Stephen Berry on Why Our Civil War Matters

Stephen Berry is one of my favorite Civil War historians writing today. He has tackled a wide range of subjects from Civil War soldiers to the Lincolns. Regardless of the topic, I am always challenged by his thorough analysis and creativity of thought. This year’s Bottimore Lecture was delivered by Steve and is focused on the very simple question of what it was like to be shot in the Civil War. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it, but it is his closing remarks that I want to highlight. It’s an incredibly eloquent conclusion that offers a persuasive case for why it is important to remember the men who died in our Civil War.

It is not pleasant, I know, looking real war in its real face. But if we are to make war, we had better know what we are making. For myself, I grant that the Civil War was worth it. it answered forever whether we were a Union of states or one nation indivisible. It answered forever whether a Republican form of government could endure. It answered forever whether a nation dedicated to freedom would be built on the backs of slaves.

But today when I hear folks in the South talking half seriously about secession or hear folks in the North talk seriously about letting the South go or hear folks all over this country forget what Lincoln perfectly understood that the leading object of government is to elevate the condition of men. To lift artificial weights from all shoulders. To clear paths of laudable pursuits for all. To afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. When I hear such ludicrous things said and such important things forgotten I always have a desperate urge to show them the Civil War as it really was.

In this sesquicentennial season of that conflict let us try to remember all that we paid and all that we paid for. And let us take better care of this country and each other.

The remarks above begin at the 45:45 mark in the video. Thanks, Steve.

The State of Civil War Historiography & Where It Might Be Heading

When it came to choosing someone to write the Afterword for Common-place’s issue on the Civil War sesquicentennial, Megan Kate Nelson and I both agreed that it had to be Stephen Berry. Stephen is a first-rate scholar and a wonderful writer. He was a great sport given that we weren’t able to send the essays to him until the tail end of the editing process, but somehow he managed to say something meaningful about the major themes covered. Continue reading “The State of Civil War Historiography & Where It Might Be Heading”