Historical accounts of major events have almost always relied upon what those who were there witnessed. Nowhere is this truer than in the nerve-shattering chaos of warfare, where sight seems to confer objective truth and acts as the basis of reconstruction. In The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege, historian Mark M. Smith considers how all five senses, including sight, shaped the experience of the Civil War and thus its memory, exploring its full sensory
impact on everyone from the soldiers on the field to the civilians waiting at home.
From the eardrum-shattering barrage of shells announcing the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter; to the stench produced by the corpses lying in the mid-summer sun at Gettysburg; to the siege of Vicksburg, once a center of Southern culinary aesthetics and starved into submission, Smith recreates how Civil War was felt and lived. Relying on first-hand accounts, Smith focuses on specific senses, one for each event, offering a wholly new perspective. At Bull Run, the similarities between the colors
of the Union and Confederate uniforms created concern over what later would be called "friendly fire" and helped decide the outcome of the first major battle, simply because no one was quite sure they could believe their eyes. He evokes what it might have felt like to be in the HL Hunley submarine,
in which eight men worked cheek by jowl in near-total darkness in a space 48 inches high, 42 inches wide. Often argued to be the first "total war," the Civil War overwhelmed the senses because of its unprecedented nature and scope, rendering sight less reliable and, Smith shows, forcefully engaging the nonvisual senses. Sherman's March was little less than a full-blown assault on Southern sense and sensibility, leaving nothing untouched an no one unaffected.
Unique, compelling, and fascinating, The Smell of Battle, The Taste of Siege, offers readers way to experience the Civil War with fresh eyes.
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Number of pages: 216
Weight: 338 g
Dimensions: 147 x 222 x 19 mm
Smiths choice of episodes is inspiring. Perhaps not evident from the last two chapters titles, themes are introduced with playful language, his enjoyment in writing this volume evident throughout ... I would be surprised if this book does not change historical accounts of warfare. The twentieth century brought total war to greater numbers of civilians of many other nations, but historians have yet to write the sort of total history, which adequately conveys the full
meaning of such collective trauma. Yet again, Smith has provided us with a model. * Jonathan Reinarz, University of Birmingham, The American Historical Review *
Read this book for an original methodology that encourages readers to consider the influence of the confusions of battle, the noise of shells, and the stench of death. Smith describes some of the key encounters of the civil war, including the Battle of Bull Run and Gettysburg, in terms of assaults on the senses and shows how that affected outcomes. * Books of the year 2014, War on the Rocks *
Historians often ask readers to imagine the intense sights, sounds, and smells of battle. Smith goes one step further and explores how such sensory assaults affect the conduct of war itself. * Lawrence D. Freedman, Books of the year 2014, Foreign Affairs *