Who am I to be writing a Civil War blog? I must be some kind of expert, right?
No, sorry. I’m a history nerd or, if you don’t like that term, an enthusiastic layperson. I have no degrees or published research with which to dazzle or bludgeon. My formal Civil War education consists of a single, if wonderful, survey course. What I do have is a lot of time and effort spent reading, very randomly, thinking, and watching documentaries about the American Civil War. I am ridiculously unqualified to be here. Should something I write disagree with that of a reputable historian, I’m probably wrong.
So why am I here?
I think the middle decades of the nineteenth century really matter. Their conflicts, with the single exception of slavery itself, are still with us. It behooves us to be better educated and informed about them. If that’s not enough, then they’re also full of really interesting stories that resonate strongly with our present conditions. I’ve spent a lot of time with those years and friends tell me that I really ought to share some of it. Being my friends, they are of course entirely objective.
That’s all well and good, but why am I really doing this?
The Civil War is awesome, and I mean that in the true sense of the word; it inspires awe. It’s big in the way that the Second World War is big, if on a smaller geographic scale. More Americans died in the Civil War than died in all of America’s other wars put together. The bloodiest single day in American military history was at Antietam. The largest land battle in the Western Hemisphere was Gettysburg. It’s not really a single thing, but the War is far and away the biggest, most complicated thing that the United States had ever undertaken and brought freedom to literally millions of people held in bondage.
All of that alone would earn the Civil War its place as a central epic of American history, but it doesn’t just stop when Lee and Johnston surrender. The revolution kept on going, grappling with the open questions of how to deal with reintegrating a defeated region into the nation and, more importantly, what role the freed slaves would have in the future America. Both of those questions, of course, are parts of the larger question of what America is and what it means to be an American.
That all helps. But I have a few other motives:
1) A continuing motivation to grow and deepen my layperson’s understanding of the time and how it relates to our own.
2) An outlet to refine my craft as a writer through a subject I’m passionate about.
3) Cultivate a like-interested community to further motivate me on the previous two counts through their own knowledge, interesting questions, and all that social learning stuff.