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Union Heartland

Union Heartland

The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War

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Edited by Ginette Aley and J. L. Anderson, with a foreword by William C. Davis


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
14 illustrations


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About the Book

The Civil War has historically been viewed somewhat simplistically as a battle between the North and the South. Southern historians have broadened this viewpoint by revealing the “many Souths” that made up the Confederacy, but the “North” has remained largely undifferentiated as a geopolitical term. In this welcome collection, seven Civil War scholars offer a unique regional perspective on the Civil War by examining how a specific group of Northerners—Midwesterners, known as Westerners and Middle Westerners during the 1860s—experienced the war on the home front.
Much of the intensifying political and ideological turmoil of the 1850s played out in the Midwest and instilled in its people a powerful sense of connection to this important drama. The 1850 federal Fugitive Slave Law and highly visible efforts to recapture former bondsmen and women who had escaped; underground railroad “stations” and supporters throughout the region; publication of Ohioan Harriet Beecher Stowe’s widely-influential and best-selling Uncle Tom’s Cabin; the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854; the murderous abolitionist John Brown, who gained notoriety and hero status attacking proslavery advocates in Kansas; the emergence of the Republican Party and Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln—all placed the Midwest at the center of the rising sectional tensions.
From the exploitation of Confederate prisoners in Ohio to wartime college enrollment in Michigan, these essays reveal how Midwestern men, women, families, and communities became engaged in myriad war-related activities and support. Agriculture figures prominently in the collection, with several scholars examining the agricultural power of the region and the impact of the war on farming, farm families, and farm women. Contributors also consider student debates and reactions to questions of patriotism, the effect of the war on military families’ relationships, issues of women’s loyalty and deference to male authority, as well as the treatment of political dissent and dissenters.
Bringing together an assortment of home front topics from a variety of fresh perspectives, this collection offers a view of the Civil War that is unabashedly Midwestern.


Ginette Aley is Carey Fellow at Kansas State University and an adjunct professor at Washburn University. She has authored numerous chapter essays and articles on nineteenth-century rural life and westward migration, north and south of the Ohio River and west of the Mississippi River.

J. L. Anderson, an associate professor of history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, is the author of Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945–1972.


"This compilation is recommended both as an example of the value of regional studies in their own right and how they can enhance our understanding of the Civil War, the central event in American history, by providing new contexts and perspectives."—Nebraska History

“In recent years, some of the most interesting scholarship on the Civil War home front has considered how civilians in the midwestern states responded to the sectional conflict and how that distinctive region helped shape national events. This welcome collection speaks to many of the biggest issues confronted by any society in wartime: how does war affect family roles, gender identities, economic practices, and political discourse?  The essays also contemplate the intertwined worlds of soldiers and civilians: how did young students decide to go to war, what did volunteers leave behind, what happened when prisoners of war entered the home front environment? Aley and Anderson have assembled an excellent lineup of established experts in the field and rising young scholars. The result is both a fascinating portrait of the midwestern home front and a valuable window into how historians are rethinking the nature of war and society.”—J. Matthew Gallman, author of Northerners at War: Reflections on the Civil War Home Front

“This collection presents major recent scholarship on the Midwest during the Civil War. Each essay contributes significantly to the growing field of studies on midwestern history; together they provide an original and compelling analysis of the American heartland during war. With this well-contextualized collection of essays, varied in subject matter and approach, Aley and Anderson present sweeping themes of diverse political and personal dynamics. This is an important contribution to our understanding of the enormous range of wartime experience.”—Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln

“This is a valuable collection of well-researched case studies that pays long overdue attention to the practical and emotional impact of the Civil War on families in the rural Midwest.”—Andrew Cayton, Miami University