When it was still playing in theaters I went to see Lincoln, the movie about the president. That is when I found out that I knew shockingly little about the american civil war. I didn’t even know when it was. I knew it was north against south and that it had to do with the abolition of slavery. But I didn’t really know for example who the confederate army was, who the unionists, where the main battlegrounds were, nothing like that.
So I asked a friend of mine if she could reccommend a few books I could read on the subject. This friend did a dissertation on the civil war so I knew she could help. And this is what’s useful about a history degree. It comes with friends who know a subject back to front.
That is how I came to borrow the book I’m reading at the moment: “In the presence of mine enemies: The civil war in the heart of America” by Edward L. Ayers. It’s a great read already. A thoroughly written but readable history book is always a joy, just like Schama’s books are good.
What I’ve read so far from the first sixty pages is about small insurgencies starting in small communities which will blow up into nation wide rebellion. It’s the way these things always go. Look at the American and French revolutions, the 80 years war and even the Arab spring(?). It’s always a minor grievance which picks at and exposes larger problems.
Little details I didn’t know before yesterday are:
Where the Mason-Dixon line is/was.
Where the Shanandoah river is which I now realize is also in a lyric I never understood from Take me home, counrty roads: “Almost heaven, West Virginia, blue ridge mountains, Shanandoah river…”