ECW contributor Meg Thompson Groeling released her first full-length book, The Aftermath Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead, on Oct. 19—serving up a perspective as unconventional as her purple hair.
Groeling, 65, who is currently pursuing a degree in military history, has proven that being the outlier can be a beautiful thing. According to Groeling, while being a woman in a predominantly male-run field hasn’t always been easy, her unique perspective is one that adds to an important conversation.
“The book took just about a year, and there was a lot of research involved,” Groeling said. “The rest of the Emerging Civil War books are on one topic, one battle, one person or one incident, and I had to become an ‘expert’ on 18 different things. Because of the breath of the topics, I had to learn everything from who was the last Civil War veteran to how bodies were disinterred and buried.”
Groeling, an elementary math teacher at Brownell Middle School in Gilroy, California, said this book was just another exercise in learning “stuff [she] didn’t know”—much like her recent experiences with the Common Core curriculum.
The Aftermath Battle deals with war’s implications on society. Instead of focusing on the logistics and statistics of the battle, like many Civil War writers do, Groeling said her hope was to shed light on how soldier’s deaths were, and are still being, dealt with. In essence, The Aftermath Battle picks up where the battle left off.
“My overarching hope was to show that there was life before the war, and then the war came and people’s lives were changed forever,” Groeling said. “Before the war, if you died, the chances were very high that you died at home and you could be buried in a local cemetery or a family cemetery. Then, all of a sudden there’s this war. Men would go off, and they’d never be heard from again.”
According to Groeling, the physical process of collecting and burying bodies changed as well.
“All the ways of coping with death kind of went out the window,” she said. “Things were irrevocably changed. Bodies were shipped back to where they came from in the first place, but mass graves and remains had to be dealt with in a way they had never been before.”
Those who were lucky enough to come home alive faced struggles as well.
“The men who came back, many times, were maimed and had to deal with wooden arms and legs,” Groeling said. “There was no Veterans Association, there was no veteran’s retirement, and there were no old soldier’s homes. If there’s a theme, it’s that the things we take for granted—that there’s a way to replace a leg and there’s a veteran’s administration—were not in place before the war. These are all a result of the Civil War.”
Overall, Groeling’s main hope is to show how the Civil War served as a catalyst for change and that, in many ways, we’re still continuing to fight the war.
While The Aftermath Battle was a long-standing effort of Groeling’s, she said that she has a busy schedule and does not plan to cut back on the researching and writing that she loves to do.
“Writers only get better by writing [and] researchers only get better by researching,” Groeling said. “I don’t think there’s ever any end to that. You just continue to build those skill sets.”
Groeling, a self-proclaimed “learner,” said her second book, which focuses on the life and death of Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, is being set up for publication in the near future.
The Aftermath Battle can be ordered online at amazon.com.