The study of the Civil War is implicitly a study of communities. Although we think of the competing interests that sparked the war in meta terms—the North versus the South—the United States was divided up into many other communities characterized by geography, not to mention ethnicity, religion, class, and gender. Many communities fought the Civil War and were, in turn, affected by the war in many different ways. The following historiography does not pretend to provide a comprehensive listing of published titles, but it does offer a sampling of crucial books and a discussion of the salient historiographical issues. An effort has also been made to include pertinent books on Pennsylvania, although the most up-to-date bibliography on the state appears in Judith Geisberg's Keystone State in Crisis: Pennsylvania in the Civil War (Pennsylvania Historical Association Series, 2013), a brief book meant for a popular audience that focuses on a number of different communities to tell lively stories about the ways in which the war affected and inspired Pennsylvanians.
In a way, the hundreds of regimental histories published during the forty years after the war were the first community histories. Most began with local rallies and recruiting efforts. In addition to detailing the battlefield experiences of the men, they frequently included at least a few pages on the home front experiences of their families and most followed the men home to homecoming celebrations. Later, many books and articles on northern communities were published by local historical societies and state commissions, tourist sites, or independent presses specializing in short, heavily illustrated volumes with a largely descriptive text.
An important genre of books on the Civil War era are straightforward city histories, which, while not necessarily conceived as community studies, nevertheless provide local perspectives. Most offer standard treatments of recruitment and mobilization, war-time economic changes, the hardships experienced by soldiers and civilians, and politics and dissent. Three examples of such urban histories are: Theodore J. Karamanski, Rally 'Round the Flag: Chicago and the Civil War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1993); Thomas O'Connor, Civil War Boston: Home Front and Battlefield (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997); and Paul Taylor, "Old Slow Town": Detroit during the Civil War (Wayne State University, 2013). A variation of this is Banners South: A Northern Community at War (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2005), by Edmund J.Raus, Jr. Military service was, during the Civil War era, a community experience, since members of individual regiments normally came the same town or county, and a few authors have connected local communities with the regiments they sent to the war. Raus follows the men of the 23rd New York, a two-year regiment from Cortland, New York, from their enlistment through their rather undistinguished service, through their efforts to fit their service into the larger and more heroic narrative articulated by other Union veterans.
Although they do not frame their topics as community studies, the dozen contributors to the anthology An Uncommon Time: The Civil War and the Northern Home Front deliver excellent introductions to "some ways in which northerners experienced the war, some ways in which the war seeped into northern institutions, and some ways in which the war shaped the perceptions of northerners concerning themselves, their politics, and their government." All would have clear implications for community relationships. Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller, eds., An Uncommon Time: The Civil War and the Northern Home Front (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), xx.
One of the best known books about war-time dissent is also, in a way, a community study. Iver Bernstein's The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) provides not only a riveting account of the bloodiest civil disturbance in American history, but also an analysis of the ethnic, socio-economic, and political communities that spiraled into violence in 1863. Bernstein's focus on a particular event in the history of New York during the Civil War provides a thematic thrust lacking in many accounts of northern cities and communities during the war.
Community studies is a sub-field of social history, whose prominence in the field f Civil War history rose in 1989, when Maris Vinovskis asked in the Journal of American History, "Have social historians lost the Civil War?" Despite the "vast outpouring of literature" on virtually countless aspects of the Civil War, he wrote, "we do not know much about the effects of the Civil War on everyday life in the United States. Surprisingly little has been written about the personal experiences of ordinary soldiers or civilians during that struggle. . . . Very little has been published on civilian life in the North or the South during the war years and almost nothing is available on the postwar life course of Civil War veterans." Vinovskis's article offered a sampling of some of his own interests in Civil War era social history, which tended toward quantitative explorations of casualties, pensions, and the war's effects on both the military and civilian population. Maris Vinovskis, "Have Social Historians Lost the Civil War? Some Preliminary Demographic Speculations," Journal of American History 76 (June 1989): 34-58, quote on 34.
