Civil War as Popular History

Kevin Levin in a recent post to his blog ( has stated that he is bothered to a degree by people who get their kicks out of some aspect of the Civil War. He goes onto say that there is a lack of seriousness in a lot of popular elements of the Civil War as it is portrayed today and that people fail to grasp the tragedy and horror of the American Civil War. I have to say I agree with him from an academic point of view. The reality of war is not filled with glory. The young men (and some women) who went to war in 1861 may have been filled with some misconceptions of pursuing a grand and glorious adventure but by the end of their first battle these soldiers came to realize the reality and horror of war. What has always fascinated me is how the soldiers who survived stayed with their and went into battle again over the next 3 to 4 years.

Today most of the Civil War images we see today on coffee cups, posters and bumper stickers and in films like Gettysburg and God and Generals are never going to capture the darkness that fell over this country during the Civil War. I suppose that is okay if the perspective is that these modern day images are meant for large scale consumption and not the serious student. My hope is that through all this mass market appeal some youngster will be inspired to learn more and uncover a truer history of the Civil War. There is precedent for this as more then one Civil War Historian has cited reading the The Golden Book of the Civil War and looking at the maps as being the start of a quest to learn more. Hopefully through the efforts of good teachers like Kevin (mine was Norman Foster, Mexico High School) this inspiration will be nurtured and allowed to grow.


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