Influences on the Road to Becoming a Civil War Buff

I’ve often been asked by the people who know me why I love the study of the Civil War so much. My brother and sister are both into other time periods and subjects in history, so while the Civil War bores them, they at least understand my passion for the subject. My parents and my sister have even accompanied me on several battlefield visits. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard comments like “that stuff is boring” or “why don’t you like normal things” or especially “what else can be written about it, it’s over and done with”. I just smile and shake my head, knowing that there are still a lot of battles lacking even one book-length study, and many units without a regimental history. This entry should hopefully detail my own personal immersion into the study of the Civil War.

I attribute my love of military history to an individual and a library. The individual in question is my uncle Stan, who introduced me to the Time-Life Books Civil War series in early grade school. I borrowed these books from him one at a time until I had read them all. They formed the basis for my current 300+ book library, which seems to be growing weekly thanks to eBay. Stan also had a large collection of other books on the war as well. I tend to like tactical histories of battles and also campaign studies, while Stan has more of an interest in personal reminiscences, but I found enough books of his that I liked to whet my appetite. The library in question was Albers Elementary School library. I live in a small town of around 1,000 people, so the Grade School library is not large. However, it was to my great delight that I discovered quite a few Civil War books among the collection. In particular, Rifles For Watie , the American Heritage History of the Battle of Gettysburg, and a book on First Bull Run were instrumental in furthering my study of the war and cementing my interest. In addition, my love of military history in general was strengthened with the Landmark series of books on American History. I remember books in that series on the Barbary Pirates, Francis Marion, and the French & Indian War with particular fondness.

By the fifth grade, I was starting my own collection. My initial purchase was Bruce Catton’s one-volume history of the Civil War and Irene Hunt’s Across Five Aprils, followed shortly by Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative and Stephen Sears’ Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. It was when I started bringing the Shelby Foote books to sixth grade that people started asking the questions in the first paragraph above. At first, my teachers didn’t believe I could understand what I was reading, but after questioning me on what I’d read, they had no doubt. My parents always encouraged my siblings and I to read anything and everything we could get our hands on, and I’ve never stopped thanking them for it.

From these small beginnings with paperback editions I moved on to join the History Book Club and the Military Book Club, and I started buying hardback books when I could afford them. This was around eighth grade (1993). Since then, I’ve graduated to online purchases. I’ve always preferred hardback books when the price is reasonbale. I also refuse to buy books which lack footnotes or endnotes and a bibliography of some kind. If an author writes a book, he/she should want people to know where the information they used came from. If an author doesn’t have notes, the book was usually poorly researched. Today, as I stated earlier, I own over 300 books on the war (with more than I can count waiting to be read!). My web site contains my book and DVD collections, as well as fan sites for the wargames of HPS Simulations and Mad Minute Games. I’ve also attempted some amateur OOB research from time to time, and those efforts are chronicled on the web site too.

I point all of this out because I want as many people to experience this wonderful (and at the same time tragic) period in American history as possible. I’m 26 (soon to be 27), and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy this wonderful period for almost my entire life. If you know any children, by all means show them some beginner’s books like the Time-Life series or Combined Publishing’s Great Campaigns series and pass this interesting hobby on. The children of today are the authors and buffs of tomorrow, and a lot of great history still needs to be discussed and a lot of great books still need to be written.

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4 responses to “Influences on the Road to Becoming a Civil War Buff”

  1. Drew W. Avatar
    Drew W.

    My very first CW book was the CW one from the How & Why series (don’t know if they even exist anymore). It was short and full of tired cliches by current standards and I read it countless times. Did anyone else catch this early on in grade school?

    There was a bull run book I read in the 4th grade or so that really piqued my interest. I’ve been trying to remember the title and author for years.

  2. edwin Avatar

    Yes, I do read your blog. Also, I am in the same line of work you are, but in another continent and therefore another legal system.

    My interest for the ACW started on a WW2 board, where some book recommendations were made. The first book I bought was Paddy Griffith’s Battle Tactics of the Civil War. On another board I got more recommendations and the second book was McPherson’s Battle Cry, which I rather like. I am very interested in the late 19th century, so the ACW was a nice addition. I just need a place to put the books in.

    I tried the Bull Run PC wargame. I was not impressed actually, mainly because I couldn’t get the hang of the controls. Wargames’ wise I play with miniatures, in this case Fire and Fury for great battles and Gaslight for skirmishes. I am not sure what I will use for the regimental size battles.

  3. Joe Avatar

    Brett, you’re only a couple of years older than me and your passion for the Civil War amazes me. You read the Time Life series in grade school? Wow!

    My interest in the CW came from the movie Gettysburg. Then I joined my family in reenacting. I also played the Sid Meiers Gettysburg and all of the Battleground series. Of course I read books as well, but I guess my form of learning is more multimedia.

    I also was/am a big fan of Shelby Foote. Anyway, keep up the great work and take care.

  4. Tim Woods Avatar
    Tim Woods

    Like you, my love of the Civil War began at a young age.

    I grew up in Massachusetts but my mother was from West Va. So, though I grew up in a house where if you used the N word you’d get swiftly slapped across the face, the mention of WT Sherman could set my mom off into a rant about a war criminal.

    In addition, in the small New England town where I grew up there were monuments for both World Wars and Korea. But none of them matched the haunting presence of an exhausted looking young Union soldier staring at the ground while leaning on his rife.

    The other monuments were the size of large gravestones. The Civil War statue is fifteen feet high, surrounded with the names of the town’s dead.

    I walked by this statue nearly every day of my life to and from school. My dad ran a store twenty feet from it for several years.

    In 3rd grade I took my first history class. Though I’ve loved all history my entire life, the Civil War is my first has always remained my favorite period.

    Like most, I assume, my first fascination was with battles and tactics; then the myriad personalities whose lives have been so thoroughly documented from the great and small

    With greater maturity I wanted to know more about the war’s causes beyond the simple elementary school explanations. From there I’ve studied the political complexities and the international dimensions of our Civil War that are woefully under-appreciated–so much so I wrote a novel with those themes included.

    So, after Bruce Catton’s collected works, Shelby Foote’s magnificent classic three-volume series, McPherson’s ‘Battle Cry Freedom and too many other authors to mention here.

    With a clear image of my hometown’s Civil War statue looming in the back of my mind, I look forward to the rest of my life-long study.

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