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The Gentlemen and the Roughs Book Review

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The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army by Lorien Foote In the year 1861, the Civil War erupted throughout the United States. After four long gruesome years, the Union Army enlisted a total number of 2,893,304 northern soldiers. In The Gentlemen and the Roughs, Lorien Foote sheds light on northern conceptions of violence, honor, and manhood. Foote argues that the Union army originated by dividing class and social status, fighting a war for masculinity within its ranks at the same time it fought the Southern enemy. Many historians disregarded the friction between educationally refined officers and the vulgar, unskilled, and uneducated roughs under their authority. The idea to write about honor and manhood during the Civil War Foote said, “came from the unforgettable summers in the National Archives. (183)”

Initially Foote had a desire to write about discipline and military justice but after 75,961 primary sources containing court martial cases, newspapers, journals and diaries were all at the fingertips of a Civil War fanatic, these stories about fighting for honor and manhood in the north had to be told. Foote’s highly sophisticated evidence prepared me to look at history, especially the north, in a new way. The fuse that led the gentlemen and roughs to fight over honor and manhood during the Civil War came from insults and dishonoring higher-ranking officials. If a private insulted another private, officers allowed them to fight for honor. An officer insulting an officer during war was an issue that needed to be addressed in military court. Depending on the severity of the insult officers faced military discharge from the war and their honor and rank in society withered away. In chapter two, “The Model of the Gentlemen: Gentility and Self-Control (41),” Foote discusses how gentlemen were perceived during the Civil War.

To be recognized as a gentleman in society one had to be from a high economic status, obtain the rank of an officer in the military and be well educated. Foote says “Rising young men from the professions – law, politics, and journalism – could launch their status as a gentleman and their claim to public leadership by fighting a duel. (78)” The winner of the dual achieved higher prestige because they obtained a valuable social status and succeeded in winning their honor. Most gentlemen formally wrote out their response to fight because attacking an officer from behind rather than face-to-face was viewed as a coward less act. Fist fighting or shooting pistols at one another were other means of solving a dispute. Insulting an officer’s honor is mentioned in the “Articles of War. (84)” The 24th article “prohibits officers from using reproachful or provoking speeches to another. (84)”

These articles kept the Union Army from dishonoring and over powering one another. Foote describes a court marshal case pertaining to the discharge of Captain Andrew McManus, for insulting his fellow officer Bernard J. McMahon of the 69th Pennsylvania regiment. McManus insulted McMahon by calling him a “coward. (84)” The demoralizing, “charge of cowardice that challenged McMahon’s reputation as a brave and manly soldier (83)” was a violation of the Articles of War. Dishonorable discharge from the war for gentlemen who insulted was the ultimate sign of failing to be an honest man. Foote argues, the roughs’ view on honor and manhood was different than the gentlemen. Roughs, during the Civil War, believed “self worth” could only be achieved if society granted one honor. Foote describes roughs to be primarily uneducated lower class immigrants or rural farmers who did not own property and moved constantly around the north to find employment. Many roughs became infantrymen for the Union Army.

Fighting, dueling, and drinking were seen by roughs as challenges to prove one’s manhood. Roughs were involved in what Foote describes as a “rough and tumble” which is “a style of fighting where opponents were allowed free reign without interference until one of the parties was incapacitated. (81)” During the Civil War, men from all ranks approached this form of fighting to resolve affairs of honor. Foote states, “ by the late eighteenth century, dueling replaced hand-to-hand combat among gentlemen, while rough and tumble fighting was generally confined to the southern backwoods. (81)” Individually, both the gentlemen and the roughs agreed the most effective way to protect the honor of manhood was by fighting. Lorien Foote is currently a professor of history at Texas A&M University and taught thirteen years at the University of Central Arkansas. Foote currently teaches courses on the Civil War/Reconstruction, War and Society, Early National History, and nineteenth Century Reform Movements.

In 2011, Foote’s The Gentlemen and the Roughs was a finalist and honorable mention for the Lincoln Prize. Lorien Foote does a compelling job using her sources as well as revealing countless views both sides had about one another during the Civil War. Many historians, including Foote believe the North and South have different views of honor. Foote did an excellent job researching, collecting, and distributing her sources throughout the book. Reading journal entries from Union Army officials, court marshal records pertaining to military discharges and learning the concept of honor was enjoyable. Foote did an outstanding job organizing this book because as one event lead to another, her sources and time period of the Civil War flowed nicely.

With only 180 pages, The Gentlemen and the Roughs appropriately suits undergraduate classes, graduate classes and anyone who is interested in learning about the Civil War, Union Army, or the concept of honor. Although many historians disregarded the friction between educationally refined officers and the vulgar, uneducated underlings, Foote adequately and interestingly defends that the violence and unspoken battle between the gentlemen and the roughs was real, and violence was universally accepted as a way to solve the debates over honor and manhood. In 1865, the Civil War came to an end but both gentlemen and roughs handed the next generation of men the fight for manhood.

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