I had studied history in college and really became fascinated by 19th century American History. When I was offered a job for two years at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, I was thrilled to jump right in. Being more of a generalist and bringing a wide variety of other interests to the table, I realized that I was a tad out of place when arriving at the park. It seemed like most of my peers lived, breathed, and ate up everything and anything that had to do with the Civil War: board games, free time, historical fiction, jokes, t-shirts, travel excursions, etc. I was in awe of their fascination with the subject. It was what drove them in life. It was their absolute joy to learn and to share with others the epic story of one of the most decisive moments in our nation’s history.
It just wasn’t…mine.
Alas, I plunged into the job with as much determination as my colleagues to fall in love with the Civil War, if for nothing else, for the sake of the visitors. By the end of my two years, my energy had been drained. My greatest passion, to teach others about environmental sustainability, had not been utilized, and I was ready for a change.
So I moved. After two years in Virginia, I picked up and left for the forests of New England to get my graduate degree in Environmental Studies in the small town of Keene, NH. I had left Civil War country and was thankful for the change of scenery.
On my first full day in the area, I took a stroll down Main St. in the original part of Keene. As I drew closer to the main square, I noticed a familiar statue. There, in the heart of this city that I was declaring “home” for the next two years, was a memorial to the local boys who had fought in the Civil War. What I thought I had just left behind in Virginia stood as the centerpiece of this small New Hampshire town.
My immediate reaction was to hang my head in response to the infamous Murphy’s Law. I thought I had left the War behind! I thought.
I was then amazed how quickly my reaction changed. Instead of dread and surprise at the unlikely find, I was was filled with thankfulness and pride.
Thankful for the town of Keene for reminding its citizens of the sacrifice and price of this horrific period. Pride for the story of courage, determination, and conviction that I continue to be a part of.
Of course my curiosity was piqued. I had to know more about the soldiers who came from here, where they went, and what their story was.
Gathering in the same spot the memorial now sits, Keene locals quickly came together after the attack on Ft. Sumter to learn how they too could be a part of the action to save the Union. Developing into a recruiting station, hundreds flocked to Keene to volunteer for the war.
In November 1861, the 6th NH organized in Keene and camped just a mile out of town. Leaving a month later, on Christmas day, and soon joined by their leader, Lt. Col. Simon Goodell Griffin, the regiment from Keene embarked on their journey through what would be some of the bloodiest encounters of entire war. 2nd Bull Run. Antietam. Fredericksburg. Vicksburg. Wilderness. Spostylvania Court House. Cold Harbor. Siege of Petersburg. In all, these guys had traveled through 17 states.
They had also made an appearance at three out of the four battlefields I had shared with others. In particular, they had stormed the stone wall at Fredericksburg, being a part of the story I had shared countless times with others.
Where I had thought I had left the Civil War behind me, I soon realized that, indeed, I only left that end of the story behind. With my relocation, I had found myself where the story of this bloody war began, where it was supplied, where it was supported—in the homes of the common citizen, in the forests of New England, in the hearts of families near and far.
So, no, in fact I never did leave “Civil War country.” Rather I realized that we all live in places that have deep roots in this bloodshed. All of our lives will forever be affected by what not only occurred on those horrific battlefields but also in those small town squares scattered throughout the nation.
And for that, I thank you, Keene, NH for helping us to remember one of the most pivotal moments in our past. For helping me to remember–to be thankful, to be respectful, to be hopeful.