Vinovskis focused his essay on a single community, Newburyport, Massachusetts. The issues Vinovskis raised were quite familiar to the social historians who had come out of the 1960s and 1970s and represented in more than one way the sensitivities of the historians of colonial New England towns who had led American historians into the modern approach to social hsitory. An earlier attempt to bring the community study sensibility to the Civil War era was Michael Frisch's, Town Into City: Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Meaning of Community, 1840-1880 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972). Concentrating mainly on politics and economic development, Frisch found that the Civil War dragged Springfield, a reluctantly urbanizing community before the war, into a modern, industrialized community, with all the ethnic, class, and political conflict that came with it.
During the two decades since Vinovskis's query, a small brigade of social historians answered "no" to Vinovskis's iconic question. Many sought to understand the social history of the war by studying cities, towns, and other communities. Although southern communities have received the most attention, historians of the Civil War-era North have also made major contributions to our understanding of the conflict, often fitting their research into larger issues peculiarly important to the northern states, including those great "-ations" that dominated the Gilded Age North: industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. But the generation of social historians who accepted Vinovskis's challenge have not, as a general rule taken the quantitative route.
Vinovskis helped start the process of answering his own question with his 1990 anthology, Toward a Social History of the Civil War: Exploratory Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990). The seven essays addressed a number of themes that have dominated the historiography before and since, ranging from the mobilization of soldiers and civilians to political manifestations of war-time issues and the rise of the Grand Army of the Republic and the post-war pension system.
Several of the pieces addressed the war's effects on local communities. Reid Mitchell's essay foreshadowed his The Vacant Chair: The Northern Soldier Leaves Home (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), which suggested that the mid-nineteenth-century values shaped by young soldiers' home and childhood experiences shaped their responses to virtually every aspect of their military experiences, in battle and in camp. Thomas R. Kemp focused on the motivations of residents of Claremont and Newport, New Hampshire, in choosing whether or not to involve themselves in the war, as well as on the ways in which expectations and reality clashed and changed perceptions and priorities for the residents of these two small but representative towns. J. Matthew Gallman's essay on the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia was also a precursor to his book on Philadelphia, Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia During the Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), still the most complete study of a major northern community.
While his essay was limited to the huge "sanitary fair" held to raise money in support of the United States Sanitary Commission, Gallman's book took a much larger view of the war's effect—or, as it turns out, lack of effect—on the second-largest city in the mid-nineteenth century U. S. Gallman argues that Philadelphia's already well-developed industrial, commercial, and social institutions were able to absorb the tensions and stresses of the Civil War better than most American cities.
Civil War-era community studies have often provided a platform for studying larger questions. Even when they were not rooted in a single town or region, they explore issues that shape the fabric of any community. For instance, although philanthropic organizations did, of course, transcend local and even state borders, most of the real work of supporting Civil War armies at home was done at the community level. Gallman notes the cooperation and conflict that characterized the working relationships between the men and women involved with war-time benevolence and fund-raising in Philadelphia. Lori D. Ginzberg's Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) places the activities of the U. S. Sanitary Commission in the larger contexts of women's "work" on behalf of the larger community. The war did not create the need for women to enter the public sphere—indeed, the war is not the central event in Ginzberg's book—because they had done so for years in their neighborhoods, churches, and towns.
Grace Palladino, Another Civil War: Labor, Capital, and the State in the Anthracite Regions of Pennsylvania, 1840-1868 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990) revises previous interpretations of the virulently anti-draft, anti-Union sentiment in the state's coal region, a readily identified community based on class and ethnicity—Irish Democrats and the notorious Molly Maguires were blamed for most of the dissent in previous accounts—by focusing on the larger conflict between miners and coal owners and operators that transcended the war itself. As it did in other communities, antebellum debates and attitudes—about labor organization, of course, but also race and the role of government in people's lives—were blended into the more immediate and particularly war-related issues like military mobilization and patriotism.
