Bell Irvin Wiley (1906-80) was an American historian who specialized on the American Civil War, and was an authority on military history and the social history of common people.

Born in rural Tennessee, Wiley took a BA at Asbury College in 1928, and a PhD from Yale University in 1933, where he worked with Ulrich B. Phillips. In 1934, Wiley became a professor of history at State Teachers College (now the University of Southern Mississippi). He married Mary Frances Harrison in 1938; they had two children. He served as professor of history the University of Mississippi (1938-1943), Louisiana State University (1946-1959), and Emory University (1960-1974). Wiley was a pioneer in the social history of the Civil War, with important books on soldiers, women and blacks.

His dissertation, published as Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (1938), dispels many of the myths about blacks during the American Civil War. Wiley showed it was false that most slaves remained loyal to their former masters following emancipation. Some slaves did choose to stay with their former owners but most willingly left their masters behind in order to take control of their own lives.

His intensive research included reading 30,000 letters written by Civil War soldiers. He published numerous books of popular history, as well as scholarly editions of letters and correspondence. He also wrote studies of the Army in World War II, and served on many commissions and committees.

Wiley was honored as the President of the Southern Historians Association in 1955 and Chairman of the National Civil War Centennial Commission in 1961.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Rank and file: Civil War essays in honor of Bell Irvin Wiley‎ (1976)

Books by Wiley[edit | edit source]

  • Cotton and slavery in the history of West Tennessee (1929)
  • Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (1938)
  • The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (1943) excerpt and text search 2007 edition
  • Greenfield, Kent Roberts, Robert R. Palmer, Bell I. WileyThe Organization of Ground Combat Troops (1947) on World War II
  • Palmer, Robert Roswell, Bell I. Wiley, William R. Keast. The procurement and training of ground combat troops‎ (1948) on World War II
  • The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (1952) excerpt and text search 2008 edition
  • The Plain People of the Confederacy (1963) excerpt and text search 2000 edition
  • Confederate Women: Beyond the Petticoat (1975)
  • The Bell Irvin Wiley Reader ed. by Hill Jordan, James I. Robertson, and J. H. Segars (2001) excerpt and text search
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