Beyond the Battlefield: Enhancing Public Understanding of the Impact of Nineteenth-Century Warfare in the United States

Submitting Institution

Newcastle University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Newcastle research into the lives of American Civil War soldiers and veterans has had both public and educational impact. In particular the research has: (i) challenged traditional social assumptions concerning war wounds and the medical and political responses to these; (ii) greatly extended the range and improved the quality of evidence pertaining to the history of warfare and wounding in the United States; (iii) expanded public understanding of the long-term effects of the Civil War on American society; and (iv) informed and influenced the content of secondary and tertiary education on this subject in the UK and the US.

Underpinning research

The research explores the social, military and medical history of nineteenth-century warfare and its memorialisation in the context of the transition from the cabinet wars of the pre-Napoleonic era to the mass volunteer/conscript armies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Specifically, it traces the life experiences of a selection of Union (2, 3, 4) and Confederate soldiers from the start of the Civil War through to the first decades of the twentieth century through official military records, personal correspondence and memoirs, medical memoirs and official medical records from the armies, hospitals, insane asylums and homes for disabled veterans, with a specific emphasis on Confederate soldiers and veterans from Tennessee and South Carolina.

The research has established links between hitherto discrete elements in Civil War-era scholarship by bringing together medical, military, literary and social history. It has uncovered a far more robust and supportive system of southern veteran care, in the form of artificial limbs programmes, medical care, and educational and social initiatives than historians previously believed existed in the post-war American South, alongside more disturbing evidence of the long-term medical and social problems that affected Civil War veterans in both North and South (1, 4, 5). For Confederate veterans, in particular, the social assumptions surrounding the South's role in the Civil War informed the kind of care that they received, especially in regard to institutional care in later life (1). The assumption by the state of the kind of medical and material support previously provided by soldiers' families not only emphasises the shift from the local to the national, the private to the public sphere in the nineteenth-century South, but locates the veteran—especially the wounded veteran—as the living link not just between the `Old South' and the `New,' but between the individual and the national body. In this respect, the research traces a broader trajectory within nineteenth-century conflict and nation-building in relation to warfare, its personal psychological and physical outcomes, its emotional and economic impact, and the role of the state and society in supporting "citizen soldiers" whose own role was informed, but also constrained by the context of nineteenth-century nationalist expectations.

Finally, the research has uncovered the lineaments of our contemporary reactions to warfare, its risk-averse elements, its assumptions of mental and moral damage (in the form of Post Traumatic Stress) as well as its more disturbing and inflated assumptions about the possibilities of physical rehabilitation in the post-war era, a topic that has traditionally been more closely associated, by scholars and the public alike, with the First World War in Europe (2). In terms of its impact, it seeks to locate the United States within the public discourse surrounding war wounding and individual and social reconstruction and renewal from which it has, to date, largely been excluded.

Susan-Mary Grant, the key researcher, was Reader, then Professor of American History for the duration of the research.

References to the research

1. Grant, Susan-Mary, `The Lost Boys: Citizen-Soldiers, Disabled Veterans, and Confederate Nationalism in the Age of People's War,' Journal of the Civil War Era, 2:2 (2012): 233-259. REF2 Output: 170595.


2. Grant, Susan-Mary, `Constructing a commemorative culture: American veterans and memorialization from Valley Forge to Vietnam, Journal of War and Culture Studies, 4:3 (2011):305-322. Available from HEI.


3. Grant, Susan-Mary, `A Season of War: Warriors, Veterans and Warfare in American Nationalism,' in François Gemenne and Susana Carvalho (eds), Nations and their Histories: Constructions and Representations (London: Palgrave, 2009): 237-254. Available from HEI.

4. Grant, Susan-Mary, `Reimagined Communities: Union Veterans and the Reconstruction of American Nationalism,' Nations and Nationalism, 14:3 (July 2008): 498-519. REF2 Output: 77477.


