Rather than share a few words to open this month’s Emerging Civil War newsletter, I want to share with you a few words from my colleagues as a way to commemorate Thanksgiving. I asked each of them to tell me, in a couple sentences, about something Civil War-related in their own lives that they were thankful for this year.
“Given that the very idea of a national day of Thanksgiving has its roots in the Civil War, this is appropriate,” Dave Powell replied.
It goes without saying that we here at Emerging Civil War are especially thankful for YOU, Faithful Readers, for all the support you give us online, at our talks, buying our books, attending our Symposium, listening to our podcast, and on and on. We’re also grateful that you continue to share your passion for the Civil War, America’s defining event.
As we sit down this year to remember the things we’re thankful for, please know that we are grateful for
and for all you do.
* * *
I'm thankful for organizations and individuals that have embraced digitization as a way to collaboratively expand our understanding of the war.
I'm thankful that my family moved to Gettysburg, PA, when I was ten years old. Living there got me interested in the Civil War and history in general, which led to me to study history in college and have a wonderful career as a historian. I can't imagine doing anything else!
Paige Gibbons Backus:
I’m thankful for the opportunity that I had to work at Ben Lomond Historic Site and be able to write my first booklet and really get involved in the Civil War and Emerging Civil War community through that site. I’m getting transferred this winter to Brentsville and, while Ben Lomond will always have a special place in my heart, I’m excited for the opportunity to delve into the history, both Civil War and non-war history, there.
I'm thankful for Google Maps! Nothing can replace walking a battlefield, but sometimes this resource is a lifesaver for topography, mapmaking, or just getting a reminder since, living on the West Coast, I can't drive over to the battlefields every weekend.
I'm grateful for my current research fellowship with the Smithsonian. On a recent Saturday morning, I was able to watch the sunrise from Benner's Hill on a snow-covered Gettysburg battlefield with old and new friends, before paying tribute to, and following in the footsteps of, the soldiers who fought there. Without the fellowship, this would not have been at all possible. I'm looking forward to many similar opportunities as my time in the States continues. [James is from England.]
I am thankful for being given the chance to write about Shiloh.
I have always had a strong interest in writing about the war, and would like to thank a few people who have encouraged and assisted me along the way. Bert Dunkerly has really been incredibly helpful and has introduced me to a lot of people and opportunities. Bobby Krick opened his library to me repeatedly, read my work. and offered constructive criticism. His library at the Richmond National Battlefield Park is amazing! I would be remiss if I didn't mention Ashley Luskey, who suggested my first book topic on Fort Harrison. Finally, Chris Mackowski, who enthusiastically welcomed me into the ECW fold. I've learned a great deal about writing from Chris
What I am most thankful for was my ability to find my passion again. It didn't hit me till I was standing in the middle of the Spotsylvania Battlefield while in the area for the symposium this past summer. Part of my issue last year and some of this year was that I had forgotten what it was all about—what history is all about. I realized for me it’s more than the battle, the regiments, and even the stories its about finding that one thing that is all yours. For me, I have always been “the history girl.” Family and friends would have a question about history, and my phone would start ringing. They did this not because I would know the answer (though normally I did) but because they knew I loved it. A friend of mine who passed away had a favorite quote: “Sometimes to change the world, all one needs to do is find a small piece of it and love it deeply.” I had forgotten how deep my love for history was. So while my answer is not 100% Civil War-related, I am thankful for the people in my life who remembered for me, who pushed me to find my passion again, and who kept me going when I had forgotten. I'm thankful that I found the small piece of the world again and have renewed my love for it. History is my small piece of the world that I get to love and nurture, and for that I am extremely thankful. I know that’s more than “a couple sentences,” but what can I say—I learned from McPherson, and have you seen
Battle Cry Of Freedom
I am thankful for the efforts of the American Battlefield Trust, other smaller organizations, and their members for preserving not only our Civil War battlefields but battlefields and sites across the United States that make up the fabric of our shared American experience.
I'm thankful that this past winter Mercer University Press agreed to publish my next book,
Flawed Image: Confederate General John Bell Hood in 1864.
It's as of now scheduled to appear in December 2019.
Thankful for support and camaraderie from a great group like the ECW historians. For finally getting my own set of the OR (Yes, all 128 volumes), and for having the shelves to put them on. For being able to buy a house in a historic district where I can reflect on the Revolutionary and Civil War actions that took place literally out my front door. For the ability to travel and visit historic sites (visited battlefield #500 this summer). For family and friends who support me and my obsessive interests.
I was thankful this year to find Civil War history in Florida and start digging into the state's connection with the war. I’m also thankful to continue to find new ways to explore the passion of American history and make connections to present day through the social and personal levels of the conflict. In a small way, it keeps the bond with my father, whom I walked many a field with.
