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14

M O N D A Y

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Earnest Billy Yank, on the eve of some hellish Virginia battle in which he is doomed to die, pens a love letter to his sweetheart back home, promising eternal faithfulness—Ken Burns and other Civil War chroniclers have perpetuated this image of the virtuous, chaste soldier as Harlequin Romance epistler. But, as, Dr. Thomas P. Lowry shows in The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War, the era’s Victorian mores prevented Billy from revealing his guilty pleasures far from the hearthside: ogling erotic postcards and other mail-order porn (printed discreetly in the size and shape of Bibles), singing dirty songs around the campfire, and bedding down with camp prostitutes. Plundering diary manuscripts and federal documents (including court-martial cases for debauchery), Lowry’s unflinching and entertaining account is the first study of sex in America’s Holy War (unfortunately, Confederate records burned in the fall of Richmond, so Lowry was unable to nab statistics on Rebel lust). The book’s photos—depicting some of the quarter-million Yanks who suffered venereal disease—are as graphic and horrific as any Matthew Brady battle-casualty daguerreotype. Lowry lectures and signs his book, whose handsome gray jacket belies its author’s Northern sympathies (he dedicated the volume to the memory of Pvt. Michael Lowry of the 39th Pennsylvania Volunteers), at noon at the National Archives Theater, 7th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 501-5402. (Eddie Dean)