Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lorien Foote's "The Gentlemen and the Roughs"

Lorien Foote is associate professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas and the author of Seeking the One Great Remedy: Francis George Shaw and Nineteenth-Century Reform.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army, and reported the following:
Surprisingly to me, the “Page 99 Test” worked reasonably well for The Gentlemen and the Roughs. My book is about manhood and northern society during the Civil War. At a time when Americans believed that the survival of the republic depended on the manhood of its citizens, army life exposed the conflicts among men over how to define and measure manhood. Each chapter of the book deals with one of the contested attributes of manhood and how the contest played out in the context of the Union Army. Page 99 is in Chapter Four, which presents a discussion of honor.

One of the central arguments of my book, which challenges the perception of most scholars, is that honor was still vital to many northern men. Page 99 begins to develop that theme with a discussion of men who believed the Civil War was a duel between north and south and who invoked honor to describe their motivations. The rest of the chapter discusses the numerous affairs of honor that I found in the record of Union courts-martial. However, honor was a contested ideal of manhood. Many northern men rejected honor and believed it led to unnecessary violence and unmanly behavior. Page 99 reflects this larger argument of the book because the page contains the concluding paragraph of the extended introduction to Chapter Four. In that paragraph I introduce the difficulty that military courts had assessing affairs of honor because northern men disagreed over how a man satisfied honor when he was insulted. My book uses different types of primary sources as evidence, but relies heavily on courts-martial records, a feature that is unique among scholars who study gender and Civil War soldiers. Page 99 references the use of these sources, but is atypical of the rest of the book in that it does not present incidents from courts-martial or quotes from a trial.

Because page 99 only deals with honor, however, it does not capture the book’s discussion of other attributes of manhood that were contested in the Union Army, such as moral character and gentility. Nor does it reflect the importance of social class to northerners’ perceptions, to the interactions between soldiers and officers, and to the book’s analysis. A reader who turned to page 99 would get the mistaken impression that the book is about honor.
Visit Lorien Foote's faculty webpage, and read more about The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army.

--Marshal Zeringue