5. Grant, Susan-Mary, `Reconstructing the National Body: Masculinity, Disability and Race in the American Civil War,' Proceedings of the British Academy, 154 (2008): 273-317. REF2 Output: 30827.


Table of relevant grants:

Principal Investigator Grant Title Sponsor Period of Grant Value
Susan-Mary Grant Civil War Veterans and the Reconstruction of the American Nation (RF/11011) Leverhulme Trust October 2007 to January 2008 £14,574
Susan-Mary Grant A Season of War: Sacrifice, Survival and the Reconstruction of American Nationalism, 1861-1920 (AH: G004412/1) AHRC September to December 2009 £21,830

Details of the impact

The underpinning research has impacted on a very wide range of beneficiaries, including higher education educators and students across the United States (US); history teachers and school children in the UK; war veterans and the wider public who have an interest in the American Civil War more generally.

Pathway to impact: in October 2007, research outcomes were disseminated via the Sarah Tryphena Phillips lecture at the British Academy in London, subsequently published in 2008 (5). The public (on-line recording and print) dissemination by the British Academy of this lecture, combined with research conducted in the US Army Medical archives at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington the following year and additional outputs produced from the research in 2008 and 2009, led to the researcher being invited to devise and produce an educational module for the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Washington, D.C, which is the world's largest biomedical library. That a UK scholar, rather than an American one, was approached (there is hardly a shortage of American medical humanities experts) evidences the impact of the research beyond the HEI.

Informing and Influencing the Form and Content of Education

The resultant educational module on the theme of war wounding and Civil War medicine, Reconstructing State and Soldier: Disability and the American Civil War, was developed for use in college and university undergraduate and graduate courses across the US. The module, which was launched in March 2011 on the NLM website, draws directly on the research insights and explores the ways in which hitherto separate fields of scholarship, on disability studies, on the Civil War, military, medical, literary, social and political history, can be brought together to expand understanding of both the immediate and longer-term impact of wounding in that conflict. Though grounded in the history of the American Civil War, the module is geared toward use by instructors and students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including history, cultural studies, literature, the social history of medicine, and social science programs more broadly. Each of the six one-hour classes provides both further readings and discussion questions designed to: (i) develop students' understanding of the physical and mental impact of the war upon soldiers North and South; (ii) contrasts the perspectives of the soldiers themselves with the surgeons who treated them; and (iii) positions both within the broader context of nineteenth-century attitudes toward disability generally and war veterans specifically (IMP1).

The module accompanies and was designed to be used alongside an NLM exhibition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, Life and Limb: The Toll of the Civil War. Following a special display within the NLM from March to July 2011, the exhibition is available online, and through two six-banner travelling exhibitions, which are booked by schools, universities, museums, libraries, cultural centres or history societies. The visual material in the exhibition, derived from the NLM's archives and photographic holdings, provides further illustrations of the research themes, such as the performative dimensions of Civil war surgery, the public reaction to and support for the wounded of war, and the psychological effects of the war on its combatants (IMP2).

Coverage of this exhibition and usage of the educational module is national across the US. The website has had 14,774 online visitors (IP address based) and 43,001 page views by those visitors (IMP3). In the REF period, the travelling banner exhibitions have already been on display at 24 locations across 10 states. The impact will extend beyond the REF period as the exhibition (with accompanying education modules) has been commissioned for further displays at 38 additional locations across the US, and two in Liverpool, UK in 2015 to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War (IMP3). The response to the online module and exhibition has been positive. It has been described as `beautifully and thoughtfully put together' and `highly recommended' (IMP3). The exhibition has been included in the British Library's curated list of Civil War websites, noting its audience as teachers, schools and the general public (IMP4).

