Publication Date

April 2019




University of North Carolina Press


David Silkenat’s well-written and ambitious book blends cultural, social, and military history to illustrate how Civil War Era-Americans understood surrender, an action seemingly rife with negative connotations. Silkenat, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, captures how numerous Civil War soldiers, from individuals to large armies, decided to surrender and, in so doing, contends that the action was not always shameful. Rather, nineteenth-century contemporaries believed that surrender was key to distinguishing between civilized and uncivilized warfare, an idea shaped by early Americans’ relations with Native Americans, whom whites did not trust to uphold surrender terms (10-11). Surrender also had implications for honor, both national and individual. The new Confederate republic suffered significant setbacks fairly early in the war at Forts Henry and Donelson, among other locations, and these surrenders called into question the Confederacy’s leadership ability. However, while enlisted soldiers were inclined to question commanders who surrendered unnecessarily, they rarely criticized fellow soldiers who surrendered since the act was borne from bravery: Individual surrender made soldiers come face-to-face with the enemy.