Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain”: The True Nature of War

 

The Civil War has often been viewed and portrayed as a glorious and noble war. It is a war that divided the nation into two separate regions, North and South. It divided families between moral beliefs, those in favor of slavery and those who were opposed to the institution. Charles Frazier’s novel, “Cold Mountain” goes against tradition. It portrays war as it really is. Frazier shows the reader the cruel destruction that war causes, the plight of the sick and wounded, and the effects of war on the men and women who live through it.

War brings both terror and inhumanity with it. There is nothing glorious about the death of countless men. It was during the Civil War that “dog tags” were first used to help identify the many dead. Some of the dead had papers pinned on their clothing to say who they had been, and the rest were just anonymous” (13). The ones without tags became just another dead soldier.

The soldiers became desensitized during the war. Killing became just another job.

“Inman walked through the house and out the back door and saw a man killing a group of badly wounded Federals by striking them in the head with a hammer. The Federals had been arranged in an order, with their heads all pointing one way, and the man moved briskly down the row” (13-14).

Inman was also haunted by nightmares and images of the war. One of those was of a dying man “whose wounds were so dreadful that he more resembled meat than man,” (14).

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Modern medical practices were not yet known during this time. The sick and the wounded were treated poorly. Large numbers of men on both sides died from infections that they obtained while in the ill-constructed hospitals. Frazier used the description of Balis wound to illustrate how the poor conditions helped to contribute to the patient’s decline.

“His right foot had been taken off by grape at Cold Harbor, and the stub seemed not to heal and had rotten inch by inch from the ankle up. His amputations had now preceded past the knee, and smelled all the time like last year’s ham” (6).

The hospitals were over-crowded. The patients received a minimal amount of care especially those that they expected to die. “They gave him but a grey rag and a little basin to clean his own wound” (7). The doctors, unable to decide if Inman’s neck wound was fatal or not, gave him little in the way of care.

The South has always been known for its stubborn pride. Southerners felt the war was a necessary evil; a noble cause that must be fought in order to protect their way of life. Men joined the Confederacy to fight for that cause whether they believed in it or not. It was a matter of Southern pride. Many spoke words of bravery while fear nested in their hearts. “Then, under the influence of drink and the strangeness of the night, Blount admitted he was terrified of the fighting that almost certainly lay before him” (142).

Although Frazier made Inman something of a hero, he made him very human. Inman, like most soldiers, saw and did things that he was not proud of. “Nor did he want to enumerate further the acts he himself had committed, for he wanted someday, in a time when people weren’t dying so much, to judge himself by another measure” (432).

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War breeds opportunists. Teagues and his Home Guards were opportunists. “Teague and his Home Guard roaring around like a band of marauders. Setting their own laws as suits them” (45).

Prisoners were also poorly treated. Deserters were not treated well either. “For food they were given nothing, and for drink, they had but what water they could bend and scoop a cupped hand whenever the road forded a creek” (226). Many prisoners and deserters were simply killed to save the Home Guard the trouble of caring for them (227).

The war had psychological effects on both the men who fought the war and the civilians that were left at home. Frazier describes the effects of the war had on the people who were left at home. In her previous life Ada had taken little part in the garden Monroe had always paid someone to grow for them, and her mind, in consequence, had latched itself to the product-the food on the table-not the job of getting it there. Ruby disabused her of that practice” (104). The woman who had before the war done only trivial things around the house was now doing the work that she used to hire servants to do.

Another example of the cruel effect that war was having on the women and the common people was Sara, the young woman that Inman met in the woods on this way back to Cold Mountain. She was only eighteen years old, but she was already old. “She would be old in five years from such a load…He saw with sorrow that hers was a life could step right into and keep working at hard from tonight till death… he saw all the world hanging over the girl like the deadfall to a trap, ready to drop and crush” (306).

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Inman speaks of the horrible effects of war on himself. He tells Ada, “I’m ruined beyond repair” (419).

The war changed both Ada and Inman. “Certainly neither she nor Inman were the people they had been the last time they were together” (422). The war had made Ada self-sufficient, and Inman had learned to survive. Both learned the ugly nature of war.

Frazier did not make war out to be glorious in “Cold Mountain”. He portrayed the Civil War as it really was. It was a war that claimed more American lives than any war before it.