Welcome back to another episode of the Art of Manliness podcast!
A few months ago we did a massive series on the history of manly honor in the West. In one of the posts, we explored what honor meant to men living in the American North at the time of the Civil War and how different codes of honor clashed in the Union Army. One of the sources we used while researching for that post was a fascinating book entitled The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army.
In today’s podcast, I talk to the author of that book, Dr. Lorien Foote. Dr. Foote is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas where she specializes in 19th century American history.
Highlights from the episode include:
- Why calling a fellow soldier a “son of a bitch” when you killed him made a difference in the type of punishment you received in the Union Army.
- How the honor of officers and enlisted soldiers differed.
- What’s a “rough and tumble” (hint: it involves eye gouging).
- What role dueling played in the Union Army at the time of the Civil War.
- How Northern and Southern honor differed.
- And much more!
If you enjoyed our series on manly honor, I highly recommend finding a copy of the Gentlemen and the Roughs. Out of all the books we read on the history of honor, this was definitely the most enjoyable and interesting read.
Listen to the Podcast!
Read the Manly Honor Series:
Part I: What is Honor?
Part II: The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West, Ancient Greece to the Romantic Period
Part III: The Victorian Era and the Development of the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor
Part IV: The Gentlemen and the Roughs: The Collision of Two Honor Codes in the American North
Part V: Honor in the American South
Part VI: The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West in the 20th Century
Part VII: How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Well if you are reading this site a few months ago you probably saw that massive series we did on the history of Manly Honor in the West and in one of the articles we wrote we focused on what honor meant to men living in the American North at the time of the Civil War. And one of the sources that we used for that article was a book called The Gentleman and the Roughs: Manhood, Honor, and Violence in the Union Army, a fascinating read, very good book. And today we are lucky enough to have the author of that book on the podcast. Her name is Dr. Lorien Foote. She is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas. She is also a fellow Okie and a fellow Sooner. She is from Oklahoma originally and she got her PhD in American history from the University of Oklahoma. And so we are going to talk to Dr. Lorien Foote today about the history of Manly Honor in the Union Army. Well, welcome to the show Lorien Foote. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today.
Lorien Foote: Thank you. I am just thrilled to talk to you. I love your site.
Brett McKay: Oh, thank you very much. So your book The Gentleman and the Roughs it is Violence, Honor and Manhood in the Union Army. How did you get interested or what piqued your interest to start researching about honor in manhood, specifically in the Union Army during the Civil War. It is such a narrow topic. What piqued your interest to research that?
Lorien Foote: Well what happened, this book actually evolved out of the sources because I did not originally intend to write about this. I was interested in questions of discipline in military justice. So I’d gone to the national archives to read court martial records. And as I was reading these cases they just raised all these questions for me about honor, about manhood. So, for example, I would be reading trials of men who were court-martialled for conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. And in some cases these were men who had shot an opponent or beaten somebody up. And it would be a 50- or 60-page trial and 10 to 15 pages of this would be long discussions about whether or not this person had used the phrase of ‘son of a bitch’. And I am thinking, okay he killed somebody so why do they care whether he said son of bitch while he killed someone. And you know those kind of questions led me down the road of looking at how these men conceived of honor and how they conceived this manliness and it was really driven by what I found in the sources.
Brett McKay: Well that is fascinating. So let us talk a little bit of that, because it is a lot more complicated than you think. Lot of people think honor, “Oh, yeah. I know what honor means.” And, of course, you do not need to write whole book about how men and women perceived honor. But you found that there was actually honor for the Union soldiers were sort of this, there is two kind of main threads, but it was sort of ambiguous. Sometimes you had one view and then sometimes you just slip in this other view. So it was like the honor of the gentlemen and then the honor of the roughs. Can you kind of briefly explain what those two types of honor meant to these guys?
Lorien Foote: Sure and let me do it by rephrasing a little bit how we think about honor. Because one of the things that I found when people think about that concept and it was a mistake that I made as well, is they think of honor almost synonymously with virtue. When I talked to people about the book I have noticed that they think of honor to be someone with good character. And honor is a particular way of looking at the world where you only have as much worth as other people give to you. And so you truly can’t have any self-esteem or any sense of self-worth unless your peers recognize your claim. And so that definition of honor applies to different cultures and different groups in different periods of history and different places in the world.
