Literature has always reflected the views and events of it’s time. This is especially true of the American Civil War era. While the war lasted only four years, the years before the war also hold importance in the discussion of literature from that time period. Many topics that are touched on during this period include the morality of slavery, the life of slaves, and the war itself.
It was this period that African slaves and free African-Americans had a good deal of literature published about them and by them. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” written by Fredrick Douglass, was an autobiographical work in which Douglass tells of his life as an slave. Songs, such as “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen C. Foster, attempted to draw empathy to the abolitionist cause while depicting the destitute conditions of most African-Americans at that time. While it was successful in certain regions of the country, the publication of these works did come with some backlash. This is especially true after the failed attempt to instigate a slave revolt by the abolitionist John Brown.
During the war, there was also literature published about the war itself. While some of the literature romanticized the war, there was also literature speaking out about the horrors of war. One work, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce, depicts the story of an captured Confederate agent who is to be hanged. While not written during the Civil War, it’s author did participate in the war. His experience lends it authenticity as Bierce manages to depict a very gripping story.
While it was considered unimportant at the time, President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was inherently different from what would have been a typical speech. The speech did not seek to rouse the fires of war, but to addresses the men who had died on both sides of the war. The Address was an memorial to not only those who had died in the nightmarish Battle of Gettysburg, but the entire war in general. The Address was considered unimportant at the time due to the fact that the war was still raging on. Gettysburg was nothing more than another battle to many spectators. The Gettysburg Address is one of the few products of the Lincoln Presidency that can be unanimously considered beneficial to the history of the United States.
In closing, Civil War Era literature is some of the most important literature in the history of the United States. It is the byproduct of a chaotic era. An era in which American’s fought each other over unclear motives. The United States Civil War was a war fought not just by soldiers, but by every citizen on both sides. The literature of the period reflects this sadness and uncertainty.