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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


Paperback (Other formats: Hardcover)
222 pages, 6 x 9, 14 illustrations


Additional Materials

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 an author, editor, and visiting assistant professor of history at Kansas State University. Her publications include essays in the Civil War series Virginia at War, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson Jr. 

J. L. Anderson is a professor of history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author of Capitalist Pigs: Pigs, Pork, and Power in America. He is a past president of the Agricultural History Society. 


“[This collection] stands squarely on the cutting edge of putting the Civil War in the context of regional history.”—A. James FullerOhio Valley History

“[B]ooks like this one are helping to close the gap between our knowledge of the lives of Northern and Southern civilians.”—James MartenIndiana Magazine of History

“These articles, as well as an introduction by the editors and a foreword by William C. Davis, make a strong argument that the events on the home front were as significant as those on the battlefield, even though they have not commanded the same scholarly attention.”—B.M.S. CampneyCHOICE

“From the conditions of Civil War prisons in the Midwest, to the Midwest’s critical agricultural role to keep the soldiers and the Union fed, to the trials and travails of midwestern Union soldiers’ wives, Union Heartland is fascinating, heavily researched, and thoughtfully presented.”—James A. CoxMidwest Book Review
“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.”—James E. PotterNebraska History
“Undoubtedly, the Midwest deserves attention for its contributions during the [Civil War], which included crops, soldiers, supplies, and political upheaval. By treating the Midwest as its own entity as opposed to studying the North and Midwest as one monolithic region, these essays provide new insight into the wartime experiences of midwesterners.”—Megan BirkKansas History

Union Heartland deserves our attention, not only for the many lessons it teaches on its particular subjects but even more so for its demonstration that all the North was not New England or the mid-Atlantic, as so much literature has it. It is time to find the war where it was lived day-to-day in specific places. This book points the way.”—Randall M. Miller, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
“[Aley and Anderson] have advanced our understanding of the significant role the Old Northwest (what became known as the Midwest) played in the Civil War. Their introduction is a model of scholarship, reviewing the historiography and providing guideposts for the essays included in this collection."—Kenneth J. HeinemanJournal of the Illinois State Historical Society
“These well-written essays appropriately emphasize regional features of this sectional peri­od and deepen understanding of the midwest­ern home front during the Civil War. A step forward in explaining the distinctiveness of the midwestern experience, this welcome and valuable collection augurs further scholarship that will enhance thinking about and knowl­edge of the historical Midwest.”—Kenneth H. WheelerJournal of American History
“This collection will be of interest to scholars of the Civil War, as well as to those interested in the Northern home front or nineteenth-century rural history. The authors have demonstrated the vitality of this region and its variety of experiences.”—Jeff BremerCivil War Book Review
“Aley and Anderson present a compelling collection of essays that introduces the Midwest as the ‘heartland’ of the Union and further expands the historiographic discussion of the Northern home front during the war. Union Heartland’s emphasis on place signifies a shift in the way historians examine the Civil War, and more attention should be paid to the rich history of this region in the future.”—Lindsey PetersonHumanities and Social Science Online
“[Union Heartland] provides nuanced views of life on the midwestern home front and offers new frameworks for scholars to examine the Northern people and their wartime experiences.”—John Michael Foster Jr.The Historian

“[R]eaders will enjoy the glimpses offered here of a Civil War home front about which we still have a lot to learn.”—Judith GiesbergJournal of Illinois History
“Taken together, the essays reflect the interrelatedness between struggles on the battlefields and the home front.”—Gordon BergCivil War Times
“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