Reluctant Witnesses: Children's Voices from the Civil War

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tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
Reluctant Witnesses: Children's Voices from the Civil War
By Emmy E. Werner

Westview Press, Colorado, 1998


4/20/99

Emmy E. Werner has written a thought provoking book revealing war from the child's point of view that is both striking in its simplicity and jarring in its reality. She focuses on the place of children in a homeland torn by war. Werner compels us to revisit our notions of the fragility of children and the resilience of children in the same instant.

Professor Werner examines children who endured the War Between the States with the eye of a developmental psychologist. Some of her previous work helped to define the concept of the resilient child that is integral to current psychological study. This perspective allows her to weave the story of children in a way that acknowledges their individuality and their response to their troubled times.

The accounts in the main body of the book take on the nature of a chronicle. Stories are separate yet connected by the series of horrors that war always provides. Most of the historic accounts Werner uses will not be new to those who have studied children in America in the 1860's, but her purpose is new. Professor Werner wants us to understand that children are not silent witnesses of war. She emphasizes that it is the children who will in the end be the final chroniclers of the war. Here, in their own voices, children speak of fear and courage, of family and community, and of the power of faith. And with surprisingly little bitterness or hate, they reveal their ability to face great adversity and continue to hope for peace.

The children we get to know are from both the North and the South. They are boys and girls, slaves and civilians, and yes, even soldiers, ranging in age from infants to teenagers. Some accounts are written by children, others are written about children by their parents or other adults. Their stories compel us to acknowledge their insight and innate ability to find truth in situations that often confound adults. They are not afraid to speak of the continuum of emotions that war engenders. In their voices there is little bravado and no insincerity.

Reluctant Witnesses
acknowledges the subtle yet infinitely unique perspective that a child can bring to the cataclysm that we, in hindsight, call the Civil War. Werner's book offers readers the opportunity to see in one volume what has long been the domain of a minority of researchers and historians who have acknowledged the value of the children's perspective on historical events. Although the main text is not footnoted, her bibliography presents all the necessary information for readers who wish to research the individual accounts or topics more fully. The prologue and epilogue speak to the unity of experience of children in war torn countries in the past and present. A more complete comparative investigation of these unified experiences would be a fitting continuation of this theme.

One hopes this work will spark more interest in this often overlooked field of study, the experiences of the young, perceptive and reluctant witnesses of war.

Meg Galante-DeAngelis holds Masters degrees in Educational Psychology and Family Studies. She is the program coordinator for the University of Connecticut Child Development Laboratories, and a faculty member of the University of Connecticut School of Family Studies. Galante-DeAngelis has conducted extensive research in the history of childhood, particularly in the 1860's. She owns The Children's Quartermaster Sutlery, specializing in children's toys, games, clothing and books of the Civil War era and is involved in a variety of living history programs with her family.
 

Red Harvest

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
This would make an interesting generic thread topic. Several stories come to mind instantly:
1. A boy of a pro-Southern family who watched some German speaking Federals pass by in Missouri, said or did something offensive and was taken along to camp as a lesson to him.
2. A very young boy whose mother was killed during a battle in Missouri as the result of rising up from her place of cover to nurse an infant. IIRC the infant died before reaching the age of two.
3. A young slave boy in Florida who rode out with a Union USCT regiment (I think it was) during a raid.
All of these as I recollect were written from the persepective of the children as adults.
 
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FourLeafClover

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 6, 2011
Location
London
This would make an interesting generic thread topic. Several stories come to mind instantly:
1. A boy of a pro-Southern family who watched some German speaking Federals pass by in Missouri, said or did something offensive and was taken along to camp as a lesson to him.
2. A very young boy whose mother was killed during a battle in Missouri as the result of rising up from her place of cover to nurse an infant. IIRC the infant died before reaching the age of two.
3. A young slave boy in Florida who rode out with a Union USCT regiment (I think it was) during a raid.
All of these as I recollect were written from the persepective of the children as adults.
Agreed Red, these stories would indeed make an interesting thread. The viewpoint of children offers a different perspective.
Cautionary note however: I seem to remember a thread featuring diary extracts from a young Southern girl, who witnessed Sherman's troops passing through. It quickly degenerated into a bun fight over, how authentic, and biased the story may be.
Still would love to see the tales and make my own mind up though.
 
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