Belligerent Muse

Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War

By Stephen Cushman

Foreword by Gary W. Gallagher

230 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3339-8
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-1878-4
    Published: October 2014
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4803-1
    Published: October 2014

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War destroys, but it also inspires, stimulates, and creates. It is, in this way, a muse, and a powerful one at that. The American Civil War was a particularly prolific muse--unleashing with its violent realities a torrent of language, from soldiers' intimate letters and diaries to everyday newspaper accounts, great speeches, and enduring literary works. In Belligerent Muse, Stephen Cushman considers the Civil War writings of five of the most significant and best known narrators of the conflict: Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ambrose Bierce, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Considering their writings both as literary expressions and as efforts to record the rigors of the war, Cushman analyzes their narratives and the aesthetics underlying them to offer a richer understanding of how Civil War writing chronicled the events of the conflict as they unfolded and then served to frame the memory of the war afterward.

Elegantly interweaving military and literary history, Cushman uses some of the war's most famous writers and their works to explore the profound ways in which our nation's great conflict not only changed the lives of its combatants and chroniclers but also fundamentally transformed American letters.

About the Authors

Stephen Cushman is Robert C. Taylor Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
For more information about Stephen Cushman, visit the Author Page.

Gary W. Gallagher is John L. Nau III Professor of History at the University of Virginia and author or editor of numerous books, including Lee and His Army in Confederate History and The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.
For more information about Gary W. Gallagher, visit the Author Page.


"Offers a new way to understand histories of the war as complex literary expressions in their own right."--Journal of Southern History


“Ranges the narration of military events on a spectrum from the mundane or utilitarian to a higher ‘yearning for dignity, strength, and grandeur.’”--American Literature

"Stephen Cushman presents an excellent and thoroughly researched overview of a timely topic--the relation of the Civil War to the writings of men whose engagement both with fighting the war and with writing the war resonates with nineteenth-century American culture."--Shirley Samuels, Cornell University

"Gorgeous and penetrating, Stephen Cushman’s Belligerent Muse gives us five exquisite lessons in the anatomy of style. From the lilt of Lincoln’s language to the barbs of Bierce and the pageantry of Chamberlain, Belligerent Muse takes readers into the complicated literary history of how the war was spun and how a national bloodletting transformed the writing of history and the history of writing in the United States."--Stephen Berry, University of Georgia

"Belligerent Muse is a beautifully written, rich, and engaging work that convincingly argues we should pay attention to the aesthetics of war writing, including military history. Offering fresh insight on every page, this is not only a great pleasure to read but also a major addition to the literature of the Civil War."--Alice Fahs, University of California, Irvine