From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature
By Randall Fuller
When Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in April of 1861, Walt Whitman declared it “the volcanic upheaval of the nation”–the bloody inception of a war that would dramatically alter the shape and character of American culture along with its political, racial, and social landscape. Prior to the war, America’s leading writers had been integral to helping the young nation imagine itself, assert its beliefs, and realize its immense potential. When the Civil War erupted, it forced them to witness not only unimaginable human carnage on the battlefield, but also the disintegration of the foundational symbolic order they had helped to create. The war demanded new frameworks for understanding the world and new forms of communication that could engage with the immensity of the conflict. It fostered both social and cultural experimentation.
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