The following book review was written by Bobbi King:
Life in Civil War America
By Michael O. Varhola
Publisher: Family Tree Books, Cincinnati, OH
A paperback book with 319 pages, with illustrations, drawings, images, photographs, appendices and an index
If this book was a house up for sale, its curbside appeal would create a traffic jam in the neighborhood.
The tan matte paper pages and historic font give the book an “old-timey” feel, and reminds me of when I pick up an old yellowed newspaper and I just know I’m going to like what I find when I start opening the pages and read through the columns. Mr. Varhola indicates that this as a second edition follow-up to his first edition Everyday life during the Civil War (1999).
This book undertakes a comprehensive look at life, rural and urban, soldier and civilian, man and woman, religious and irreverent, young and old, minstrel or vaudevillian, during the Civil War years. The thirteen chapters cover a wide variety of topics, from educational opportunities and schooling, clothing and money, to the food and diet both on the home-front and in the trenches. Of particular interest is a dictionary-like chapter on Civil War-era slang; for example, the Virginia and Tennessee quick-steps were not ladies’ dances, but rather, a reference to the scurry a soldier made with the onset of diarrhea. There are some common idiomatic phrases defined that are still in general use today, but there will likely be some terms and references new to the researcher who has not extensively studied the era.
Of particular interest is Appendix A, titled “Civil War Photography” authored by Maureen A. Taylor. Ms. Taylor offers some historical background information on the topic of photography, then centers her narrative on Civil War-era photography information and examples. Her authority adds stature to this book, and nicely supplements Mr. Varhola’s subject matter.
I’d say this book covers little new ground, but is a compilation of an assortment of subjects that offers comparative descriptions providing historical context for the reader. For example, the names of the Union armies are placed next to the names of the Confederate armies (pg. 212) which gives the reader a ready reference. I’m disappointed that a landmark piece of legislation, the Homestead Act of 1862, did not rate a mention in his Civil War timeline chronology.
I enjoyed reading through this book. I didn’t read it all at once, but I did read it all. The accounts are easy to follow, and the organization of the material is well-defined. This is a history book that is a pleasure to read while effortlessly absorbing the material.
Life in Civil War America by Michael O. Varhola is available at: http://www.shopfamilytree.com/life-in-civil-war-america