How the Civil War Changed Literature

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Submitted By mcsweeney13
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How the Civil War Changed American Literature
The 1860’s was a time of numerous talented writers: Whitman, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Melville. Major writers experienced the civil war in their day to day lives and this began to change what they believed and subsequently changed what they wrote.
The abolitionists Thomas Wentworth Higginson studied Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essays he explained as “starry with statements of absolute truth.” Emerson’s antislavery ideals helped influence positive war ideals. Emerson had spent decades writing about moral and cultural change and he viewed the war as necessary. However, not every writer was confident about the war like Emerson. For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne admitted in a letter the month after Fort Sumter that “I don’t quite understand what we are fighting for, or what definite result can be expected” (Eiselein 30). This uncertainty about the war was transferred into his writing. He traveled to Washington to write an article for The Atlantic and eventually published the essay “Chiefly about War-Matters,” in which he critiqued everything while also satirizing The Atlantic’s pro-war views (Eiselein 33).
Besides Hawthorne, most of the northern writers of the nineteenth century supported the war at the beginning. However, the writer’s attitude towards the war began to shift after the battle of Shiloh and the succeeding horrific battles. The harsh realities of the war began to trouble the writers. For example, while reading Emerson’s essay “The Poet” writer Herman Melville wrote skeptical notes within the margin. In response to Emerson’s belief, “the evils of the world are such only to the evil eye,” Melville responded “What does the man mean?” The horrors of the war made it impossible for Melville to agree with Emerson (Eiselein 47). In “Shiloh”, Melville describes the aftermath of a battle, and then states“(What like a…...

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