Thank you to everyone who participated in this thread. There were so many good ideas, I wish I could pick two runners-up. However, I’m awarding “Disunion” to Jason for his idea about a book that explores more fully women’s role in the Civil War. While the men were out there fighting, the women had their own battles at home. During my years in Roanoke, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the roles their great-grandfathers or great-great grandfathers played in the Civil War, but not their great-grandmothers or great-great-grandmothers. Jason’s right, their work was important and deserves recognition.
I’m awarding “A Chain of Thunder” to Elliott Martin for his “what-if” approach to history, specifically the idea of Lincoln surviving and leading Reconstruction (or even surviving and not being able to lead Reconstruction). How much alternative Civil War history is out there? I know a ton has been done about World War II, but how about Lincoln?
Jason and Elliott, e-mail me your mailing addresses to email@example.com. There will be another book giveaway at the end of this month, and I hope you all will take part in that one, too. And if you do get round to turning your Civil War ideas into books, do let me know!
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I have a confession to make: I don’t know anything about the Civil War.
OK, I know a bit — there were the Union and the Confederacy, and slavery played a big part, and Lincoln brought everyone through, and there’s at least one controversial flag. I’m familiar with some of the names — Gettysburg, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee.
The biggest reason for this educational hole is that I moved to the United States when I was just 14, from England. I learned about the Revolutionary War in middle school, and we were set to learn about the Civil War next year.
But then I switched school districts and I didn’t take any American history during my four years of high school. When I got to college, I realized I should fill this gap in my knowledge and took basic American history part one. We covered history up to the mid-1800s. “We’ll do the Civil War in the second course,” my professor said. Instead, he went and won some really important award and didn’t come back to teach part two. “I assume you covered the Civil War in the first part,” our new professor said, and moved on to another topic.
Thwarted. I could have pursued this independently, but it was college and I had plenty of other activities to occupy my time and mind.
I didn’t know then that I’d move to the South where the Civil War is a Big Deal. People are intensely interested in the war and the role of their ancestors — and understandably so. I have wondered whether my ancestors were Cavaliers or Roundheads. But more than that, the war forms part of the Southern culture — the re-enactments, the parade in Lexington, the Confederate flag stickers on people’s cars. It all perplexed me when I first moved to Roanoke, but now I’ve lived here a few years, I understand better how the war piques interest and inspires pride, especially considering so many battle sites are within driving distance, and that it didn’t happen that long ago, in the grand scheme of things.
The knowledge hasn’t rubbed off on me though, nor has this unique aspect of Southern culture. In fact, I absent-mindedly referred to the war as “the American Civil War” a couple of months ago. “We call it just the Civil War here,” my boss replied with a grin.
Among the many people fascinated by the war are writers. Plenty of Civil War books land on my desk, especially nonfiction works about the causes and key players. I put one aside for a book giveaway, but then I got a novel in the mail, too. So my second book giveaway has two works up for grabs:
The problem was setting the competition question. The obvious one is to ask you to explain the Civil War to me; however, you don’t want to write me an essay, and I don’t want to read a ton of them. Plus, that’s a really broad question to answer. I wouldn’t want to explain the English Civil War in a blog post either.
Then it hit me: There are loads of Civil War books out there, fiction and nonfiction, but as with any historical period, there is so much we don’t know. So here’s the question you have to answer to be eligible to win one of the books: If you had the time and means to write a Civil War-related book, what would you write? It could be a novel or nonfiction about anything related to the war, including the causes and aftermath. It can be as broad a topic as Lincoln’s difficulties or as narrow as literature the war inspired. Answer however you see fit. I’ll pick two winners, so let me know if you’re competing for the novel or the nonfiction.
Feel free to comment on other people’s ideas, too, or recommend relevant books. But even though we’re talking about the Civil War … no fighting.