Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Can Perryville Teach Me?

Another point I wished to discuss and explore about my weekend adventure at Perryville was how I learned more there than I had expected. Almost all I know about the  Civil War comes from reading, with perhaps some videos, or even CDs of period music, factoring in, but I must say the more I visit the battlefield and walk around it, the more I'm finding myself learning.

It is not just the esoteric concepts like "how the soldiers dealt with the heat" or "the challenges soldiers faced" but, perhaps not surprisingly, more about the battle itself. I have usually struggled when reading detailed military descriptions of battles (I first realized this when reading a book about Shiloh years ago), trying to figure out who was who and what a "division" or "brigade" really meant in such descriptions.

While I do expect that side of Civil War study to continue to be a challenge for me, I pleasantly surprised about how much more of that type of learning is sticking with me now. Seeing the positions on the field, with the helpful interpretive signs, and on multiple visits, has apparently started sinking this information into my head. I feel like I am starting to visualize and comprehend the battle descriptions more than I had in the past, and it is because of my visits to the field and standing and looking around at the land. Perhaps I need to emphasize the "multiple visits" aspect of this more, as that certainly has helped, but I do feel that seeing the field and the land, and how it all sort of flows together, with noteworthy locales, such"Open Knob" "Dixville Crossroads" "Starkweather's Hill," "Bottom House," and Loomis' Heights, etc, does help my perception of the movement of the men and units. I really felt this more on this trip than ever before. I hope I can maintain my grasp on this type of understanding and even expand on it.

I'm certainly no expert in military details, even for Perryville, but perhaps I am improving on a weakness and maybe what I learn from visiting this battlefield can help me when I read of other battles. Some of that will, of course, be up to the quality of the writing, but I believe that my changing mindset may help expand my understanding of the war, especially the military side. Though it has never been a particular strength of mine, I certainly understand the concept of "how can you study a war and ignore the military aspects?" I know of no good answer to that and now maybe I can pay more attention and learn more about that part of the war, instead of just the politics and social issues that come to me more easily.

I also wonder how visiting such a site will affect my memory of the war and how I perceive it. Will I look at the military details more closely or think of them more often? Will it affect what books I read or blogs I follow? Or will it be another short-lived fad that has no long-term effect on me?


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Nothing beats getting out there and walking around the battlefield in order to understand what transpired there. My recent visit to the 2nd Manassas field proved that ten times over. I also find that a visit gives me an emotional bond with the history. As I walk across such hallowed ground, I often find myself trying to feel what the men went through who fought there. More than once have a felt a chill, as I am sure you and many others have too. Now if only there was time to get to more sites, we'd be all set!

  2. It's amazing how it is more than just farmland or some rural hills. Some people dream of vacations to Hawaii or some mountains, yet I think about the fields around Richmond, or Shiloh or Chickamauga understand.

    But as much I have read about battles, being on the ground and seeing the terrain and where troops were really hit home with me this time. The signage is very helpful, but I somehow reached a higher level of understanding just by "being there." I'm already thinking about going back again this summer, LOL

  3. Don't blame you! Now, if only I could convince my wife that those exotic Western battlefields were better than the beach!


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