As well as impact having been achieved via the educational module, research outputs produced specifically for mixed audiences have raised awareness of the research insights and themes. For example, Grant produced a 150,000 word study, A Concise History of the United States of America (2012) as part of the noted Cambridge Concise Histories series, "intended both as university and college textbooks and as general historical introductions for general readers, travelers, and members of the business community". Sales as at the end of July 2013 were c.2,500, with over 1,000 of these in the US, and the remainder in the UK, Australia and the rest of the world (IMP5). In recognition of the fact that a work on US History by a non-American is likely to have greatest impact in the Latin American countries, Cambridge University Press is having the work (in 2013) translated into Portuguese (for Brazil) and Spanish.

As a result of a British Academy Sarah Tryphena Phillips public lecture at the University of Edinburgh in 2008, Grant was invited to contribute an article on the research to a general educational publication aimed at secondary school teachers in Scotland ("Conflict and Commemoration: Centennials, Sesquicentennials and the Ongoing Battle over America's History,' History Teaching Review yearbook, 25 (January 2011): 63-78"). The yearbook is available to all members of Scottish Association of Teachers of History (SATH), which "seeks to raise awareness of the importance of History within the Scottish Curriculum" and the yearbook and includes "academic articles on topics of relevance to the Scottish history curriculum" (IMP6). As a direct result of this article, Grant was invited to talk about the research to pupils at Stewart's Melville College in Edinburgh.

Extending the range and improving the quality of evidence to enhance public understanding

The broader public impact of the research can be evidenced through its dissemination in the popular media. Examples include: BBC History Magazine 150th Anniversary Edition, The American Civil War Story (June 2013); BBC History Magazine (commissioned article) `Help for Heroes' (circulation of c.70,000 per issue) (IMP7); the BBC World Service (25th March, 2013).

The research was presented as part of a Royal British Legion-sponsored series of seminars on the theme of Remembrance (, held between 2008 and 2010 at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire and at the Royal British Legion in London. Grant was co-presenter at one seminar and delivered lectures at another two: in September, 2009, she delivered a lecture on `Constructing a Commemorative Culture: American Veterans from Valley Forge through Vietnam'; this was subsequently published (2). The research informed a lecture to an audience of war widows on "Mourning Becomes Electra: Women and the Commemoration of the Confederate Dead," at the Women, War and Remembrance Conference held at the NMA in March 2010. The Convener of the NMA seminars highlighted how "Charlie Bagot-Jewitt, then chief executive of the National Memorial Arboretum, had identified a need to understand why remembrance had achieved such a significant growth in popular resonance in Britain over the preceding decade". She also advised that "the seminars have informed the development of interpretation and education at the National Memorial Arboretum and the development of £2 million Remembrance Interpretation Centre being included within the £15 million redevelopment of the Arboretum's visitor facilities due to begin in late 2013. This is partially being funded by a Heritage Lottery Grant" (IMP8).

The seminars led to the research being included in a Royal British Legion publication: "Stigmata of Stone: Monuments and Markers in the Memorial Landscape of the United States of America," in Maggie Andrews et al. (eds.), Lest We Forget: Remembrance and Commemoration (Stroud: The History Press, 2011) a publication aimed at the general public and marketed in, e.g., the Wellcome bookshop and at memorial sites, e.g., the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. (IMP9).

Sources to corroborate the impact

(IMP1) Module Information for `Reconstructing State and Soldier: Disability and the American Civil War', US National Library of Medicine website. Available at:

(IMP2) NLM exhibition `Life and Limb'. Available at:

(IMP3) Factual Statement from Exhibition Educator, US National Library of Medicine (NLM).

(IMP4) British Library Curated List of Civil War websites. Available at:

(IMP5) Sales figures for Grant's A Concise History of the United States of America, supplied by Cambridge University Press. Available on request.

(IMP6) SATH website. Available at:

(IMP7) BBC History Magazine circulation figures. Available at:

(IMP8) Factual Statement from Convenor of the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) Seminars.

(IMP9) Maggie Andrews et al. (eds.), Lest We Forget: Remembrance and Commemoration (Stroud: The History Press, 2011). Sales figures available on request.