A Generation at War – The Civil War Era in a Northern Community by Nicole Etcheson reviewed by Kathi Arnold

A Generation at War – The Civil War Era in a Northern Community by Nicole Etcheson
A Generation at War – The Civil War Era in a Northern Community by Nicole Etcheson

In this book, A Generation at War, author Nicole Etcheson delves into the lives of the folks in a farming community in Putnam County, Indiana.  Using personal papers, local newspapers, pension petitions, Exoduster pamphlets, and other documents, Etcheson plots the course of the politics, race relations, and women’s rights from the 1850s through the 1880s.  She seeks to show how this community in the Midwest heartland responded to and was shaped by the war.


The premise is that there have been many books about how the war affected the people of the south and the northeast, but no one has examined how Midwestern communities were affected by the War Between the States.  As a native of neighboring northwest Ohio, I was hoping the history would be interesting and perhaps close to what my ancestors experienced.


The book is divided into three parts:  Before the War, The War, and After the War.  Etcheson makes meticulous use of notes; fully one quarter of the book consists of notes and bibliographies about the sources of her reports.  She also mentions in the text which party the newspaper leaned toward so you can take the paper’s prejudice into account.


Although I am not a big student of politics, I found the book very readable.  The author uncovered a great deal of information about which I was totally ignorant.  For example, I was unaware that free blacks were not allowed to live in Indiana.  A slave, freed in Indiana, had to leave the state!  I was unaware of the racial prejudice that existed in the north before the war.


A Generation at War is a well written chronology, taking the reader through the issues of the community:  race and sectionalism, economics and temperance, race relations, Civil War pensions which allowed war widows certain freedoms, and the exodus of blacks from the south.  By using real people with real stories, Etcheson has put the war – and its northern ramifications – into better focus.


Kathi Arnould, Member

Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table

Huntsville, Alabama

January 10, 2012

About the reviewer: Kathi Arnould was born in the south — the “south end” of Toledo, Ohio!  Dedicated to helping others, she works at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Huntsville, AL, and as the volunteer director of Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Center (A Spirit Horse Facility) at her farm in New Market, AL.  Kathi became interested in the Brothers’ War as a teenager reading Gone With the Wind and became a Civil War enthusiast through attending the Round Table and participating in the field trips.  Most members of the Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table will recognize Kathi as “The Voice” of the Round Table because she records the Public Service Announcements for the public radio station WLRH, 89.3 FM.