A complementary study to Palladino's is Deserter County: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009). Robert M. Sandow narrows the chronological scope and moves the action to the lumber region of north-central Pennsylvania, but the sparsely settled area also nurtured disaffection against the government—especially when residents accustomed to local control encountered government policies and practices that violated their personal ideals and interests—and bitter partisan politics that will sound familiar to readers of Palladino's book. The focus of the book is on local draft resistance and the usually exaggerated existence of "secret" anti-war societies.
State historical and other journals have published countless articles about the Civil War home front focusing on specific cities or communities, although many tend to be simple chronicles or biographical sketches. One particular strength of journal articles, however, has been their examination of recruiting and enlistment issues. See, for instance, Emily J. Harris, "Sons and Soldiers: Deerfield, Massachusetts, and the Civil War," Civil War History 30 (June 1984): 157-171; Robert E. Mitchell, "Civil war Recruiting and Recruits from Ever-Changing Labor Pools: Midland County, Michigan, as a Case Study," Michigan Historical Review 35 (Spring 2009): 29-60; Dora L. Costa, Matthew E. Kahn, "Deserters, Social Norms and Migration," Journal of Law & Economics 50 (May 2007): 323-353; Philip E. Webber, "Zoar in the Civil War: Choosing between Pacifism and Participation," Communal Societies 29 (2009): 35-40; and Andrew T. Tremel, "The Union League, Black Leaders, and the Recruitment of Philadelphia's African American Civil War Regiments," Pennsylvania History 80 (Winter 2013): 13-36
Of course, the article literature on Civil War communities features many other topics, ranging from political attitudes (see Peter Bratt, "A Great Revolution in Feeling: The American Civil War in Niles and Grand Rapids, Michigan," Michigan Historical Review 31 [September 2005]: 43-66) to rural hardships caused by the absence of men (see J. L. Anderson, "The Vacant Chair on the Farm: Soldier Husbands, Farm Wives, and the Iowa Home Front, 1861-1865," Annals of Iowa 66 [Summer/Fall 2007]: 241-265) to memory (see Rachel Cree Sherman, "St. Johnsbury Puts the Civil War to Rest," Vermont History 76 [Winter/Spring 2008]: 63-66).
Although social historians of the Civil War era have certainly not "lost" the Civil War, studies of northern communities have definitely lagged behind studies of southern communities. There are actually relatively few topics that historians have not addressed, but the research remains scattered. Economic conditions in the North have been covered fairly well, starting with the still-cited Social and industrial conditions in the North during the Civil War by Emerson Fite (New York: Ungar, 1963), but much more work along the lines of Russell Johnson's, Warriors Into Workers: The Civil War and the Formation of Urban-Industrial Society in a Northern City (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003) would be welcome. Johnson follows the fortunes of soldiers from one small city in the Midwest to determine what effect service had on post-war economic and geographical mobility.
One of the lacunae in the literature is historical memory in northern communities. Although Barbara Gannon's The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011) on integrated Grand Army of the Republic Posts is, by nature, a study of hundreds of small "communities" throughout the country, little work has been done on the ways that northern communities incorporated the Civil War into their collective memories.
Finally, perhaps the most crucial historiographical need is a synthesis of the northern home front, especially the ways in which communities—defined broadly—were affected. J. Matthew Gallman's The North Fights the Civil War: The Home Front (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1994) is a useful book, especially appropriate for undergraduates, but it is not necessarily concerned with communities, as such. A much bigger synthesis, Phillip Shaw Paludan's "A People's Contest": The Union and Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), focuses more (although not exclusively) on political and economic matters than on society and community. Historians have yet to attempt a comprehensive history of the ways in which northern communities were affected as communities, from personal and family relationships to economic development to racial integration (or its failure) to commemorations of local heroes. A fuller exploration of all of these topics would even the historiographical imbalance between the northern and southern home fronts.