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Origins of My Civil War Interests
To some degree, my interest
in Civil War history comes from learning of my great grandfather, who lived in Caroline County Virginia. Thomas Henry Jones enlisted in the 47th
Virginia Infantry (Co. K) in 1862. He
was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness,
and spent the last year of the war at Elmira
prison in New York.
This story is typical of the times, and as with all such stories it raises
questions. To me, the questions do not
relate to “who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.” The primary question is, “How did this
happen?” How could the citizens of a
modern country who are ostensibly rational beings allow an event to occur that
killed over 600,000 people? It’s an
important question because it also relates to every war ever fought in the
history of mankind.
Living in Atlanta
provided the opportunity to learn about the Atlanta
campaign and to cultivate an interest in W. T. Sherman, who has the odd dual
role of being the “scourge of the south” and the first superintendant of Louisiana State University,
which is just one of the ironies that pervade that era. I heartily recommend that anyone interested
in the Atlanta
campaign, or the Civil War itself, for that matter, read the memoirs of
Sherman, Johnston and Hood, preferably simultaneously. Sherman’s
memoirs are by far the most intriguing of the three, and they have the added
bonus of describing his pre Civil War days in the San Francisco area, where I grew up.
On another level of the war,
the Diary of John Ransom is another remarkable work, not so much because of
what it says about Andersonville Prison, but because of what it says about John
Ransom. He was a man who went through an
indescribable nightmare. Not only did he
survive, but he came through the experience without the sort of bitterness that
one would naturally expect.