Homesickness and The Civil War: The Northern Perception of Union Soldiers’ Nostalgia

Bard, Abbie
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The Union soldiers of the American Civil War, though historically triumphant in their battle against the South, dealt with an additional, internal conflict in regards to their emotions while away at war. Homesickness, or “Nostalgia,” ran rampant through the Union Army, to the point of becoming a diagnosis in medical journals at the time. The homesickness experienced by these soldiers was a product of the North’s societal emphasis on domesticity and “the home”; however, Northerners’ perceptions of the men experiencing nostalgia varied. While military officials and medics deemed nostalgia to be a sign of weakness that must be avoided at all costs, civilian doctors and Northern citizens believed these feelings demonstrated the strength of their regional values, and therefore admired and encouraged the homesick soldiers. Despite both perspectives being heavily documented, it is evident that these soldiers were, more often than not, praised by other Northerners for being proper family-men and maintaining moral nobility on and off the battlefield. By investigating not only the emotions experienced by these men on the battlefield, but also how such emotions were perceived, we are given a more holistic look into life during the war. Additionally, by connecting emotions to history, we open the door to exploring historical events through various other lenses and new perspectives.

This project won first place in the 2021 Signature Course Information Literacy Award. The award recognizes exemplary student work that achieves the learning outcomes of the Signature Course information literacy requirement, that students will be able to create and execute a research strategy, critically evaluate information, and navigate the scholarly conversation. The paper was nominated by Alex Beasley and completed in his Fall 2020 Signature Course, “Emotions in US History.” Abbie Bard's project was chosen for her compelling argument using primary and secondary sources she found with a sound search strategy. Dr. Beasley supported this project by saying "[Abbie Bard] engaged in innovative and prodigious research to find fascinating sources for this paper, including a medical journal article from 1864 and a military surgical manual from 1861. She placed these sources into conversation with secondary sources to argue that debates over homesickness reflected Northern anxieties around the place of the home and the family in an emerging era of industrial capitalism.”