As a kid, moreso as a teenager, I had a very focused interest on World War II. I remember that my grandparents had a set of World War II encyclopedias that dated back to the 50s. I would grab them from the bookcase they were in and look at them obsessively. I read nonfiction books on the war that I bought at the local drugstore. Bantam paperbacks were my favorite. Every month, they seemed to have a new book out by a veteran about their corner of the global conflict. I devoured so many of them.
By contrast, the Civil War held very little interest. When my mother and I lived in Delaware, my class took a field trip to Pea Patch Island, a small dot of land located in the middle of the Delaware River. It was a Union fort during the war, and held Confederate prisoners. It is marked in my memory as a cold, dark place. The old prison cells were cast in impenetrable shadows, the walls covered with slime. I couldn't imagine anyone staying in them. There wasn't much to see there by the time I had arrived. The highlight of my visit was a stop at the gift store, where I was able to purchase a couple ceramic figurines--a Union officer and soldier. I wasn't at all interested in any Confederate troops. After all, they were the bad guys, fighting to keep a race of people enslaved, and they were rightfully the losers. Until presently, that was probably the peak of my interest in the war. Apart from a children's book which told the story of the battle of Gettysburg, and contained the full text of Lincoln's address, I had nothing else regarding that period in history.
The identification with the moral stance of the North made sense to my childish outlook. That never changed, however. I still feel strongly about it. It boggles my mind how a vast section of the country could've fought and shed so much blood over such an inherently evil institution as slavery. PBS recently replayed Ken Burns' documentary about the war. I watched much of it with renewed curiosity as the anniversary approached. It's scary to think how many victories the South tallied up in the first few years. As Lincoln struggled to find a general who could properly wield the Union armies, which in many battles outnumbered the Rebels, he despaired of ever gaining the upper hand. The pivotal fight of the war, Gettysburg, was exactly what the North needed at the time. Robert E. Lee's air of invincibility had been shattered, and the tide at last began to turn, though it wouldn't be the end of Confederate victories. It wasn't clear that the North had the war sewn up until at least late 1864.
|Sherman's March to the Sea|