So if we look at the United States and the Confederacy during the Civil War, we can apply that definition of honor and say, Okay what groups lived by the definition and then how do they display honor. So what I found was a difference in how men displayed honor. So for both the Roughs and the Gentlemen their self-worth comes from whether their peers give them worth, whether they have public recognition of what they are claiming. But they have very different rituals about how they display their honor and what they do if they are shamed in front of other people.
Brett McKay: Okay, so just to clarify for the readers the Roughs were primarily lower class…
Lorien Foote: Right.
Brett McKay: …immigrants and the and they usually the infantry men, typically.
Lorien Foote: Yes, roughs are men from the lowest social economic classes in the north and they can be both immigrants, but also and they could be rural farm laborers. Men who did not have property and who were moving from place to place trying to find work. So regiments from Indiana and Illinois had men in them that they called Roughs and these men generally weren’t immigrants, they were native born Americans but they were men without property, without education, and the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder and then the Roughs, their version of honor was very much a, if you are shamed in public it is a violent response. And then they proved their manhood through rituals they showed that they can take and give pain. So they got a reputation among their peers by showing how tough they were that they could give pain that they could take it in brutal fights.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you called, they called them Rough and Tumbles, right?
Lorien Foote: Yes, yes.
Brett McKay: Can you describe what are Rough and Tumbles exactly is, what it entails?
Lorien Foote: Sure. A Rough and Tumble is they would called it is also a no holds barred fight where there is basically no rules and you put two men inside a ring where other men are watching and they just fight each other using their hands until one of them is incapacitated and cannot go on.
Brett McKay: And there is often eye-gouging. That was the thing that surprised me.
Lorien Foote: Yes. Yes. And I in particularly that comes from men in the rural areas. But yeah men would actually grow finger nails several inches long in order to use that as a weapon to gouge out somebody’s eye and, of course, because in honor it is about this reputation for toughness for these guys, if you had an eye missing from one of these fights, I mean that was actually a mark of honor.
Brett McKay: Wow! And so not only was violence a part of it, I also, you also talk about how drinking was an important aspect of displaying of honor and manhood amongst the Roughs as well.
Lorien Foote: Yes. I mean it’s how much liquor can you consume and how much can you drink and then, of course, the liquor lead to a lot of the fighting as well.
Brett McKay: Oh, yes, so that was the honor of the Roughs. What about the Gentlemen. So these were typically upper class and they were officers, correct?
Lorien Foote: Right. And even though they were men who considered themselves gentlemen who would have been in the infantry as well, but generally the gentleman are men who have some kind of economic status, education, they are recognized in society as gentlemen, and then for them they cannot endure a public insult, and neither can the Roughs but for a gentleman your response is, I guess, in some ways more refined, it is still violent response, but it is a challenge. So if you receive a verbal insult as a gentleman, you have to respond to that to that with a public vindication by showing that you are willing to fight to defend your honor. So if somebody, liar, puppy, coward, words like that, those words were applied to another man, that is an indication that you have shamed him and a man of honor among the gentlemen class will know that he now has indicate himself publicly by responding with an offer to fight.
Brett McKay: And how was, what was the form of fighting? Was it like rough and tumbles or did they actually use duels?
Lorien Foote: No, gentleman would not do a rough and tumble fight. Generally, it is a formal, either written offer to duel or there are some men in some regions of the Union who the fight would be a fist fight or some of them did offer to shoot at each others with pistols, but it was not quite to the same form as a duel.
Brett McKay: So how did that, you talk about this too in your book, dueling was illegal in the military.
Lorien Foote: Yes.
Brett McKay: How did they get around that and I mean what sort of conflict that have with these men where they had to vindicate themselves, but at the same time the military was saying, ‘No, you can’t do that’?
Lorien Foote: Right. Where it really places a lot of the pressure is on some of the officers of the regiment, so men who were the lieutenants and the captains. Because no one would be prosecuted unless an officers brings a charge against someone. So what we see is that in some regiments men do these fights of honor and they never even get prosecuted because their officer believe in that kind of honor and so the officers just aren’t going to bring charges against them.
