi-circle form. As we saw in Cold Mountain, the women on the Virginian home front helped each other as they could: The lady at the general store gave Ida the rationed salted pork at no cost, Sally also aided in nourishing her, and in turn, Ida learned to work alongside Ruby in the fields. Together, these women pulled through and created their own dynamic without the male patriarchy.
The importance of family bonds is shown further in the next photo of a multi-generational Negro family captured by O’Sullivan on a plantation in Beaufort, South Carolina in the same year of 1862 . It appears there are approximately four generations in this slave family portrayed in a photo taken on the plantation of J.J. Smith. Photographer O’Sullivan has placed them in such a way that a traditional southern family would pose, the elder male sitting down and in the center, the younger male also in the center, standing proudly with the women standing off to the side and the children sitting on the ground. They, too, are more than likely clad in their best cloth and show a stern look of reluctant pride for their family. The men look fairly docile in comparison to the women, as they both own a disapproving and hostile look directly towards the cameraman. It seems that O’Sullivan attempted to capture a similar patriarchy to the white southerners with this family. This photograph may have been requested after whites’ sudden realization of this dynamic vanishing amongst themselves in the confederate south. Perhaps they also wanted to send a message to the Union that slavery was a way of life, and not hindering the importance of family relationships, but rather aiding in their growth. Nathan Bass of Georgia writes, “…families of negroes should be kept together…With a family of children around them, they feel more attached to home…” However, Levine notes, “[b]eyond such immediate forms of assistance, the slave family served to incubate the unfree population’s distinctive outlook and set of values” and that the “Irreplaceable nature of these relationships helps explain why slaves struggled, with or without the consent of their masters, to establish, maintain, and protect their family and kinship bonds”. Once again whether by the hand of the master or their own free will, these interpersonal relations made an otherwise unbearable situation a bit more sufferable.
A world apart from the abovementioned individuals was a battlefield of brothers. The two photographs of the second portion I shall discuss were each captured at the end of the war in 1865. The first of these shows General William Worth Belknap and his staff formally posing. This Iowa Infantry was ordered into quarters by Governor Kirkwood, under the proclamation of President Lincoln, dated July 23, 1861 . This photo was taken following their participation in the war, including the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. The photo itself lends itself to many thought-provoking conclusions. As one can see, Captain Oliver D. Kinsman (seated on the left), Major William H. Goodrell and Major Henry Clay McArthur (each standing in center) all have taut uniforms that do not seem able to button all the way. One could ascertain that this was just because they had grown out of them in four years, but I believe this provides insight in to the lack of funding or availability of well-fitting dress. However, these men clearly would want to look their best, as it is clearly meant to portray the pride and accomplishment of the North. By 1865, the war had become, for the Union, about abolishing slavery; however, when these men first arrived on the battle scene in 1861 that was quite a different perspective. Chandra Manning writes, “[W]hite soldiers’ embrace of emancipation came with limits …white Union troops initially ignored questions of racial equality of black rights.” She concludes by adding, “Union soldiers’ dramatic transformation into advocates of emancipation, the stubborn limits of their racial attitudes, and their fluctuating views on race in 1865 help to explain how the Civil War created a vast potential for racial change in the United States but failed to fulfill it.” I believe this photo can reveal just as Manning wrote. The demeanors of the men show a brotherly bond along with pride for the Union Army and their homelands in which slavery had barely touched. Wyatt Buckner Pomeroy, pictured standing on the far right, has his palm placed endearingly on Major Alonzo J. Pope, his superior. This shows perhaps a father-son dynamic taking place away from home in which the photographer may have wanted portrayed here. The other men, including General Belknap, are all looking slightly away from the camera in somewhat of a contemplative stare, conceivably reflecting on what they had each seen and survived through, together. The younger men are also depicted showing respect for their ‘elders’ who enjoy the comfort of sitting for the long exposure time. The last thing on their minds during this photo was freeing the slaves, but rather the loss and destruction they had witnessed and taken part of over the years and then next returning home to discover what is left of their family. The men seemingly know in this photograph that they are all family now, and will forever have a bond through the similarities of each man’s sacrifice.
Finally, we will look at a picture of the men of the Irish Brigade, including General Robert Nugent , and Irish native who had resided in New York and fought for the Union’s cause and for his new home well after the Civil War had ended. General Nugent and his men were honorably discharged during the same time period this photo was taken. This photograph immediately looks clear, organized, and professional. Photographer William Morris Smith elegantly positioned these men with focal points pleasing to the eye, in accordance to photography’s ‘rule of thirds’. The main focal points are met by the steeple of the tent and by each of the men proportionally standing on the right and left of the center. The men’s pristine uniforms, adorned with swords, hats and gloves leads to the professionalism of their regime. General Nugent sits in the center of his men with legs crossed, showing the viewer his contentedness and his sense of accomplishment he felt for the North. All of the men but one are staring dauntingly at the camera, showing their pride and fearlessness. The development of sectionalism created a phenomena between American natives and immigrants. According to Susan-Mary Grant, “…anti-southernism combined with overt support for all things northern was, for many northerners, the means by which a sense of national identity was inculcated and preserved.” Though on a broader scale, this was very well the case for these Irish-born soldiers to earn and thrive with such high ranks, a closer look shows how men of the same nationality found comfort and security among themselves for shared backgrounds and ideologies. Just decades earlier, the people of Ireland had experienced a civil war themselves. Although ironic that they had then fought each other for independence (painfully outlined in the film Gods and Generals), they found the importance of unity for the stability of the country here, and perhaps saw the unethical nature of slavery before the natives had and fought to end those practices earlier on, before abolition had become a prime focus for the rest of the nation. After they and their forefathers had endured such a struggle for this kind of peace, one can see from the photograph the exuding sense of accomplishment on these men’s faces and in their stance. Together, after overcoming decades of oppression and discrimination themselves, they have finally found a stable home to rest.
In conclusion, discussed above are four extremely contrasting groups of people in two very different periods of the war—the upper-class women and the interconnected black slave families of the Confederate South in 1862, and Union soldiers, one a native-born group from the Midwest, the other Irish-born from the east coast. Every photograph told its own story; however, they also all illustrated interpersonal relationships and bonds amongst people during difficult times. Perhaps a realization early on of the lack of humanity in which the act of war offers was the catalyst to these brotherly and sisterly bonds that would last well beyond the following Recoonstruction.