Less than half a score years ago, I brought forth onto this platform a new blog, conceived in curiosity and dedicated to the proposition that blogging was a worthy experiment.
Now I am engaged in a great continuation of this quest...
Well, enough of that, but I do wish to take a moment or two to note that yesterday, June 19, marked the seventh anniversary of My Civil War Obsession - the blog if not the actual passion. I had hoped to discuss this milestone then, but just did not get it finished in time. Oh well.
Anyway, I find it both hard to believe I have kept this up so long, and, strangely, not so hard to believe. "Time flies when you're having fun," supposedly, and the last seven years do seem to have flown by, at least in retrospect, which is, of course, the perspective a history blogger most often takes.
A lot has happened since I started this blog. I have continued to volunteer as a board member at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum, even having served as President a couple of times. I have talked on behalf of the museum, represented it at events, and have met many interesting people, holding more than a few fascinating conversations. I have made good friends through the museum, and, unfortunately have lost a few, especially Bob Clements, whose enthusiasm for the museum is something I can never match. He showed me that you can collect Civil War items on a normal budget and my current collection, from which I've found several topics for this blog, is largely due to his influence. He has been gone for almost four years but even Saturday at Roeblingfest, two different people stopped by the museum's table and talked about missing him. RIP, Bob. (As I type this entry, I checked my email and learned that another long-time museum volunteer and history enthusiast, Bill, passed away today. I just saw and spoke to him last Sunday. I am sad.)
I have also started serving on the board of the Campbell County Historical and Genealogical Society and though that is not a direct Civil War group, it has allowed me to do some research into the war in this county and write a couple of newsletter articles, though more research remains in front of me.
I also volunteered at Perryville's reenactment in 2012, the 150th anniversary of the battle. That was fun, and I never will forget a couple of experiences there. One morning they had a "sunrise battle." I could not see it as I was helping register reenactors, but they were just trickling in at that point. My volunteer partner soon called me outside the building and from there, across the road, we could hear the sounds of the "battle" starting -the bugles and fife, the drums and, soon, musket and cannon fire. None of this was in eyesight, but was plain to the ear. It was really fascinating and it almost felt like we were civilians during the war, wondering what was happening, full of uncertainty. I don't know if I can find the words to describe it any better. Goosebumps.
Later, during the main "battle," I was near the fighting in the cornfield, where the smell of the black powder from the reenactors' guns awed me. I have read about the sight and smell of smoke over a battlefield, but experiencing it, especially that unmistakable smell, was something special. It made everything seem so real. I was so lucky to be right there, right then, stuck in 1862, if even momentarily.
During these seven years, I have had health issues, job issues and other life issues, of course, yet the Civil War has been a constant interest for me, my bookshelf serving as an anchor of hope and happiness.
One of my goals when starting this personal project was to increase my own learning and understanding of the war. I think that has been my best success of these years, as this site introduced me to the blogosphere. Concepts like historical memory, southern unionism, confederate history being different than southern history and others may have been topics I had encountered in my previous reading, but were not ones I recognized or specifically considered. Also, when writing sbout the Confederate army's opponent, should I call it the "Union" army or the "United States" army? Or just say "Federals?" Does it matter? That is one idea I had not pondered before this blog and my introduction to the blogosphere, which I found because I started this project. I now try to pay more attention to the words and phrases I chose to use.
This type of thinking is now more frequently present in my mind, and perhaps even my writing, especially when reading or writing about my native Kentucky or doing family research. My understanding of the Commonwealth's place in the war and the development of its post-war reputation and image has grown exponentially in the past seven years, at least somewhat because of books I've heard about in the blogging world. How did my slave-owning, Union-supporting family fit with this? Or did other ancestors differ?
I now no longer think just about "concrete" parts of the war like battles, leaders and elections, but these more abstract concepts and ways of considering the war have helped me view this period differently. What happened during the war years is clearly important, but putting these events in perspective matters at least as much. I feel that part of my knowledge of the Civil War has grown.
Despite this viewpoint, I have also learned more "facts." For instance, and ironically, I had not heard of "Jubeteenth" before starting this blog, and though I'm still no military expert, I feel more confident when reading military studies now than I did previously. At least part of this is due to my trips to Perryville and walking around the battlefield, both on my own and for guided tours. Before the blog, I had not been to Perryville since 2000 or 2001, and never on my own. Since then, I have been there several times, once or twice per year except for 2015.
Another example of learning was in my discovery of the Abraham Lincoln statue in downtown Cincinnati. Finding it after I had worked near it for years was a great surprise. It is a monument I have since visited several times. Doing research for a blog entry led me to find the statue and its fascinating history.
As for the future, who knows? The blogosphere world may little note nor long remember what I do here, but at this point this blog is almost a selfish enterprise on my part. I do hope that I find and write at least some topics that catch the interests of other people, of course, but I'm not in this for page hits or shares. I need to continue growing and this platform has been a terrific vessel for that goal.
As I go forward, continuing to write these entries, what will I learn next? I do think I need a better understanding of Reconstruction and the effects the war era produced, so I have purchased a couple books on those years. I will need to read those and see where they lead me and my studies. I am especially interested in seeing how the post-war years in "reconstructed" states compared to those in Kentucky, a southern-leaning state (at least late in and after the war) which was not subject to the terms of reconstruction, including Republican government and military occupation.
I will still read and write more about "my" state, of course. I think my personal philosophy that "all history is local" is mostly an exaggeration and not literally true, so I try not to utter it often, but it seems to me there is at least a kernel of truth in it. At least there is to me, so reading more about Kentucky (a new book on the topic is due out in November, I believe) and more study and research of Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and my Civil War ancestors will be part of my continued obsession. I make no claims on bring a professional historian or teacher or anything of the sort. I am not beholden to any employer or institution, even the places for which I volunteer.
After typing that last line, I do realize that I have an ethical responsibility tp practice good history and help promote accuracy in the places where I volunteer. I cannot simply say anything I want to when representing a public history organization and should not do so when acting for myself. That would be irresponsible. Perhaps my whole self-image as a practicer of history and public history is another topic for future thought. When with family or friends, I am often seen as the "history guy," a big fish in a small pond, but as I entered the blogging world, I found out I'm just a minnow in the ocean, one grain of sand in the Sahara. The knowledge of (and even moreso interest in) the Civil War is widespread and its online presence opened my eyes to how big the world truly is. My few hundred Civil War books seem impressive, at least until I see other private libraries that dwarf mine. It is a humbling, yet exciting, realization, to see so much Civil War discussion and knowledge to study and to contemplate if I can play some small role in that world.
I do like the idea of "being my own boss" on my blog. I can use this site to explore my own interests and perhaps experiment with posts or topics, as I wish. I do not need to comment on current events and controversies if I choose not to, letting the mudslinging occur elsewhere. I have frequently tried to create a new tag line for this site but I just cannot say it better than "exploring anything and everything that fascinates me about this war." It sums up my goal perfectly and is what I have done and hope to continue to do well into the future.
As I conclude, I apologize for the length of my post. It was intended as a quick look back at the last seven years, but quickly became an enjoyable exploration of my past and future. Thank you for reading this entry and others. Here's to many, many more years of my civil war obsession.