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Department 1

Civil War Institute


It seems counterintuitive to imagine the bloodiest conflict in American history being worse, but Sheehan-Dean argues that the death toll could have been dramatically higher without both sides’ emphasis on restraint, as dictated by the laws of war. Most of the book is spent examining “how people on both sides justified the lethal violence of conflict and when, how, and why they balanced cruelty and destruction.” Despite the rules of war, however, Civil War participants, like all humans, were contradictory. Sometimes they acted instinctively and spontaneously, while at other times, their actions were the result of deeply seated ideology. The participants contradicted themselves and their responses to events continually changed. Sheehan-Dean expertly places himself in participants’ shoes to analyze the exercise and restraint of violence. [excerpt]


This blog post originally appeared in The Gettysburg Compiler and was created by students at Gettysburg College.