In The Face of Battle, John Keegan noted how the environment of combat changed over the course of history. One way it changed in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is immediately apparent—battles got a whole lot bigger.
If you had four and a half hours to lead a tour of a major Civil War battlefield, what would you highlight? You’d never have this problem with a Rev War battlefield, at least not a Southern Campaign site. You could probably lead three back-to-back-to-back tours of King’s Mountain or Cowpens in four and a half hours.
Take a look at King’s Mountain, Cowpens, and Gettysburg on Google Maps, all at the same zoom level. The Cowpens field would likely fit between the Round Tops and Emmitsburg Road, and I think you’d still have room for King’s Mountain.
Numbers engaged illustrate the difference, too. Greene had something like 4,500 men at Guilford Courthouse; the Confederates fielded ten times that many at Shiloh. Washington had over 14,000 at Brandywine, which sounds like a lot until you consider that the Union suffered over 12,000 casualties at Antietam.
Here’s a little unintentional hilarity for you:
There are few things more ludicrous and worthy of scorn than a poorly-executed death scene. That’s why, in the past few years, my thinking on battle reenactments has come around to a stance similar to what Kevin Levin recently expressed: “It becomes problematic when reenactors cross the line from representing how units drilled and maneuvered on battlefields to simulating death. There is just something incredibly distasteful about it in my mind.”
I have no objection to reenacting “casualties” in theory. In practice, it’s another matter. I can’t tell you how many living history events I’ve been to where the dead and wounded have drawn chuckles because the participants were either having a little too much fun or were terrible actors. All it takes is one corny “fatality” to turn an ostensibly educational enterprise into a travesty.
One of the best reenactments I ever saw had no casualties at all. It was at a national park. Since the NPS doesn’t allow casualty reenactments, the soldiers did everything but take hits. They advanced, retreated, yelled, and took cover, but nobody feigned an injury or death, while a ranger narrated the action. It was both enlightening and entertaining, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it.
You might argue that a reenactment without casualties would give the public an artificially sanitized view of battle, one that trivializes the reality of warfare. Personally, I don’t think it’s nearly as trivializing as the spectacle of some guy who couldn’t carry a background role in an Ed Wood movie rolling around on the grass, clutching his abdomen, and yelling that he’s a goner.
It turns out the famous Confederate spy had relatives living at Blount Mansion during the war. Pretty neat!
I didn’t say it, folks. Gordon Rhea did.
Gordon brought up a popular view of Grant is that he was a slow-moving general who didn’t like to maneuver, would charge wildly and sacrifice huge numbers of men. He said that popular view reminded him of the view of dinosaurs when he was a kid, of a slow, lumbering brontosaurus.…Gordon said that after studying Grant during the Overland Campaign he’s come to think of Grant as the “Velociraptor of the Civil War.” He was a general who could maneuver, who tried to apply thoughtful measures of force and to maneuver to reach a successful conclusion.
Cross-posted to the blog of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy
The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM) will host Lincoln scholars from around the country for the 2014 Lincoln Symposium April 4-5, 2014, in Harrogate, Tenn.
Entitled “Lincoln and the War,” the symposium will address issues facing Lincoln during his administration as a war president. Featured speakers include Warren Greer, director of Kentucky’s Lincoln Heritage Trail Alliance, Dr. Anne Marshall, professor of history at Mississippi State University; Dr. Brian McKnight, professor of history at University of Virginia at Wise; Dr. Daniel Stowell, director and editor of The Abraham Lincoln Papers; and Frank J. Williams, retired chief justice of Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The program will open with a banquet featuring McKnight as the keynote speaker on Friday evening. Saturday will open with a continental breakfast followed by the four remaining speakers and a panel discussion to close the symposium. Each speaker will discuss a different aspect of the Civil War and how Lincoln managed it.
Registration for the symposium is open. The cost to attend the entire program is $60, or $25 for the Friday banquet and $35 for the full-day session on Saturday. For more information or to register, contact Program and Tourism Director Carol Campbell at 423.869.6439.
The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Housing one of the top five Lincoln and Civil War private collections in the world, the Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about this and other programs at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, call 423-869-6235.
Bowdoin College is Maine has received a $150,000 grant to digitize a collection of Oliver O. Howard’s papers. In addition to his military exploits and running the Freedmen’s Bureau, Howard founded a number of educational institutions, including my alma mater. In fact, our museum at LMU has quite a substantial collection of Howard material.
On March 2 at 2:00 P.M., the East Tennessee Historical Society will host a screening of the documentary Civil War: The Untold Story, followed by a discussion with the film’s director and NPS historian James Ogden. Admission is free.
If you can’t make the screening, the film will be airing on public television this year, so keep an eye on your local listings.