For men who do get formally charged, it is a real issue. Because they have to defend themselves and claim that they are gentleman, which is why they had to defend their honor. But, yeah the military has told them to do this is not gentlemanly and that so now they feel the shame as being put on trial for what they’ve done and it creates a lot of conflict for them internally, but also conflicts among officers. And I see, that is why we see that it the cases of men who are charged with dueling that there is a most inconsistent application of justice, that there is in the Union Army. I mean there are some men who are found guilty, some men who are found not guilty and it just depends on whether the members of the court martial who are trying the case agree that dueling is a form of honor.
Brett McKay: And then like you said sometimes like the fact that they said ‘son of a bitch’ would, when you – when that would change things somehow?
Lorien Foote: Yes. Well because what is interesting about it is you can be charged during the Civil War under the 83rd Article of War with conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. And then what that conduct is, is what has to be proved in the trial and then you have to prove that that conduct is not the conduct of a gentleman. So those were some of my favorite cases because they were many men in the Union Army who believed that profanity is one of the worst vices. That it is using profane language corrupts your mind and then leads you down the path to other vices, to sexual immorality or to drinking. So they viewed profanity as truly an act that no gentleman would over publicly use. Well as for other men, speaking in that kind of language is part of their display of manliness. I mean they curse and they drink and they fight. So it really becomes a place where these different definitions of manhood gets sorted out, is in these trials where an officer uses a phrase like that.
Brett McKay: And another issue I thought was fascinating the difference between the Roughs and the Gentlemen, it seems like the honor of the Roughs on the manhood of the Roughs is very passionate and you know as soon as something happened you had to respond right away. And then Gentlemen seemed a little bit more reserved and I liked to how they described it as you had to keep your cool. That was the goal of the Gentlemen. Can you describe that sort of like stoic honor that those guys had?
Lorien Foote: Yeah. So the idea of being cool is that in any circumstance you can act with complete calm and indifference as if nothing unusual was happening to you. So I mean in battle you would be walking through this hail of bullets and shrapnel and walking as calmly as if you are just walking down the street at home. And if somebody is in your face and stoking you are responding cleverly, making jokes, but just as if nothing was wrong. And so that was interesting because the Gentlemen, I mean a duel, you could kill someone, but in their mind what’s key is that their violence is restrained. They are only going to display violence in a ritual under certain circumstances that showed that their violence is under their control. Or as with the Roughs their violence is out of control.
Brett McKay: And another I felt was interesting too as well that idea of being in control the temperance movement was really big amongst the Gentlemen, the officer class. And I thought that was, there is also very humorous antidotes where the officers tried to start temperance movements amongst their men and the men where sort of rebelled against it and the infantry men went.
Lorien Foote: Yes. Now even though and that is what is interesting. I think that is why in so many companies and regiments in the Union Army there is that being a lot of conflicts between men because there are infantry men and privates who, they also believe in a manliness that has a lot of more character and you don’t drink and you don’t curse. And so sometimes you have officers allied with their unlisted men, whereas there’s other officers and other unlisted men who drink and fight. And when these men get together in the same regiment, it can really cause conflicts. So I think one of the stories that I told in the book is in one particular regiment there are some officers who have temperance meeting with some of the men in their regiment and then, so then some of the other men in the regiment throw mule urine on their tent when they are trying to meet. And then there is another regiment where officers and men form an anti-temperance society and where they say the purpose of the society is to drink as much as possible. And so that is what I think is interesting. Because sometimes gentleman have men I think who are hoping some day to become gentleman themselves that want to display these values of gentility and refinement.
Brett McKay: Okay, let’s talk a little more about the conflict between the Rough and the Gentlemen. That was another really fascinating part of your part book. Because these are two completely different ideas of manhood. One, you have more refined, more, you had to be control of your emotions. The other one is more violent and you just, you act whenever you need act. How did – besides the temperance issues how else did that conflict arise? Were there any incidents in particular where it really, you found that was a perfect example of these two conflicting views of men who did not honor, but in heads.
