Frank, Joseph Allan
Frank, Joseph Allan
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, University of Illinois Press, 1325 South Oak St., Champagne, IL 61820-6903.
CAREER: University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, professor, retiring 1999; Webster University, St. Louis, MO, department of history, political science, and law, adjunct faculty member.
(With George A. Reaves) "Seeing the Elephant": Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh, Greenwood (New York, NY), 1989.
SIDELIGHTS: Author and historian Joseph Allan Frank is the author of two books that examine the American Civil War from the perspective of the soldiers who fought it. For his first book, "Seeing the Elephant": Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh, Frank partnered with George A. Reaves, a U.S. Civil War expert who works for Shiloh National Park. The book chronicles the opinions and experiences of nearly four hundred newly recruited soldiers, both Northern and Southern, who tasted combat for the first time at the pivotal Battle of Shiloh. In 1998, Frank published another work in the same vein, With Ballot and Bayonet: The Political Socialization of American Civil War Soldiers. Both works rely heavily upon the journals and correspondences of common soldiers, sources that in many cases offer alternative perspectives on the bloodiest conflict in American history. Both books have drawn praise from critics, who commented favorably upon Frank's methodology and extensive research.
The reference to "seeing the elephant" in Frank's first work is from the early American folk phrase "seeing the elephant and hearing the owl." People used the expression when describing an overwhelming situation or encounter ("seeing the elephant") considered life-threatening ("hearing the owl.") The expression was often used by Civil War soldiers in battle. Relying heavily on primary sources such as diaries and letters, Frank and Reaves examine the reasons men enlisted into both armies and how their expectations were altered by actual battlefield experiences. They also look at how the soldiers' morale waned or strengthened after engaging in brutal warfare. Overall, the authors collected data from 381 soldiers; they explain the methodology for finding and analyzing this information in the introductory chapter. Although questioning the originality of their conclusions, Choice critic J. Mushkat concluded that the co-authors' "methodology does contribute to a fuller understanding of the larger experience of war."
Frank broadens his focus in With Ballot and Bayonet, covering the entire war. Again, critics praised the book as displaying "extensive and thoughtful research in primary sources," as Nicole Etcheson wrote on H-net. As in "Seeing the Elephant," Frank gleans his data primarily from the diaries and letters of fighting men. Drawing on information from over 1,000 soldiers, he attempts to determine what sociological forces influenced the soldiers most. Concluding that the strongest single influence on the men was the politics of the day, he argues that a significant portion of the soldiers were politically astute and active "citizen-soldiers." To illustrate this point, Frank discusses soldiers' opinions on several topics, including military and civilian leadership, patriotism, and the tactics of warfare. He also points out that most soldiers continued to vote during the war, particularly Union soldiers during the presidential election year of 1864. From this, Frank concludes that the soldiers formed "an army of thinking bayonets," hence the book's title. With Ballot and Bayonet was cited as "a solid and wide-ranging contribution to a developing field of study" by Peter J. Parish in the Times Literary Supplement.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, March, 1990, J. Mushkat, review of "Seeing the Elephant": Raw Recruits at the Battle of Shiloh, p. 1224.
Civil War History, March, 1999, Earl J. Hess, review of With Ballot and Bayonet: The Political Socialization of American Civil War Soldiers, p. 66.
Times Literary Supplement, April 30, 1999, Peter J. Parish, review of With Ballot and Bayonet, p. 3.
H-Net, http://www.h-net.org/ (December, 1998), Nicole Etcheson, review of With Ballot and Bayonet.
University of Illinois Press Web site, http://www.press.uillinois.edu/ (December 10, 2004).