The cover story of the newest issue of Civil War Times asks, “Do we still care about the Civil War?” ECW is pleased to partner with Civil War Times to extend the conversation here on the blog. Today, ECW Editorial Board member Terry Rensel offers his thoughts.
The great thing about statistics is that you can find one to prove any argument you want to make, but that doesn’t make it true. The idea that interest in the Civil War is waning doesn’t take all the facts into account because not all the facts can be counted.
The Wall Street Journal article that brought this debate to the fore doesn’t, and can’t, look at the entire story. Their premise is that visitation to battlefields is down, but that is not the only way to tell if people are interested in the history, and whether that history still matters.
In this day and age, there are so many ways to experience history. Not only can you visit a battlefield in person, but you can visit it virtually. History isn’t contained to just the National Parks; there are state, local, and private sites, too. You used to only be able to buy a book, or a magazine, but now there are web sites, blogs, and mobile apps.
I live in Fredericksburg, and I love having Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in my backyard. A week doesn’t go by where I am not exploring some part of it. Depending on where and when I’m exploring, I may not see another soul—so does that mean I’m not visiting the park, because I haven’t been “counted” by someone?
In an ever-growing community, the park, and other preserved land, provides much-needed green space and the opportunity for reflection and recreation. I cannot travel Lee Drive without seeing dozens of people enjoying the space, not just for its historical significance.
Everywhere I go was a part of one of the four battles that took place in this area. During Second Fredericksburg, the Union Army marched right through where my office sits today. I drive on roads that follow the same routes as the waring armies. The history IS everywhere.
I also turn to history to help me better understand the world around me today. I take lessons in leadership from Grant and Lee, among others. Looking back at our past, and learning from it, is how we navigate the here and now. I find comfort in our past, knowing that we as a nation have persevered and it provides me with faith in our present and future.
Does it still matter? I believe that it matters, now more than ever.