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All that Makes a Man.

All that Makes a Man. By Stephen W. Berry, II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 304pp.).

In the decades after the Civil War, southern men who supported the Confederacy praised women, commemorated and otherwise storied them, for the sacrifices they had made on behalf of their nation and their men. In communities across the South, Confederate veterans and men in positions of power passionately spoke of their war efforts as having been founded on their love and admiration for women, a claim that many have since derided as merely the sentimental hindsight of the Lost Cause.

Stephen W. Berry II, in his engrossing and well-written study of southern men's embrace of love and ambition, reminds us that men's extravagant image of women took shape before and during the war, not afterwards. Indeed, he suggests, it is important to appreciate that men's love for women--actual, individual women--lay beneath the war's reified image of "Woman." Far from being sentimental hindsight or a cultural afterthought, this sense that the war was undertaken in women's name grew from deep roots in antebellum culture which linked male self-esteem to the expectation of "feminine" approval. In the culture of middling and well-to-do southern men, Berry argues, "women were witnesses to male becoming" in a number of key ways, acting as moral mirrors for men's sense of self-worth and laudable ambition. "The Civil War amplified these basic dynamics," Berry writes, "borrowing against the enormity of death to transform Love, Sacrifice, and Belief from the merest platitudes into the constituting elements of a man's life" (p. 191).

Such matters comprise a diverse and complicated set of issues in the history of gender, warfare, and nineteenth-century American culture. They invite us to consider the ways in which individuals' subjectivity is braided into cultural forms of expression and self-fashioning. Berry is well-versed in the broad historical literature on the South which touches on these issues, and the route he takes into their significance is to look closely at how certain individual soldiers wrote about war's twinning of death and love, ambition and selflessness, men and women. The result is more a meditation on these matters than a systematic study. But as such, the book combines a compelling readability with sharp insights into the history of emotional life which should shape our understanding of why young men were willing to undertake the mortal risks of war.

In each of three sections--on the lineaments of male ambition, on the gendered worlds of women and men, and on men and war--Berry examines the letters or diaries of a pair of men. In the first section, he uses the writings of Laurence Keitt and Henry Craft, men of sharply different temperaments, to show how ideals of masculine achievement and purpose were inseparably tied to the adoration of a woman. A man's ambition was impoverished if undertaken without regard to feminine notice; by the same token, a man without ambition could not expect to find a woman's love. In the second section, the private writings of David Outlaw and Harry St. John Dixon are explored for the way in which men's idealization of women existed in sometimes uneasy relation to male sexuality. Here Berry explores how men negotiated--and thus created--the cultural tension between the image of white women as remote objects of moral purity and, at the same time, as objects of carnal desire. In the final section, on the Civil War years, the writings of Nathaniel Dawson and Theodorick Montfort open up ways in which men used the joinery between love and ambition, at first, to justify the risk and destruction of the conflict, and then, later, to explain why love justified abandoning the war effort.

Berry aims to be suggestive rather than exhaustive; his interpretation is more provocative than nailed-down-tight. This approach is refreshing, and appropriate to the elusive, fascinating twists and turns of men's emotional lives. At times, however, Berry somewhat overreaches his evidence, as when he asserts without necessary qualification that because upper-class women were accustomed to think of themselves as deferent, they "had one great advantage over men--they could surrender themselves to the march of events without losing their self-esteem" (p.38). This seems, at least, to beg the question of the sources of women's self-esteem. Too, Berry's fascination with romantic relations between women and men drives his analysis in directions that bypass other passions also frequently found in men's personal writing. Men often invoked their religious faith, for instance, (sometimes linked to women) as a mainstay of their identity in peace and war, yet religion finds little place in this study. Men's love for family, too, for their own children and for their mothers, added important dimensions that Berry tends to play down. Finally, although Berry does consider "country" or nation as a factor inspiring southern men's pursuit of war, his view is to make men's love for country a kind of sublimation of their love for women, rather than seeing that the emotional charge might also flow in the opposite direction.

Overall, though, this is an insightful, thought-provoking study of emotional life, gender, and warfare which adds substantially to our understanding of these matters in the American Civil War. Berry shows us that surrounding the many interests that men rationally invoked to justify their participation in war were equally important impulses--to be worthy and to be loved.

Steven M. Stowe

Indiana University, Bloomington
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Stowe, Steven M.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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