Those of us who have spent significant time walking Civil War battlefields know that they evoke different emotions. Much of that is the result of the broader narrative that we bring to these sites. I was reminded of this yesterday as I was writing the post on Cold Harbor and as a result of following the comments. The Cold Harbor battlefield invokes in me a feeling of dread and anxiousness that I rarely feel on other battlefields. Perhaps it’s the name or some feint memory of the voices of David McCullough and Shelby Foote from Ken Burns’s The Civil War that triggers it.
To me the interesting issue is why Cold Harbor retains a hold on the popular imagination that is not merited by the facts. It was a poorly-planned and executed assault that ended quickly, but that happened many times during the war, and other such assaults were far more costly and significant. It wasn’t even the bloodiest assault during the campaign, and it did not deter Grant in the slightest.
Brooks is absolutely right yet this objective assessment will have little impact on any Cold Harbor experience that I may have in the future. The Civil War, indeed, is as Robert Penn Warren called it, “the most felt experience in American history.”