Friday, July 7, 2017

Done: "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: sex in the Civil War" by Thomas P. Lowry

Done: The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: sex in the Civil War by Thomas P. Lowry, 1994, 9780811715157.

Interesting book with an awful cover. When I write awful cover I mean to say that the graphic design is just terrible. 

Lowry used documents in the National Archives and many other sources to research several aspects of sexuality during the war. Abortion, birth control, sexually transmitted disease, prostitution, homosexuality, so on, so forth. There is a bib in the back along with a listing of archives and libraries he used.

Interesting stuff but Lowry points out how the historical record can be skimpy on several things. Topics like homosexuality were not often recorded. Lowry relies quite a bit on Walt Whitman's sex diaries. (An aside: Whitman was promiscuous in D.C. and New York and kept records of all the men we had sex with.) Plus, many of the CSA Army records were destroyed by fire near the end of the war. Since Lowry focused on soldiers he had to rely military records - especially military court docs - and this study is mostly limited to the US Army.

The history of abortion and disease were the most enlightening. Both were widespread. You hear a lot about disease like dysentery causing more soldier injuries than bullets but you don't always hear that syphilis and gonorrhea were a big part of that. Do yourself a favor and skip the photos of patients in the third and last stage of syphilis.

I do not have the book at hand. I'll take another look at the book and post info of note if I see anything super interesting.

EDIT: Ok, I have the book. let me look through for the interesting parts by topic.

1. Rape. War zones are always dangerous for civilians. Women have the constant risk of rape by both sides. Black women were especially vulnerable and seemed to be the target of Union soldiers.  Punishments varied from light punishment to death. There was plenty of rapes but Lowry and others  seem to think there was less rape than other conflicts. I'm guessing that the Civil War had less demonizing the enemy than other conflicts. If you don't hear that your enemy is a depraved animal maybe you are more likely to see them as the people they are.
2. Abortion. Lowry refers to several news and magazine adverts that regularly offered ways to end pregnancy. Lowry also references several medical texts that gave instruction for same. One physician of the time estimated 25 percent of women used abortion. His estimate is only 5 points higher than several other contemporaries that Lowry names.
3. Prostitution has two chapters that cover the East and West parts of the country. Soldiers and prostitutes have always been a pair. And the resulting economic and family disasters of war causes plenty of women to take on the work. The Union Army in a couple instances would forcibly empty out the local bordellos, put all the women on a river steamer, and send the women upriver and away from the soldiers. The steamers would be refused docking privileges at many towns and keep traveling with nowhere to put ashore.
4. The Union Army was pretty damn big. Some commanders were realistic in dealing with venereal disease and required licenses and medical inspections of prostitutes. Women and soldiers who were sick were sent to hospitals until cured. Or "cured", because I'm guessing a cure was a remission of symptoms.

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