I am very thankful that
First Fallen: The Life and Times of Elmer Ellsowrth
is finally queued up to become a real book. The process has been long, but everything gets better with each suggestion and rewrite. It may be another year or more, but Ellsworth will be remembered! [
will be forthcoming in ECW’s Engaging the Civil War Series with Southern Illinois University Press.]
As the Thanksgiving holiday season approaches, I am thankful for the American Battlefield Trust. I was happy to appear on the American Battlefield Trust’s Facebook LIVE from Chancellorsville with my friends from Emerging Civil War, Kris White, Chris Mackowski, Dan Davis, Ed Alexander, and Ryan Quint. Later in the year, I recorded the voiceover for the Battle of New Market Heights on the Richmond Battle App, quoting Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood of the 4th USCT. Ironically, I carried the 4th USCT flag in the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of New Market Heights. I am especially thankful for the 20th Anniversary celebration of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum and the announcement of its expansion!
I’m thankful for all our Civil War ancestors who were such avid and literate chroniclers of that fascinating era. We are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in journals, letters, newspapers, memoirs, articles, reports, etc. from Commander-in-Chief to lowliest soldier and citizen. Our challenge is to empower their voices to tell their story, distilling vivid accounts into insightful narrative history. It can be almost overwhelming at times but so fulfilling for writers and readers.
I’m grateful for stumbling across William Styple’s fascinating book
Generals in Bronze
. Artist James E. Kelly sketched and interviewed dozens of Civil War generals years after the war. It was even more enjoyable listening to the audiobook because it felt like I was actually listening to the generals speak during the Kelly interviews.
I'm thankful for the ever-growing audience at the symposium. It shows there's an enduring hunger for and interest in the kinds of perspectives we are presenting. I look forward to next year!
I am thankful for the opportunity to research and write a book on the Elmira Civil War POW camp, to be published by Savas Beatie as part of the Emerging Civil War Series. It is a quite personal project as Elmira is close to where I grew up. Also knowing that I had a great grandfather who served in the Veterans Reserve Corps and was stationed in Elmira brings the war closer to home. The book realizes a life-long dream.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people who are committed to Civil War scholarship. My first graduate course at Kent State University, taught by Dr. Frank L. Bryne, was on the American Civil War. There I met two incredible mentors, Dr. John T. Hubbell and Dr. Leonne M. Hudson. Through them I was introduced to former graduate students who I have had the pleasure of working with, including Kent alumnus Michael P. Gray. His edited volume,
Crossing the Deadlines: Civil War Prisons Reconsidered
, is now available from The Kent State University Press. It was my great fortune that Dr. Gray asked me to contribute the chapter, “‘De Bottom Rails on Top Now’: Black Union Guards and Confederate Prisoners of War.” The ECW team invited me last year to share some of my research on the United States Colored Troops and Union prisons at the 2017 Emerging Civil War Symposium, connecting me to another group of talented Civil War researchers and enthusiasts. Words cannot express adequately my appreciation for the tutelage and support I have received from all of these wonderful people
I’m thankful that in a year of immense change for me professionally, my Civil War history colleagues were a source of constant support and inspiration. It’s a community that gives me roots.
I am thankful for my job every day and that I never have a truly bad day at work.
I'm thankful that the Union Army performs better than the Buffalo Bills! Oh wait, I'm getting my passions mixed up. Oops. Anyway, this year I'm thankful for being surrounded by a great group of friends and fellow historians with whom I can freely discuss the Civil War and all of its fascinating elements. It's great to be surrounded by people who have as much of an interest as I do!
I am thankful for how the Civil War continues to humble me. The sacrifice, bloodshed, heroism, and selfless devotion to their cause, country, and fellow soldiers is something I take inspiration from. As a historian, I can read their words, see the sights they saw, look at their faces in photographs, study their experiences, and understand their times. Anytime I feel down or am in need of inspiration, I look to them.
More than anything, I am thankful for all the people—Park Service employees; historians, both academic and amateur; reenactors; and aficionados—who have taught me so much about this history. If I have learned anything, it is that everyone has a piece of the story to share, and they are all so willing to share it.
I’m thankful for the historians who are working to study and write about the smaller details of the Civil War. The conflict was not only fought at big places like Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, and the research coming out about the war’s peripheries is a goldmine for the next generation of historians.
I am thankful for all of the Civil War-related sites I was able to travel to this year. I was able to spend time at the Wilderness, Fort Monroe, Williamsburg, Bristoe Station, Gettysburg, Gettysburg campaign sites, Antietam, Glendale, and many more. I am also thankful that many of these trips were with friends and colleagues, making each trip an incredibly rewarding experience.
I have a couple of things to be thankful for this year. First, the continued expansion of historic records being made available on the internet. Second, the publication of the Index of the National Tribune by Savas Beatie—one of the most important contributions for historians in recent years.
This year, I am grateful for everyone who has donated their precious time and/or money to the cause of battlefield preservation, because saving hallowed ground for generations yet to come is one of our most critical tasks.