Lorien Foote: I think a big way that I saw was in the issue of cleanliness. This is the time period where Americans are only just now coming to embrace the idea of bathing and taking good care of themselves and so Gentlemen carded their belief in what makes you a man is that you are clean in your presentation of yourself, clean cloths, clean nails, your hair is trimmed. And I mean the worst, we have to picture that these men are dirty and that they have long hair and untamed hair and that they rebel in that as part of their mainlines. And so when you have gentle officers, some of them want to clean up these men. They want to force them to cut their hair. They want to force them to take a bath two or three times a week and there was a lot of conflict over that issue.
Brett McKay: So do the – I know one aspect of the honor of the Gentlemen was you were not supposed to ever duel or fight someone that was beneath you.
Lorien Foote: Yes.
Brett McKay: But were there instances where that was ignored and they actually did dipped it out with someone from the Rough class?
Lorien Foote: Well dipped it out, yes but not in a sense that they would call it a duel. So what found is that officers who were Gentlemen when they were trying to discipline or punish Roughs, they would inflict incredible physical corporal punishment on these men, beat them, kick them, tie them up and use water torture on them in some cases. So they are using very physical punishments. So that is in their capacity as an officer to an unlisted man. They could never have fought with any of these men you know with their uniform off or you know just as an issue, as a personal issue between them.
Brett McKay: Yeah, that is interesting about the bars, right? Like they talked about the Roughs, we talked about the, to the Gentlemen. Oh it is only those bars that are keeping you safe. If you did not have these bars on you I would give you a licking.
Lorien Foote: Yeah if you take off those shoulders straps and fight me. Yeah, they will always, because they knew, of course, with army regulations trying to impose the automatic beatings of privates, the officers I mean you could really, you could face the death penalty if you hit an officer. So it was important for these soldiers whom they were trying to assert their manhood to these officers they wanted these officers to take off their uniform, go outside the lines of the camp, you know, and fight it out man to man. And I think it was also on assertion of their quality to these officers.
Brett McKay: So how, so a lot of the focus on, the history of honor in America typically focused on Southern or Confederate honor.
Lorien Foote: Right.
Brett McKay: That, you know, South were very famous for their honor culture. How did the, I mean in your research, what is the difference between Southern honor and the honor of the Northern men?
Lorien Foote: Well I think the biggest difference is just that there is a class of Northern men who, they would have a ritual of honor where they would issue a verbal offer to fight and if someone call them a coward they will say, “Okay, let’s go fight”. And by that they just mean kind of a fist fight. Whereas for Southerners they really do embrace that virtual of the duel and there were Northern men who dueled and that is what I think my book brings out and make clear. But I think with dueling ritual was much more widespread in the South. But I think part of what I am trying argue in the book and one has seemed to resonate with historians who’ve read the book if there wasn’t as big a difference between Northern and Southern honor as we as have tried to claim.
Brett McKay: Very interesting. So how did the Civil War, do you think, shape America’s conception of honor in manhood? Do we still see these trends today or didn’t one form of honor went out, what is your take on that?
Lorien Foote: Well, I think that dueling as a ritual, the Civil War kind of is part of a process of putting end to that. But certain ways of thinking about honor, I think the Civil Ware actually gives it a shot in the arm too because I mean both sides viewed the war itself as a test of honor. I mean men talk about this. “We are fighting for the honor of our nation or the honor of our state or…” So they think about it in terms of honor and historians who have look at the Philippine war, for example, have found that men viewed a lot of the language of honor in talking about the Philippine war and why that war needs to be fought and why some of the men fight in the war. I got to show my honor in this war. So I think in terms of men thinking about I have or the section of the country that I live or then even my country has honor that must be defended. that must be fought for. I think that way of thinking really continues too today. And I think it is interesting because sometimes when I made presentations about my book and there have been veterans in the audience, I mean they will come up and say, “It is still like that in the military. It does not sound that different to me.”
Brett McKay: Well, Dr. Foote. thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Lorien Foote: Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about my work.
Brett McKay: Our guest today was Dr. Lorien Foote. She is author of the book The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Manhood, Honor, and Violence in the Union Army and you can pick up her book on Amazon.com.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check up the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. And until next time stay manly.