Microhistories-Tactical Studies and Civil War Memory
A reader left a very thoughtful comment to my post on the Gallagher interview in CWTI. [For the entire comment scroll down to #15.] I think it is worth asking the questions posed not as a way to criticize the genre, but as a way to better understand its popularity in Civil War circles specifically.
Why is it that the Civil War attracts so many people to write microhistories and tactical studies (in a way that every other conflict does not)? Even acknowledging factors that make it more probable for someone to write about a Civil War engagement (number of participants, availability of sources, number of engagements, etc), there are a disproportionate number. Is it a way of providing closure for the war that avoids anything that could possibly relate to today and our lives as we live them? Writing, or reading, 450 pages on the Railroad Cut is a nice way of telling ourselves we have learned something about history and the Civil War. Ultimately though, where does this lead us? It is akin to memorizing the telephone book. You know a lot of facts, but what can you do with all of those facts. Is the point of learning to collect knowledge, or is the point of learning to actually do something with that knowledge.