Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Ocean of Real Blood

Confederate dead at Sharpsburg MD, September 1862
Talking about Little Aleck yesterday and all this preparation I've been doing has gotten me thinking about "the Wah," as they put it down South. Although the days are gone down there when "the Wah" referred only to the Civil War, with the sesquicentennial upon us, whether we really like it or not, we're going to be exposed to a lot of Civil War material over the next four years. One of the best things currently going is the "Disunion" series running daily in the New York Times. First rate articles by first rate people who know what they're talking about. Many, but not all of the writers, historians of the period.

Speaking of which, I've also just read a rather longish piece in Salon by Glenn W. Lafantasie, a working Civil War scholar. You might find it interesting. I don't know. It covers a lot of ground. He doesn't have much use for the so-called "reenactors," those (crazed, at least in my opinion) people who dress up as Union or Confederate troops and shoot blanks at each other and fire blank cannons at each other reenacting battles that happened 150 years ago. Basically, he objects to the prettification of what by any understanding was a horribly ugly, bloody, and tragic time in our history. As he puts it, a "war that should, by all rights, repel us and horrify us and send shivers of fright down our spines."

Exactly. Over 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, a horrific number. This country bled a vast ocean of real blood during those four terrible years, but you would never know it from the way the war is thought about--if it's thought about at all--and portrayed and acted out by grown up boys, who like to dress up and play soldier. The guys in the picture above didn't get up and dust themselves off when the battle was over. The casualties at Sharpsburg were four times the total suffered by American soldiers at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. More than twice as many Americans lost their lives in one day at Sharpsburg as died in combat in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. The casualties at the battle of Gettysburg surpassed in three days what it took over six weeks to amass at Iwo Jima during the second world war. Casualties in the Civil War are more than the total of casualties of all of America's other wars combined, and, yes, that includes the world wars and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The essay includes a few paragraphs about Civil War books that he likes and recommends. It's a tricky business, this. I can't say I agree with all his choices, but I will say it's nice to see Bruce Catton's marvelous trilogy on the Union Army of the Potomac getting a shout-out. This (and being born in Vicksburg MS with its glorious national military park) was what turned me on to the Wah when I was a teenager, those many long years ago.
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