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""Why We Still Care: The Civil War and Memory"" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2021 10:18 p.m. PST

"In 1887, regular readers of the National Tribune, a newspaper for Union veterans, discovered a delightfully witty article with a dramatically different tone from the usual recitations of old war stories and the texts of congressional debates over military pensions. The author, a self-proclaimed veteran of the entirely fictional 107th Oshkosh Volunteers, expressed his determination to tout the "grand achievements of the ‘smoothbore brigade'" in that most pivotal clash of the war, the decisive Battle of Podunksburg. He asserted from the start that what he had to say might not quite agree with what appeared in the history books, but, he noted, he just could not help that. "My views may not exactly dove-tail with history," he wrote, "but that's history's fault, not mine. I was there, and history did not show up until after the trouble was over."

The warrior from Oshkosh then launched into an elaborate critique of Union generalship at Podunksburg. First, he reminded his readers of the solid contributions of the commander of the entire Union army in that battle---one General George Gordon READE. Then he made a case for accepting the claim for battle laurels advanced by III Corps Commander Daniel PICKLES, even though he had not been able to stretch his line to protect the Union left flank on Oval Top Mountain, Jr. In contrast, he did not admire II Corps Commander Winfield Scott PEACOCK or accept his soldiers' assertion that repulsing the last great Southern charge of the battle had secured the victory. Most II Corps men, he wrote, "claim that the advance of the enemy on the 3d was an inspiring sight" and to stop it, they were willing to die. Appalled by what he perceived to be their unwarranted braggadocio, he added—as an "eyewitness," of course--- "As for myself, I do not remember that I ever experienced a more severe attack of nostalgia in the same period of time. Of course, if victory didn't perch on our side of the fence we wanted to die [too], but we were in no great rush about it---we preferred to die of extreme old age." After he had poked fun at Pickles and Peacock, however, he put aside his sense of humor to remind readers of his main point: "While we are flinging our opinions over towards history's altar, expecting them to catch on some unoccupied corner, we should remember that truth is the foundation of every virtue."…"

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Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2021 5:05 a.m. PST

One of the best and most poignant comments on the end of the war for the hard-used Army of the Potomac was written by Bruce Catton at the end of his monumental three-volume study of that army:

'All up and down the lines the men blinked at one another, unable to realize that the hour they had waited for so long was actually at hand. There was a truce, they could see that, and presently the word was passed that Grant and Lee were going to meet in the little village that lay now between the two lines, and no one could doubt that Lee was going to surrender. It was Palm Sunday, and they would all live to see Easter, and with the guns quieted it might be easier to comprehend the mystery and promise of that day. Yet the fact of peace and no more killing and an open road home seems to have been too big to grasp, right at the moment, and in the enormous silence that lay upon the field men remembered that they had marched far and were very tired, and they wondered when the wagon trains would come up with rations.'

'One of Ord's soldiers wrote that the army should have gone wild with joy, then and there; and yet, he said, somehow they did not. Later there would be frenzied cheering and crying and rejoicing, but now…now for some reason, the men sat on the ground and looked across at the Confederate army and found themselves feeling as they had never dreamed that the moment of victory would make them feel…a Yankee band in a field near the town struck up 'Auld Land Syne.'-pages 379-380.

TangoOneThreeAlpha17 Jun 2021 7:18 a.m. PST


Bruce Catton, one of my favourite authors, he really knew how to string words together.

Cheers Paul

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2021 3:36 p.m. PST

Thanks Kevin!.


Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2021 6:59 a.m. PST

Good job Armand! Very interesting find I had not seen.

Catton still my favorite writer. Sears gives you the details and is also great, but no one captures a moment in time like Catton did.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2021 5:25 p.m. PST

That just might be because Catton grew up around old Civil War veterans and listened to their stories.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2021 6:50 p.m. PST

Yes, great point, Brechtel. He captured their viewpoint and made you feel like one of them.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2021 9:05 a.m. PST

Yes, he did. He understood where they had been and that their Civil War 'experience' was the greatest of their lives.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2021 3:23 p.m. PST

A votre service mon ami!.


Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2021 8:21 a.m. PST

"If the Civil War is more alive to the Southerner than the Northerner it is because all of the past is, and this is so because the Southerner has a sense of having been present there himself in the person of one or more of his ancestors. The war filled merely a chapter in his . . . [family history] . . . transmitted orally from father to son [as] the proverbs, prophecies, legends, laws, traditions-of-origin and tales-of-wanderings of his own tribe. . . It is this feeling of identity with the dead (who are past) which characterizes and explains the Southerner.
It is with kin, not causes, that the Southerner is linked. Confederate Great-grandfather . . . is not remembered for his (probably undistinguished) part in the Battle of Bull Run; rather Bull Run is remembered because Great-grandfather was there. For the Southerner the Civil War is in the family.
Clannishness was, and is, the key to his temperament, and he went off to war to protect not Alabama but only those thirty or forty acres of its sandy hillside, or stiff red clay, which he broke his back tilling, and which was as big a country as his mind could hold.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake," my Northern friends would say, "us Yankee boys had great-grandads in that war. But all of our clocks didn't stop on that day at, where was it, Appomattox? What's that got to do with me anyway?"
"Now that's a question," I replied, "that a Southerner could never ask. He is conscious of his great-grandfather as a constant companion throughout life. He will seek his counsel in moments of moral perplexity and will borrow his courage when going into battle. No, Southern clocks did not stop in 1865; they have gone on ticking; but they are all grandfather clocks."
from a Civil War forum

Personal logo doc mcb Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2021 8:24 a.m. PST

"It's all now you see. Yesterday won't be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago; or to anyone who ever sailed a skiff under a quilt sail, the moment in 1492 when somebody thought This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world's roaring rim." —Intruder in the Dust

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