I didn’t read a book about the American Civil War until I was in my mid-20s and it wasn’t Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote or a used copy of the American Heritage picture book. It was Stephen Sears’s Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. If memory serves me correctly the next few books included David Donald’s biography of Lincoln, Eric Foner’s book about the Republican Party and James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. I read these books as I was finishing up a master’s thesis in philosophy – specifically philosophy of history. From the very beginning of what would become an entirely new intellectual focus for me I approached these books as analytical arguments that demanded careful thought and a critical eye.
My own Civil War memory is not wrapped up in visits to battlefields at an early age with the family. In fact, I have no memory of learning about the war in grade school or even high school. What prompted my foray into Civil War studies was a chance visit to Antietam in 1994. The visit certainly sparked something in me, but even this visit and subsequent visits in the weeks to follow was decidedly a function of my intellectual curiosity. It was my first visit to a battlefield apart from a family trip that included Yorktown, which I only remember as hot and boring. Continue reading →