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: https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/05/25/the-measure-of-leaders/.
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?