Symposium Takeaway: Chris Mackowski

Chris Mackowski wraps up our series reflecting on the Second Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge.

Many of the talks at the symposium tied back to words. Chris Kolakowski talked about Lee’s Order No. 9, which served as the foundational document for the Lost Cause—a theme Phill Greenwalt picked up on in his talk and explored further. Sherman’s memoirs . . . John Bell Hood’s death before he could write his own memoirs, and the discovery and recent publication of his “lost letters” . . . literacy and illiteracy among freedmen . . . Dana Shoaf’s work as a magazine editor . . . even Jonathan Letterman’s very name: “letter man.”

So much tied back to words and writing.

The legacy of the Civil War remains alive because of the stories and histories we continue to pass along. They might be the oral histories passed down through families, the carefully constructed myths and memoirs that forwarded political agendas and perspective, or the letters and diaries of the men on the front lines and the women on the homefront,

They might be, too, the soaring rhetoric of a professional wordsmith like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, quoted at the end of Eric Wittenberg’s talk:

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls . . . generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

We are the caretakers of that legacy—the people who share the stories and pass them along, the people who listen and read and appreciate and admire, the people who remember.

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