Civil War Weather

"The Mud March" by Mort Kunstler

I trust that all of you along the east coast have made the best of this nasty weather and are safe. I am particularly concerned about my small contingent of “fans” in the Virginia Beach – Suffolk area, though I trust that they are also doing just fine. Here in Boston it is raining and a little windy, but so far nothing too serious at all – just a very wet Sunday morning.

With all the talk about the weather over the past few days it occurred to me that perhaps we have much to learn about its influence on campaigns as well as the physical and psychological well-being of the men in the ranks.  Yes, we have plenty of descriptions of various kinds of weather, but it seems to me that the analytical side of our understanding may fall short.  Perhaps I am just ignorant of the literature.

A few studies stand out.  Robert Krick recently published, Civil War Weather in Virginia, which offers a handy chronology of weather information in the Washington D.C. – Richmond corridor.  George Rable, Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! includes a fine chapter on how the weather influenced the failed Mud March following the battle of Fredericksburg.  More recently, Kathryn S. Meier published, “No Place for the Sick: Nature’s War on Civil War Soldier Mental and Physical Health in the 1862 Peninsula and Shenandoah Valley Campaign” in The Journal of the Civil War Era (June 2011).  What else do you recommend?  I am not just thinking about weather, but broader environmental issues as well.

Finally, I recently learned that Ken Noe’s next book will focus on weather related issues.  Perhaps he can give us a sense of what he is up to.

On Antietam and Hot Coffee

This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com.

This is the third in a series.

Walking around the Antietam battlefield, envisioning the bloodiest day in U.S. history, one is hard-pressed for a moment of levity. There is Bloody Lane, the cornfield, and Burnside Bridge, a deceptively idyllic crossing of Antietam Creek. (If you don’t know why it looks familiar, glance at the cover of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom). Site after site is linked to death and suffering, carnage beyond belief.

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Back to the Battlefield: Field Notes from a Cultural Civil War Historian

This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com.

This is the second in a series.

 [The Civil War] was not a fight between rapacious birds and ferocious beasts, a mere display of brute courage and endurance, but it was a war between men of thought, as well as of action, and in dead earnest for something beyond the battlefield. Frederick Douglass, “Speech in Madison Square,” Decoration Day, 1878

Unfortunately, even with all of the changes that are currently being implemented we have a long way to go…[E]ven most white Americans who claim to be interested in the Civil War for whatever reason fail to come to terms with its importance to our broader history.  I sometimes think that our colorful stories of Lee and Lincoln are more of a threat to our sense of national identity as [than] no memory or connection with the war.  We would all do well to take a step back. Kevin Levin, “History Through the Veil Again”: A Response to Ta-Nehisi Coates, August 2009

Last week, through Kevin’s generosity, I jumped into a post about the missing Robinson House at Manassas to catch the sesquicentennial, before I had a chance to provide a little context.

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Does Antietam Need a New Monument?

According to Brian Schoeneman it does.  That name might right a bell for regular readers of CWM.  On occasion, Brian has commented not so much on the content of my posts, but on my handling of various discussion threads.  Brian is a candidate for Virginia House of Delegates in Fairfax, Virginia.  Recently he toured South Mountain, Harpers Ferry, and Antietam with Scott Manning.  As a campaign promise, Brian promised the following:

I asked Brian if he was surprised at the lack of Confederate monuments. “Actually, I am. It kinda annoys me. There are about a zillion Union monuments here. Granted, the North took more casualties at Antietam, but they had more guys to lose.” He recalled one of the informational markers he read, “The Army of Northern Virginia lost about a quarter of their strength and the Army of the Potomac lost about an eighth. It was much harder for the South to replace those casualties than it was for the North.” Brian clarified that, if elected, he planned to introduce legislation next year to place a Virginia state monument on the battlefield in commemoration of the sesquicentennial. I pointed out that such a move could backfire if not done properly and he interrupted me, “There’s nothing political about recognizing that folks in the army of the state that I’m from fought here and died here. They deserve to be remembered regardless of what side they fought on and it bothers me there is nothing here, because I know there are plenty at Gettysburg.”

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The Problem With Civil War Movies

There seems to be a good deal of anticipation for History’s upcoming movie, Gettysburg, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott.  I am not one of them.  Audience’s will likely experience a visually stimulating and gritty depiction of the actual battle.  The goal of the movie, according to the History website is the following:

Executive produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, GETTYSBURG strips away the romanticized veneer of the Civil War to present the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in a new light–a visceral, terrifying and deeply personal experience, fought by men who put everything on the line in defense of their vision of the American future. Cinematic in scope, GETTYSBURG is an information-packed look at the turning points, strategic decisions, technology and little-known facts surrounding the battle. Developed in collaboration with highly esteemed Civil War historians, GETTYSBURG reflects hundreds of individual accounts of the battle–the unique voices of struggle, defeat and triumph that tell the larger story of a bitterly conflicted nation. [Click here for a preview.]

Will this movie really highlight what was a “visceral, terrifying, and deeply personal experience?”  Wasn’t Ted Turner’s Gettysburg an example of just such a movie or is the difference here that the special effects will set the Scott production apart?  I guess in the end I have trouble believing that any Civil War movie can strip away “the romanticized veneer of the Civil War” entirely.  Our memory of Gettysburg is wrapped up in all kinds of romantic memes from “Brother v. Brother” to “A Battle that Decided the Fate of a Nation.”  We don’t have a Civil War apart from our romantic notions that define its continued significance and meaning.

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