As we were working on this series and chatting about favorite historical figures, it prompted memories of how my “favorite historical person” has changed through the recent years. I thought it might be worthwhile to share that saga and conclusions while inviting you to share if you’ve experienced something similar in your own historical studies and musings.
My interest in the Civil War began when I was eight. And I didn’t really have a favorite historical person at that time from the 1860’s. A couple years later I read a YA historical novel about Mosby’s Iron Scouts, so John Mosby became my favorite.
A few more years went by, and I continued reading history books from the library for fun. I learned about more Civil War figures and started forming opinions. Unfortunately, many of those opinions were unguided and a bit “wise-in-your-own-eyes,” as my dad would call it. For example, I came to the conclusion that General Longstreet was stupid (yes, I actually wrote that down in childish script…and need to burn it when we go camping). Oh dear! The things an innocent brain can conclude and later recant wholeheartedly…
Then I got to my young teen years and got to watch Gods & Generals and Gettysburg for the very first time. Wanna guess who my new favorite historical person was? Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
College years. For the first time, a civilian officially got on my favorites list. Varina Davis, First Lady of the Confederacy. Why? It’s a long story; best saved for another time.
Now? Well, some of my earlier favorites are surprising as I look back, but with the knowledge I had at the time, there were reasons I admired those historical figures. Currently, it’s really hard to choose an all-time favorite historical person.
You see, some wrote wonderful letters. Some were amazing leaders. Some were interesting, ordinary soldiers. Some were masterful politicians and diplomats. Some were civilians, trying to survive the war in similar ways and with the same prayers, hopes, and fears – no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon Line they were on.
Do I really have to choose just one favorite historical person? Nope. They’re all dead anyway. And I can research all of them…well, if I ever set aside that much time! (Want to know which Civil War generals are my favorites at this time? Check-out the answers to the Question of the Week next Monday.)
Helping with this series and thinking back to my “favorites list” has made me reconsider how and why we choose favorite historical figures. I’d like to suggest that there are a few factors that we consciously or subconsciously consider as we choose our favorites.
- Favorite historical persons often exemplified character qualities that we admire or aspire to have in our own lives. Or there was some great lesson from their lives that we want to understand.
- Our favorite historical persons can change – and sometimes that change is prompted by new knowledge or different seasons of our own lives.
- Sometimes, our favorite historical person is someone we want to “re-introduce” or we feel a need to defend their historical record.
- It’s possible to choose a favorite historical person based on your peers’ favorites; meaning if everyone around you likes to study General Lee, he might become your favorite historical person “by default.” Or you’ll rebel against your peers and prefer Grant because they admire Lee. (I’ve noticed this in my own life when I was just getting interested in Civil War history – nothing exactly wrong with this approach, but it’s always good to identify why that historical person is your favorite.)
- It’s possible to get tired of the marble statue versions of heroes and heroines…and we go searching for the real details or different, lesser known figures. (I think we have seen that happen in this blog series.)
Just my thoughts on the subjects of heroes, heroines, and historical favorites. And now, I want to hear your thoughts…
Has your favorite historical person from the Civil War era changed through the years? Why or why not?
What do you think influences your choices of favorite historical figures? Or other folks’ choices?
Let’s chat in the comments!