Fighting in the Shadows

Untold Stories of Deaf People in the Civil War

By Harry G. Lang

Categories: Deaf History
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Hardcover : 9781563686801, 272 pages, June 2017
Ebook : 9781563686825, 248 pages, June 2017
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This visually rich volume presents, for the first time, stories of deaf soldiers and civilians who lived during the Civil War.



This visually rich volume presents Harry G. Lang’s groundbreaking study of deaf people’s experiences in the Civil War. Based on meticulous archival research, Fighting in the Shadows reveals the stories of deaf soldiers and civilians who lived through this transformative period in American history. Lang describes the participation of deaf soldiers in the war, whose personal tests of fortitude and perseverance have not been previously explored. There were also many deaf people in noncombat roles whose stories have not yet been told—clerks and cooks, nurses and spies, tradespeople supporting the armies, farmers supplying food to soldiers, and landowners who assisted (or resisted) troops during battles. Deaf writers, diarists, and artists documented the war. Lang chronicles the lives of people from all walks of life, from common soldiers who faced the daily horrors of war to the extraordinary tale of the deaf poet who was friends with Abraham Lincoln and who also taught sign language to John Wilkes Booth. Even deaf children contributed actively to the war efforts. 
       Lang pieces together hundreds of stories, accompanied by numerous historical images, to reveal a powerful new perspective on the Civil War. These soldiers and civilians were not “disabled” by their deafness. On the contrary, despite the marginalization and paternalism they experienced in society, they were able to apply their skills and knowledge to support the causes in which they ardently believed.
       Fighting in the Shadows is a story of how deaf civilians and soldiers put aside personal concerns about deafness, in spite of the discrimination they faced daily, in order to pursue a cause larger than themselves. Yet their stories have remained in the shadows, leaving most Americans, hearing and deaf, largely unaware of the deaf people who made significant contributions to the events that changed the course of our nation’s history. This book provides new insights into Deaf history as well as into mainstream interpretations of the Civil War.


Harry G. Lang is Professor Emeritus at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology.



"Harry G. Lang’s Fighting in the Shadows: Untold Stories of Deaf People in the Civil War is an impressive text even before one lifts the cover. Large and heavy, the size of a coffee table book, a quick flip through the pages reveals beautiful formatting, with numerous photographs and images of primary source material. But the design isn’t the only impressive thing about this book. Lang, scientist-turned-historian and Professor Emeritus at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has skillfully woven together dozens of stories from and about deaf and hard of hearing Americans who lived through the Civil War."

— Civil War Book Review

"Historian and documentarian Lang has put together a thorough, visually stunning study of deaf people’s contributions to the US Civil War. This slightly oversized volume, printed on glossy paper, is a handsome addition to any library."


"Harry Lang’s new book is visually stunning and the culmination of a massive project. Undoubtedly Fighting in the Shadow’s addition to the deaf historiography represents an important contribution from Lang—it is the first historical book on deaf people in the Civil War. This book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in deaf history. It also belongs on the shelf of any serious Civil War scholar."

— William Ennis, Deaf History International Newsletter

"Fighting in the Shadows should be viewed as a very successful work which will enlighten the general public and give new insight into a subject which has not received the exposure which it deserves."

— Civil War News

Advance Praise

"The American Civil War has been viewed through countless lenses over the last 150-plus years. Lang’s view, through the diverse experiences of deaf men and women who lived it, is a revelation. The individual stories of those on both sides of the conflict, who stepped out of the acoustic shadows to stand up for their beliefs, inspire and raise awareness of the contributions of deaf people in our society."

— Ronald S. Coddington, editor and publisher of "Military Images" magazine and co-author of "Faces of the Civil War Navies: An Album of Union and Confederate Sailors"

"The deaf experience, in its various manifestations, emerges from the silence in this engaging journey of mid-nineteenth-century America. Like an impressionist master, Lang deftly inserts deaf people into the grander narrative of American history and, in particular, the American Civil War."

— Octavian Robinson, American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, College of the Holy Cross

"Harry Lang's groundbreaking study shows that in an era with little inclination and few resources to accommodate them, deaf people during the Civil War displayed courage, ingenuity, and sacrifice. Fighting in the Shadows presents portraits of deaf patriots, soldiers, poets, and others determined to make a contribution to the outcome of the conflict. It also augments our understanding of the war's impact on civilians."

— Justin Carisio, author of "A Quaker Officer in the Civil War: Henry Gawthrop of the 4th Delaware"