Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Mark M. Smith

Abstract

Civil War historians are slowly coming to realize the need to explicitly analyze the senses of those who lived in, and survived, the Civil War era. Although vision has reigned as the “supreme” sense, the nonvisual senses, with the help of historians of the senses, are becoming just as important to Civil War research. However, scholars are still unraveling the lived experiences of Civil War Era Americans and the perceptions and meanings these Americans gave to those experiences, with Northerners receiving comparatively little attention. To understand the world of antebellum and Civil War Americans, we should take them at their word and on their own terms. There is general agreement that these Americans were not just more religious than us but applied their religious upbringing to understand the world around them differently. To better understand how Americans perceived their war, we must discover how the senses worked with their religion.

This study examines a group of people from Brooklyn, New York who went on to form the Sumter Club. This is the first study to combine the study of Civil War Era religion and Sensory History. Drawing from their antebellum abolitionist activities, led by their reverend, Henry Ward Beecher, and carefully studying their account of the 1865 trip, we begin to see how they used religion to explain their sensorial experiences. Religion was, for this group, one of the most important references they could rely on to better understand the sensations of their world and their trip to Fort Sumter.

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