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"Rendering Aid and Comfort": Images of Fatherhood in the Letters of Civil War Soldiers from Massachusetts and Michigan

Stephen M. Frank
Journal of Social History
Vol. 26, No. 1 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 5-31
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3788810
Page Count: 27
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Abstract

Our understanding of nineteenth-century American fatherhood is built on polar-opposite images of men's distance from and involvement in family life. This analysis of more than 1,300 personal letters exchanged with family and friends by Civil War soldiers from Massachusetts and Michigan indicates that midcentury fathers had vital domestic engagements. What it meant to be a father varied with socioeconomic class and age, but most men in the sample had dual commitments as providers and nurturers and subscribed to the idea that husband and wife had mutual obligations toward their children. As a predominantly masculine undertaking, the Civil War dramatized, and perhaps exaggerated, father-son bonds especially. Five moments in a soldier's career-enlistment, blooding, mustering out, wounding, and death-emerged as occasions when fathers and sons used their letter writing to articulate a distinctive set of nineteenth-century ideals of manliness.

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