An obsession with the American Civil War?

Posted on April 16, 2008 by


Yes, and some people just don’t get it. I mean, I know there are a lot of people out there who understand just what I’m getting ready to say, but I think most people just don’t understand “us.” What does it mean to be obsessed with the Civil War? This is no simple discussion when considering what Civil War memory is all about. What drives us? Why do we continue to go on and on and on with this stuff? We hash it out and then, think about it a little more, and hash it out again.

Actually, this came to me in my drive to Harrisonburg today. I opted to take Rt. 42, originally with the intent to stop by and visit the grave of Capt. S.B. Coyner at the Mossy Creek Presbyterian Church. I opted, instead, to do it another day, with camera in hand to take a photo with the advantage of the morning sunlight. But why? Why did I want to stop at the grave of a Civil War soldier? I’ve been there before. Why do I need to go back and visit it again? I don’t know, I just want to do it. I guess it is like returning to Gettysburg time and time again – it never gets old. Perhaps the side-trip to the grave of a Civil War soldier is my available alternative to making a three hour trip to Gettysburg at this time (especially in light of the $3.33.9 gas price I found posted on the signs this morning – the “powers that be” are killin’ us!).

But it’s not just the grave of a soldier that stirs the “memory.” Taking Rt. 42, or just about any road in the Valley (“the Valley”… it’s implied… we just know it’s the Shenandoah Valley) all the way down (yes, the river does flow north) to Harpers Ferry and on into the Cumberland Valley, I can hardly never make a trip in this area without the Civil War crossing my mind in some form or fashion. Just as an example, today, I realize I was “thinking Civil War” on the trip, but there probably wasn’t five minutes that passed between the time I saw a site and no sooner came upon another that brought to mind some factoid about the Civil War. It’s everywhere around here, and I don’t mean the number of Civil War Trails signs and Dept. of Historic Resources markers! It’s everywhere for somebody who knows… even looking at a house. I am not an architectural historian, but I know what house designs bore witness to the Civil War. Like I said, I was conscious of it all the way to Harrisonburg today – I made a point of it. Yet, I would dare say that even when I am not conscious of it, it’s rolling over in my head whenever I spot a site with which I am familiar (that has bearing on the war) or whenever I see something that looks like it was present in the right time frame.

Maybe I shouldn’t say “obsession” as it just feels negative. Let’s just call it… a passion… I think. Yet, does that even come close to understanding just how much the Civil War dominates “our” thoughts? I don’t think I’m done with this one, but for now… until another day…