In his introductory remarks to the Congress of Civil War Roundtables, Civil War News columnist Matt Borowick said, “This is a very important time for Civil War Roundtables.” He elaborated on that point during the afternoon question-and-answer session. “I see two very critical things,” he said.
He pointed to the movies Glory and Gettysburg, and the Ken Burns series. “Since then, we’ve seen a slow decline not just in the interest but enthusiasm,” Matt said. “Interest in the war is waning.”
Roundtables play a vital role as keepers of the flame. “We’re the stewards of that. We’re the ones keeping the memory alive of what happened and who did it,” he said.
On top of that, the Civil War as a topic seems to now stir controversy. “Even to talk about the Civil War is seen as a bad thing in many ways,” he concedes. “If our job is to educate people about the people—men and women, black and white—because it’s all our history, then we have an opportunity to educate the public that the Civil War is an American story. it doesn’t just belong to white males. If we help people understand how broad it was, the more we help everyone understand this was an American time.”
So, he concluded, this is a time of challenge, but it’s also a time of opportunity.
Mike Movius from the Puget Sound Civil War Roundtable referred to a story that appeared in the newspaper that asked, “Is the Civil War reenactment movement dead?” Most reenactors are older than the people they portray. Is interest among younger people waning?
“I find that typical,” Mike said. “People today don’t want to talk about controversial things. But that’s what the war was about. The war was about controversy. It was not about using rational thought but emotion to handle a very important subject.
“We have an American story to tell, and one of great importance, but also a story to remind us not to fall into that mode of behavior.”
Wally Rueckel from the Brunswick (NC) Civil War Roundtable quoted George Santayana: “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”