Question of the Week: 3/21-3/27/16


This week’s Question of the Week comes from Phill Greenwalt, who asks, “Is photography one of the chief reasons the Civil War is more studied and familiar than the American Revolution?”

7 Responses to Question of the Week: 3/21-3/27/16

  1. There a lot of factors but I feel that the size of the conflict, sheer number of battlefields, and the volume of written material are the primary reasons. The OR, works written by the participants, newspaper articles, and journals give us so much more source material than does the Revolutionary War. Add to that the number of casualties and the level of destruction and the Civil War dwarfs the Revolutionary War. Then you have The Lost Cause drawing on all of this. Photography did bring the war home to the public but was just one of many things and certainly not primary.

  2. This is a great observation and I agree that photography is a factor by bringing events more to life for those interested. I also think that the careful preservation of many of the pivotal battlefields offering the opportunity to walk the areas of conflict is a contributing factor. Many of the Revolutionary fields are much smaller in comparison and were not as carefully preserved.

  3. The mid-to late-19th century was a literate time in the United States. Schools were demanding (no fuss over their version of common core being too difficult) and people well down into the lower middle class could not only write but often write well. The sheer volume of memoirs and detailed letters written by soldiers and their families means that we know a great deal about the time. The war represents the first time that first-person stories of enlisted men were told in great numbers. For every Joseph Plumb Martin that the Rev War produced, there were dozens of privates, corporals, sergeants, etc. writing about their Civil War experiences. These materials, often not having been looked at for a century or more, are still being found in private homes and archives. So more is yet to be revealed!

  4. I am interested in the Civil War because I can look out my window and see where part of it was fought. I also grew up hearing stories about Poppa Jack who fought in the war. I am close enough to the time and place that it is not only history, it is part of my life.

  5. Yes it was. The ability to see actual images of the men who fought and the places where they fought certainly adds to interest n thevCivil War, perhaps even because of the images of death and destruction. We can read about such topics, but the actual images (even now that we know photographers staged some scenes with corpses and equipment) of dead men and destroyed buildings brings a sense of reality, at least to me.

    I think the relative closeness of the war time-wise helps. There are only 3 generations between me and a Civil War ancestor; one of my great-aunts who recently died, knew her great-grandfather, a veteran, and shared stories about him. This attachment, of course, will fade as generations pass, but there is still some connection there.

  6. I think the scope of the Civil War is much more encompassing than that of the Revolution. As Americans, it is much more reflective of what kind of country we are today. As glorious as our initial fight for freedom was, it was fought in a time with which it is difficult to identify. There was no real middle class (or middling class, as it was called), no large immigrant group to compare to the Irish, Italians or Germans, and leadership for colonial America was fragmented. Folks today can identify with the American men and women of the mid-1800s much more readily than those of the late 1700s, in my opinion.

    And . . . wigs.

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