Something for the weekend. The opening of the Civil War documentary, to the tune Ashokan Farewell, that premiered twenty-five years ago this September. As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws to a close, what strikes me most is the immensity of the conflict and the huge changes it wrought in American life. One can spend a lifetime studying this conflict as I have, and still find, almost daily, new pieces of information. Shelby Foote, and it took a gifted novelist I think to write an epic history worthy of this huge, sprawling event in American history, put it best:
- Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.
- Before the war, it was said ‘the United States are’ – grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is’, as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an ‘is’.