Just days after Dr. Sommer’s passing, Dr. JoAnna M. McDonald wrote this tribute about her friend and asked to share it on the ECW Blog. We welcome her memorial writing for this fine historian…
Civil War and Military Historian, Richard J. Sommers, peacefully passed away Tuesday, May 14, 2019. I knew him for 38 years; he was a neighbor, a mentor, and a friend. His love of history influenced countless students of history. He was indirectly or directly involved in much of the published Civil War-military history works for the last four decades. While it is true that “America has lost a great historian,” as Ted Alexander noted, we recognize that Dick prepared us for this moment.
Much of Dr. Sommers’ life was about keeping the memories of our Civil War forefathers and military studies, in general, relevant in our society. It was an uphill struggle. Many Americans have little interest in, or knowledge of, history. Less and less civilian universities offer Civil War courses, and even less offer military studies (military history, strategy, and strategic leadership). Dick, however, refused to give up. His passion for learning and sharing that knowledge kept him moving forward. Even when he fell ill, he continued to visit battlefields, lecture, publish articles and books, and encourage others to publish their historical works.
As I reminisced about Dick’s legacy, I began to think about a scene in the movie Glory. Before the final battle, Col. Robert Gould Shaw stands before the 54th Massachusetts, points to his color-bearer and asks his color-guard, “if this man should fall who will lift the flag and carry on?” I can think of numerous students of history—professional historians and the general public—who will lift the flag and carry on. We will take what he has taught us: emulate his tenacity, his intellectual warrior-ethos, work ethic, and love of history and of Country. We will dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work remaining before us and pass that knowledge on to future generations.