How to Be a Man in Civil War America

Hey, did you catch the ultimate fighting match last week, you know the one where they gouged each other’s eyes out? Um, no, you probably didn’t, because that doesn’t happen today. But it did happen in the 19th century.

What did it mean to be a man in the era of the Civil War? To be a man – an American man – was to be independent, and this was displayed by control over your own body, up to and including risking getting your eyes gouged out in a brawl. But that meant different things for different people. What did it mean for Southern as opposed to Northern men? Working class vs. middle class? Or White and Black?

Credit goes to Dig: A History Podcast for doing most of the research for this episode. Their episode “Patriarchs, Brawlers, and Gentleman: Manhood in the Civil War Era” was originally intended to air as a showcase episode on our feed, but the deal fell through due to book-industry politics out of both of our hands. This episode covers similar ground in a different fashion.

Don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review. Support the show on Patreon at Research, writing, editing, and production by B. T. Newberg. Logo Design by Rachel Westhoff. Animation by Maxeem Konrardy. Additional credits, references, and more at


Aptheker, Herbert, “Negro Casualties in the Civil War”, “The Journal of Negro History”, Vol. 32, No. 1. (January, 1947).

Cullen, Jim , “I’s A Man Now”: Gender and African American Men,” in Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, Divided Households: Gender and the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)

Berry, Stephen W. , All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Emberton, Carole. “‘Only Murder Makes Men:’ Reconsidering the Black Military Experience,” The Journal of the Civil War Era, Vol 2 (September 2012), 369-393.

Foote, Lorien. The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (New York: New York University Press, 2010)

Gorn, Elliott. “Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch:’ The Social Significance of FIghting in the Southern Backcountry,” The American Historical Review, vol 90 (February 1985), 18-43.

Greenberg, Kenneth S. , Honor & Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, The Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Huntin, and Gambling in the Old South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996)

Handley-Cousins, Sarah. Bodies in Blue: Disability in the Civil War North. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2019)

Linderman, Gerald F. , Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York: The Free Press, 1987)

Rotundo, E. Anthony , American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993)

Whites, LeeAnn. The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995)

Audio Credits

The History of Sex podcast theme music mixed from “Gregorian Chant”, “Mystery Sax”, and “There It Is” by Kevin MacLeod. Short Shorts theme music mixed from “Gregorian Chant” by Kevin MacLeod and “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens.

Additional music and audio from “Sounds of the Revolutionary War” from Under the Home, “I Wish I was in the Land of Dixie” fromMagia Internetu, “Oh My Darling Clementine by Edwina Travis-Chin” from SoundsOfTheWest, “War Sounds – Civil War Ambience” from Ambience Hub, “This Little Light of Mine – Plantation Singers” from RTL Nieuws New York, “Frog in the Well” from MichaelJCaboose98, “Cartoon Fall Hits and Boings” from Nick Judy, and “Water Splash Sound Effect” from FreeSoundsLibrary.

Image Credits

19th cen. Gentleman from RawPixel.


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