Do you subscribe to ECW’s newsletter? You should! It’s filled with lots of great tidbits behind the scenes and on the road, plus we feature a profile each month of one of our ECW contributors.
If you don’t subscribe, you probably missed our September 2016 interview with Meg Groeling. As part of that interview, Meg talked about being a strong voice for female historians in ECW:
As a teacher, I have seen so many smart girls get pushed into “girl stuff” like softer disciplines (languages, literature, etc.) when they could have gone on to become anything they wished to. I am not dissing any academic area, but math and some of the hard sciences are not usually girl-friendly. Where does history fit in? Women bring a unique point of view to history, especially military history. There are wonderful women out there working right now who deserve to be heard—Megan Kate Nelson, Thavolia Glymph, Lesley J. Gordon, and Chandra Manning are only some. Many of them have reached out to those of us in the lower ranks, encouraging us and giving advice. If they had been around years ago, my own journey would have been different. I would like to see ECW really encourage women to get into military history. (read her full interview here)
Professionally, Meg didn’t get into Civil War history until later in life. Rather, she’s taught middle school math (math also tends to be a male-dominated field, by the way, like Civil War military history). Then, in her early sixties, Meg decided it was time to reinvent herself and explore the field she had loved her whole life.
“I seriously cannot remember a time when the Civil War was not part of my life,” she told me in a recent email exchange. We’d been talking about some essays she’s working on for ECW’s upcoming book project about the Civil War and pop culture, but over the course of our conversation, she began to talk about some of her own experiences with the Civil War and pop culture, and how they fascinated her and hooked her—Bruce Catton, in particular, and the old Time-Life Series of silver books.
“My maternal grandmother’s grandfather, I believe, fought,” Meg said, “and she told us stories about all the places—they all seemed to have ‘bloody’ in them—and we sang the songs. I loved the sounds of the names: Shiloh, Antietam, Manassas. Lovely-sounding words, all.
“For the Centennial I dressed Ken dolls in uniforms both North & South, and my dad had to buy several copies of the Life magazine Civil War issues because I cut them up and made stuff with them. Apparently, there is none of that left. My best male friend and I used to write each other letters addressed to Civil War women, and cross-addressed from Civil War generals. I don’t think you can do that nowadays.
“My dad used to read passages to me from Catton, but nothing bloody. Mostly parades and glorious army stuff, and he was a big Lincoln fan, so those parts. He may have read Sandburg to me as well. No ‘princess’ stories for this little girl—just war stories.
“I do remember gradually putting a song to an image, and then to a passage—‘Tenting Tonight On the Old Camp Ground’ worked that way—some photos of encampments to go along with the music, then some descriptions from Catton.”
In 2012, Meg wrote a series about some of the most influential Civil War books, beginning with Catton’s iconic trilogy. She’s also the author of a book of her own, The Aftermath of Battle: The Burial of the Civil War Dead. (Please note: She is a math teacher, and she wrote a Civil War book with the word “math” tucked into its title—coincidence?)
Meg is best known among ECW readers for her “offbeat” looks at the war, which she has characterized as sometimes being “harebrained.” Take, for instance, her most-read post (and one of ECW’s most-read posts of all time), “War Chicken,” about Robert E. Lee’s pet hen.
Another of our most-popular posts, on a more serious note, has been her reflection of the Christmas poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Her “Drawing the War” series, about the various artists who sketched out the war, also remains popular.
And, one of her most fun projects was her list of Top 10 Books Every Civil War Buff Ought to Own. (How many do you have?)
Meg continues to reinvent herself from mathematician into historian—and we’re lucky that she continues to challenge us to keep looking at the war in new ways.