Civil War Talk Radio: June 5, 2009

Air Date: 060509
Subject: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction
Books: Scars to Prove It: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction
Guest: Professor (and blogger) Craig A. Warren

Summary: Craig Warren talks about his upcoming book Scars to Prove It, which looks at seven novels about Civil War soldiers.

Brett’s Summary: Craig Warren is an assistant professor of English at Penn State – Erie.  He has always been interested in Civil War history, having grown up in Virginia.  Warren is the author of the Civil War blog Civil War Literature.  He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Virginia.  He was there at the same time Gary Gallagher was at Virginia.  While there, he looked at memoirs written by former members of the Irish Brigade.  This paper was a forerunner to Warren’s upcoming book, which looks at 7 novels on the American Civil War soldier.  Warren shows how the authors’ reading of soldier memoirs, which emphasized individual experiences, influenced their eventual finished novels.  Warren believes these novelists were obsessed with finding out how veterans felt during their wartime experiences.

Warren explains that most Civil War veterans used the non-emotional Victorian writing style to write about the war, which makes it extremely difficult to find out exactly how soldiers felt via their postwar memoirs.  Warren believes there are three approaches to getting to the bottom of how these men felt, including by looking at the reminiscences of soldiers from more modern time periods and trying to apply their feelings to the Civil War time periods.

Talk turned to William Faulkner, whom Warren says “silences the Civil War soldier.”  Warren believes Faulkner thought race to be central to the Civil War.  Faulkner then created the image of Civil War veterans in the South who rarely spoke.  Gerry pointed out another author who portrayed “the silent Civil War veteran.”

One of my favorite authors, Ambrose Bierce, was discussed next.  Bierce was a Civil War veteran who wrote quite a bit about the conflict after the war was over.  Warren says Bierce was one of a few authors who wrote about battles without glossing over the carnage.  Novelists and historians are attracted to Bierce for this among other reasons.  Warren also pointed out that the only important American novelist to have fought extensively in the Civil War was Bierce.  Warren has an extremely interesting site on Ambrose Bierce called the Ambrose Bierce Project, including the Ambrose Bierce Journal.  Warren’s favorite Bierce story is “A Son of the Gods”.

Warren currently has a project in the works about a history of the “Rebel Yell”.  He mentions John Coski’s book on the Confederate Battle Flag and books on Lost Cause statuary, but says there has never been any kind of study of the Rebel Yell.  He says only one book has been written with the Rebel Yell as its central theme.  He notes the difficulty of trying to use written words to study this phenomenon.  Gerry asked Craig if we even know what the Rebel Yell sounded like, and Warren says we don’t really know for sure, saying we might have an estimation or approximation of the true sound.  He says “the lost Rebel Yell” is just a metaphor for “the lost authentic South.”  He believes we can talk about the Rebel Yell today.  Gerry then asked when the first sound recording of the yell was created.  Warren responded that a North Carolina radio station had an elderly soldier try to recreate the yell.

Warren is interested in communication and in the way American identity developed.  He points to the Confederate battle flag as an interesting example, but says he is especially interested in the Rebel Yell as something you can’t necessarily get your hands on.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

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