The Civil War Overwhelmed the Senses Like No Other

Americans Thought They Could Control Noise and Odor Until Fort Sumter Introduced the Loudest Booms They’d Ever Heard and the Powerful Stench of Death on a Staggering Scale

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In rhetoric and substance, wars are generally fought for ideals that are noble, dignified, and lofty. Leaders justify waging war—and endeavor to inspire those who fight them—by appealing to powerful abstractions: liberty, self-determination, and national identity. In turn, these ideals become sepia-toned memories veining the national consciousness of future generations.

This was certainly true of the American Civil War. At various times, noble ideals were used to frame the war, ideals that soldiers and heads of state alike could embrace. Depending on whether one fought for the Union or Confederacy, …

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