After Gettysburg…

With Gettysburg’s commemoration behind us, it is time to look forward to the war with Armistead, Hancock and Cushing in the cracked rear view mirror. Recently, two historians have bantered back and forth on their blogs whether 1864 & 1865 of the Civil War are important to remember. This discussion comes at an opportune time as I prepare for my upcoming Civil War course and plan next summer’s MUHS Civil War Adventure.

One point I make with students is that although 20/20 to us, even after the northern victories of July, 1863 the war was not a guaranteed win or loss, depending on your perspective. Our class text, written by James Stokesbury, does a great job to show that Chickamauga followed by the siege & Battle of Chattanooga (late 1863), the bloody Overland Campaign, the 1864 Election and the initial stalemates around Petersburg and Atlanta provided Davis with substantial hope and Lincoln with substantial doubt.

The events after Lincoln’s election, on the other hand, provide little suspense of the war’s outcome but are still very significant. Sherman’s March to the Sea, the Burning of the Shenandoah, the Crater and South Carolina’s screams are all important to understanding southern attitudes after the war.

So yes, there is a lot to cover, teach and commemorate over the next 2 years of the sesquicentennial. There will also be many opportunities to visit these sites. I visited Gettsyburg this past March and June, not July, with some students. I am very excited for our next summer’s trip through Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama which will, indeed, focus on the last 2 years of the war, Reconstruction, Slavery and this era’s memory in the south. A couple of sure to be highlights that are scheduled: We will camp on Chickamauga’s battleground and sleep overnight in slave quarters on a South Carolina plantation through the Slave Dwelling Project. More to come on the trip later.

1864 and 65 have a lot of exciting ground to cover and I hope the media and blogs cover these commemorations as much as they did for the first 3 years. Kevin Levin & Brooks Simpson’s banter is a great way to highlight the passion that still exists between historians. Will the next 2 years of commemorations be enough to impassion the war’s importance for the rest of us?

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