Book Review: The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War by Brian Allen Drake.

AuthorTalbert, Bart R.
PositionBook review

Drake, Brian Allen, ed. The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2015. x + 251 pages. Paperback, $22.95.

This collection of essays penned by environmental historians explores the interaction between humans and nature during the era of the American Civil War. The work emerged from presentations given at a 2011 conference--also entitled "The Blue, the Gray, and the Green"--and it constitutes the fourth in the University of Georgia Press's UnCivil Wars series. The contributors maintain that ecological connections between flora and fauna, weather, and geography, shape and are shaped by people, and to fail to appreciate the connections, or the "hybridity," leads us to "miss a good chunk of human experience" (p. 2). The essays seek to show that studying a time period from an environmental history approach often uncovers missed realities concerning nature's impact on the actions of humans. This relatively new avenue of exploration can lead to a rethinking of long held beliefs and encourage more research in the field. In the book, it is argued that the environmental impact of the Civil War changed not only the South, but the rest of the nation, and ultimately led to the creation of an "environmental management state" (p. 234).

All ten essays stress the hybridity of human and non-human factors in shaping history. To support their claims, the contributors draw upon earlier works in American environmental history, as well as military and political studies; memoirs and diaries; soil surveys; and meteorological, agricultural, and government records. The work admits a need to reach across the aisle to American Civil War military historians, especially if environmental history is going to be taken seriously.

The chapters cover a diverse array of topics from how nature impacted combat and strategic decisions, the home front, and straggling, to national views on conservation, farming practices, and the growth of the United States into an industrial and agricultural giant after the war. The research unearths interesting facts which should make Civil War historians stop and take notice. For instance, Noe's essay, "Fateful Lightning: The Significance of Weather and Climate to Civil War History," points out that the Confederacy was fighting for its existence "at one of the worst possible moments in the nineteenth century to launch an agricultural republic in the American...

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