Some years back, it struck me that the Civil War may only seem to be "unwritten" because nobody has been looking in the right places--namely, the popular magazines of the nineteenth century. As it turns out, hundreds of war narratives circulated between the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861 and the American Centennial in 1876, more than enough for the extended examination that I began in Where My Heart is Turning Ever: Civil War Stories and Constitutional Reform.
That is the first volume in a projected trilogy about the Civil War stories that appeared in magazines of the 1860s and 1870s. The second book now in progress, The Fateful Lightning: Civil War Stories and the Literary Marketplace, looks at the formal developments and colloquial vitality that the Civil War helped provoke in American letters. The flash of local events and the sound of unfamiliar voices in the war’s first narratives do much to explain why Twain’s fiction is so different from Melville’s: the Civil War marked the first time that many Americans left the neighborhoods they knew well, the first time that many Northern boys saw slavery at all. The magazines that soldiers helped make popular bespeak a growing appetite for the idiosyncratic, the innovative, and the diverse in literature at a time when the American “homestead” was opening up. For that reason, thirty-one of the stories initially published by familiar magazines like Boston’s Atlantic Monthly and New York’s Harper’s Weekly, as well as by fleeting periodicals like Philadelphia’s Lippincott’s, Baltimore’s Southern Magazine, Chicago’s Lakeside Monthly, and Washington’s New National Era (edited by Frederick Douglass and his sons), have been chosen for To Live and Die: Collected Stories of the Civil War, 1861-1876, a volume I have recently assembled and edited.
Intrigued by the cultural pulse of the last century, I now teach graduate and undergraduate courses that return as often as possible to a burgeoning magazine culture and nineteenth-century American literature in the making.