2/10 | Historians and Civil War Soldiers

2/10 | What are the challenges of telling stories about ordinary soldiers? Why have those stories changed over time? How much attention do you think should be given to the ‘dark side’ of the Civil War?

There are many difficulties to telling stories about ordinary soldiers.

For one, they’re just that in the eyes of some historians: ‘ordinary’. Because they did not explicitly win, or lose, the battle for their side, their stories are washed away in a sea of ‘General this’ and ‘General that’. Even harder for some historians is the way they have to go about telling these stories of such soldiers. Because of where you are born, whatever country you are in, you are taught immediately as a child in grade school who fought for your country, who fought against who, and who threatened the safety of the American people. Even when the war is dirty on both sides, you are still taught to show somewhat of a sympathy for those American soldiers.

Let’s take slavery and the Civil War for example. Once the south seceded from the rest of the colonies, there was an all out war between them and the North. Many history books will paint the picture of the South’s secession as a story of their fight to protect the Union. As nice and justified as this sounds, it’s absolutely false. Yes, there may have been a push for the Union to stay together, but the real and true reason that the South seceded was because they wanted to keep their slaves. Their idea of preserving the Union was to keep their ways of life and their ideals, and that meant continuing to own slaves and keep slave labor so that their lives would be easier. We were taught this idea of preserving the Union in the history book, and the idea of slavery was more of a back thought. That is the difficulty for historians because the stories continue to evolve over time as more diaries and notes of soldiers are found. I believe also, that the dark side of the Civil War is just as important, as in any war. We cannot celebrate the triumphant moments in our history without acknowledging the unpleasant moments. They continue to bring us back down to reality and also to humble ourselves as a world power. That we are not all a perfect union as the Constitution says, but continuously striving towards that as history continues.


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