Question of the Week: History According To Kenobi


The Civil War, like many great historical events, is often approached through a personal lens. People often find an entrée into this big subject by starting with something they can connect to, be it an ancestor, a place, their race, their home state, or some other element. This personal connection often influences what a person thinks about the event, or even what he or she chooses as a focus of study.

In the movie Return of the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi summed up this phenomenon when he said “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

I’m no exception to this rule. I had relatives in the 21st, 43d, and 46th Wisconsin during the Civil War, and Fredericksburg, Virginia, is my hometown. As I wrote in 2011: Growing up in Virginia, one quickly becomes aware of the Civil War and what it means to the country. The campaigns and battles of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia permeate so much of northern and eastern Virginia it is hard to escape. For some people, Virginia is the entire Civil War; but thanks to my Wisconsin relatives who fought in Middle Tennessee, I have always had an appreciation for the war in the West.

Bringing it forward, my view of the Second World War is colored by the experiences of my paternal grandparents. My grandfather was in the Polish Army in 1939 and ended up in London via the gulag and Anders Army; he never returned home or saw his parents after 1 September 1939, and his sister died in the Holocaust. My grandmother worked for the Royal Navy in the Admiralty as a telephone operator; I remember her talking about seeing the Battle of Britain occur over the streets of London, and grew up on stories of Dunkirk, the Hood and Bismarck, and the desert war against Rommel. For my father’s family, World War II began long before Pearl Harbor – a perspective that has influenced how I view that war and the ongoing 70th and 75th Anniversaries. It also partly explains posts like this:

This personal connection is powerful and can really engage someone with a subject. But we must not allow our individual points of view to limit our understanding and studies. To bring this back to the Civil War, this means we should look East and West, on land and off-shore, and work to develop a good broad working knowledge of the context as possible.

I leave you with a question to ponder: What are your points of view, and how have they influenced your studies of the Civil War?


6 Responses to Question of the Week: History According To Kenobi

  1. Hi Chris,
    Growing up in the Centennial was my foundation. We played endlessly with our Marx toy soldiers and outdoors with stick muskets and friends playing blue & gray. As an adult, steady reading and participation in multiple ‘living history’ groups, 140th NYVI, 26th NCT, 9th NY Cav and USSC. There, I found superlative scholarship, especially with the 140th. We were blessed with a member from SUNY Geneseo who penned a number of detailed, documented works and traced a family ancestor who served with O’Rorke at Gburg. I have labored to drop prejudice concerning events and people and accept the written word with caution. With 30 years as a business analyst in a Global Healthcare company, I prefer to consider the facts and accept opinion as such. Hence, I refrain from judgmental views on slavery, the ‘lost cause’, ‘the War of Northern Aggression’, state’s rights, I served as a US Army officer with fine Americans from all 50 states. The ‘war’ was an occasional hot topic. But we all wore green and stood shoulder to shoulder. My passion for the period has never been greater, but try to keep it in the context of factual learning, like any other business analysis. ECW has been a treasure to me.

  2. I have no relations in the ACW. First family members arrived here in 1876. My love of history helped to form opinions and I use that to judge events. Like John above, ECW has opened me up to understanding different opinions from different areas.

  3. Growing up in northern Virginia in the 1950s and 60s, from public school I received a very-Confederate oriented view of the War of Northern Aggression. Lee and Jackson were heroes, Lincoln a flawed man who pushed an abolition policy that, while just and important, drove Virginia to an unnecessary war…nothing said about political, economic, and social justice for African-Americans.

    My people were Tennesseans, Kentuckians, Southwest-Virginians during the Civil War. They fought on both sides, which confused me. Exploring my ancestors opinions and actions, realizing the issues within the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, and gradually expanding my experiences with people other than white-Virginians while majoring in American history at a mid-west college enabled me to develop a much different view of the war and it’s issues than I’d had as a child.
    A career with the U. S. Army only deepened my devotion to the national government and the ideals that begin the Declaration of Independence and the precede the Articles of our Constitution; it also taught me to respect and value persons for their abilities and not for their resemblance to me.

    At sixty-three then, I am not sympathetic to the Confederacy. Trained in the careful sifting of evidence, seeking the ‘event in itself,’ and giving all of these old devils their due when studying the original sources of their words and earliest possible accounts for their actions, I often leave discussions with those who ‘idealize’ the ante-bellum South or The Lost Cause by thinking that Lincoln, Grant and Sherman were entirely too lenient.

  4. The first thing that sparked my interest in the war was when I learned Abraham Lincoln was from Kentucky. That started my interest in him and then the war. I still enjoy reading about his life, but also in topics about Kentucky.

    What’s interesting, and I had not thought about it in this context until I saw this question was that I went to a middle school called “South Campbell County Middle School” and nicknamed the Confederates. We even had a large Confederate flag (made of some sort of rubber I believe) welcome mat. Despite that, I don’t think I ever received a “Southern” or “Northern” biased education as a youth. It is in northern Kentucky, not really near any battlefield or Civil War event. Kentucky was a mixture of beliefs during the war and from what I can recall was the same while I was in school, with no real dominant feeling. It was a rural area where I lived and I did see the occasional Confederate flag flying or on a truck’s bumper but it was not enough to influence me to be pro- or anti- either side. I will have to think about this more, but it’s interesting to think that I went to a school called the South Confederates yet never really thought about it in terms of the war or how I (or others) remembered it. (And the school changed its name the year I went to high school, supposedly to honor a local superintendent, though I have wondered if there was any “PC” reason for it). I Aldo wonder f it would have had more influence on me when I was s bit older, had it been high school instead.

  5. I have ancestor’s (more than I can count) who served on both sides of the war. Certainly, that connection dramatically influences my interest in visiting, studying and analyzing the battles and campaign’s they fought through. But, I learned early on in my efforts to be cautious in judging their decisions and actions through the rose-colored glasses of today. Different time…different political influences and entirely different cultural norms.

  6. I know I must have some Civil War ancestors since my Grandmother was a member of the D.A.R. What gets me is the number of Civil War enthusiasts who seem to know nothing about the events and political maneuvering that were taking place just before The War. President Buchanan needed to appease the Southern Democrats. His Sec of Treasury was Howell Cobb of Georgia. He also had to protect Northern businesses during the Panic of 1857. Republicans ran on a “Free Labor” platform, that is, opposing slavery because they wanted to protect jobs for free white labor. But to get more votes Republicans appealed to some in the American, or Know Nothing party which was opposed to immigration and was very anti Catholic. Differences over the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, and debates over Stephen Douglas’s “Popular Sovereignty” divided America. Why is there so little discussion on Civil War sites concerning the Democrats two conventions in 1860? The Southern Democrats rejected Stephen Douglas and nominated Vice Pres. John C Breckinridge, a man who vowed to protect the right to take property (aka slaves) into the territories. Look up and read about the divided Breckinridge family of Kentucky. Remember, long before Grant, Lee, Meade, Jackson, or any General went into battle decisions were made in governors offices and in state legislatures that set the stage for why and how the war would be fought. If you only know about what what happened on the battlefields, you don’t really understand The Civil War.

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