When North and South went to war, millions of American families endured their first long separation. For men in the armies—and their wives, children, parents, and siblings at home—letter writing was the sole means to communicate. Yet for many of these Union and Confederate families, taking pen to paper was a new and daunting task. I Remain Yours narrates the Civil War from the perspective of ordinary people who had to figure out how to salve the emotional strain of war and sustain their closest relationships using only the written word.
Christopher Hager presents an intimate history of the Civil War through the interlaced stories of common soldiers and their families. The previously overlooked words of a carpenter from Indiana, an illiterate teenager from Connecticut, a grieving mother in the mountains of North Carolina, and a blacksmith’s daughter on the Iowa prairie reveal through their awkward script and expression the personal toll of war. Is my son alive or dead? Returning soon or never? Can I find words for the horrors I’ve seen or the loneliness I feel? Fear, loss, and upheaval stalked the lives of Americans straining to connect the battlefront to those they left behind.
Hager shows how relatively uneducated men and women made this new means of communication their own, turning writing into an essential medium for sustaining relationships and a sense of belonging. Letter writing changed them and they in turn transformed the culture of letters into a popular, democratic mode of communication.
Christopher Hager uncovers the worlds of battlefront and home front for ordinary people in one of the most important books ever written on the history of emotions. He finds in the tortured grammar of soldiers and their loved ones the shocks, trauma, fear, and the deadening mundane of war's upheaval. This book is a profound portrait of humanity undisguised, unconventional, and under pressure—a truly original work of literary history.
A deeply researched, imaginatively structured, and eloquently written study of the letter-writing practices of soldiers and family members during the U.S. Civil War. It is the rare scholarly work with a narrative momentum that makes it hard to put down. I have no doubt that it will take its place as the defining book in its field.
Hager brings alive the personal letters of ordinary soldiers and their families, people who had neither traveled nor written much before the war came calling. With astounding interpretive skill, and in gorgeous prose, he weaves deeply personal stories, gleaning rich and resonant details from words, phrases, and even blank spaces on a page. I Remain Yours is a book for those who study the Civil War or just love to read about it. There is simply no other book like it.
Christopher Hager has recovered the voices of ordinary soldiers who struggled into literacy during the Civil War. Their letters home are poignant and sometimes heartbreaking. I Remain Yours is an extraordinary addition to the documentary history of the Civil War.
- Harvard University Press
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