A Conversation with Philip Gerard on The Last Battleground (part one)

Philip Gerard (photo courtesy UNC Press)

Part one of six

Before the Civil War finally marched with Sherman’s columns into the Old North State, North Carolina had already been deeply affected by the war. Likewise, it made its own influence strongly felt beyond its own borders.

Philip Gerard has spent the last eight years chronicling that story, first in a series of articles for Our State magazine and, most recently, in a new book. The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina (UNC Press, 2019) collects and expands upon that original series of articles, with a strong emphasis on storytelling.

Gerard, a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, is a novelist and widely published feature writer. He’s also recognized as one of the foremost experts in teaching “creative nonfiction” as a literary style. (I use his textbook in my own creative nonfiction course, in fact.) And as if that didn’t keep him busy enough, he’s kind enough to give me a copy of his latest CD, American Anthem, which features his songwriting, singing, and guitar. “I play in the style of Americana,” he tells me.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Philip for a conversation about his new book, the Civil War, and the power of storytelling as a tool for history. Our conversation, which will appear this week as a serial, has been edited lightly for clarity. Continue reading

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Question of the Week: 7/22-7/28/19

Union General McDowell had protested that his troops were “green,” but others pressured him to fight before the 90-day enlistments expired.

In your opinion, should the First Battle of Bull Run have been fought or delayed?

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Week In Review: July 15-21, 2019

Welcome back for another Week In Review. We’ve got some social history mixed with military history this week. Find perspective on lesser-known battles, details about Hood taking command, a series about hunger during the war, and tips for researching in women’s studies, and much more! Continue reading

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Manassas: Moment of Truth

The heat bore down oppressively. Not the soaring temperatures I’d known in California, but rather a choking, wet warmth that signaled I had come back to the land of war. That was one of the first things I noticed, stepping out of the rental in the visitor center parking lot at Manassas National Battlefield.  It had been a long journey, a red-eye flight. My first cross-country trip alone. Navigating out of D.C. and arriving at Manassas had been an adventure all its own. But I had arrived at the site of the first major battle of the Civil War.

Suddenly, I wasn’t weary. I was home.

Continue reading

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2019 Symposium Accommodations

For our readers that are attending the 2019 Emerging Civil War Symposium, August 2-4, we wanted to let you know that are discounted hotel rate is coming to an end on Monday, July 22. They have advised us that they only have several rooms left for each night, so don’t delay if you have not already booked.

ECW has made arrangements for a block of rooms at Holiday Inn Express Fredericksburg-Southpoint. Mention “Emerging Civil War” to book a room for $119 per night. Click here for more details.

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Saving History Saturday: Harper House at Bentonville Vandalized in Attempted Robbery

The damaged original door at the Harper House. Courtesy of the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site.

Just this week, Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site in Johnson County, North Carolina announced that it had been a victim of an attempted robbery only days before.

Per the site’s official Facebook page, “Friends, we need your assistance. Last Wednesday, July 10, the Harper House was vandalized during an attempted robbery. The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office responded to the alarm and found one of the ORIGINAL doors had been kicked in – this historic property belongs to you, the public! Luckily, nothing was stolen as the alarm scared them away. But we do have surveillance photographs of the perpetrators. Please, look at the pictures, and if you recognize anyone contact Detective Chuck Alford, 919-989-5020. Hopefully with your help we can bring these vandals to justice.” For images of the perpetrators, please click here. Continue reading

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ECW Weekender: Summer Lectures at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn

At Emerging Civil War, we love historic preservation, military history, local history, and innovative ways to share about the past. So…when we heard about the FREE Summer Lecture Series offered at the Jacob Rohrbach Inn in Sharpsburg, Maryland, we knew this program had to get a “weekender feature” – even though the events happen on Wednesdays! Continue reading

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“Angry Enough to Give Them Battle”: Hungry Civilians and Soldiers Fight Over Food

“Bummers” (Foragers) sketched by Edwin Forbes

ECW welcomes Katie Brown to share Part 3 of her research. (Find the previous posts here.)

Hunger was an omnipresent force that haunted almost everyone in Civil War America. One of the most troubling aspects of hunger was its impact on behavior and its ability to break down social norms. Hunger among soldiers was particularly troublesome when civilians became involved, even despite orders designed to limit foraging and seizure of private property. “Gen Franklin who was in chief command of the expedition up the Teche had given very strict orders against forageing, pilfering, etc.” wrote William Wiley of the 77th Illinois Infantry in November 1863, before explaining that despite this, his commanding officer had been instructed “to observe these orders but to tell his men that if they caught any chickens or geese or anything like that to be careful and not get bit. So we understood that to mean help yourselves but don’t give the general away.”[1] Continue reading

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Change is in the wind

Wilbur Kurtz’s depiction of the meeting between Hood and Johnston at the Dexter Miles House, Atlanta.

Army of Tennessee,
General Orders No. 1:
July 18, 1864.

Soldiers of the Army of Tennessee:

“Strap in. Things are going to change!”

Signed,

Gen. John B. Hood, Commanding.

With those stirring words, the burden of command of the Confederacy’s second army passed from Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Corps commander Hood.

Well, not really. Pardon my flippancy. Continue reading

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Stout Hearts: Attempting to Feed Both Civilians and Soldiers

ECW welcomes Katie Brown to share Part 2 of her research. (Find Part 1 here)

“The provision blockade is nothing; we shall have wheat, corn, and beef beyond measure…,” Sergeant S.R. Cockrill of Tennessee assured a friend in June 1861, “Fear nothing, success is certain.” [1]

Despite what we know today about hunger’s prevalence in the Civil War, there was initially some disagreement over the dangers of famine and starvation. “The South can never sustain this contest for any length of time,” The Vermont Phoenix reported in April 1861, directly contradicting Cockrill’s opinion. “Their enemies are not Northern troops alone; but the harder hearted foes, hunger, want of money, and slaves watching for an opportunity to apply the torch to Southern homes.”[2]

Despite some Southerner’s optimism, hunger soon became a recognized problem among leadership on both sides of the conflict. The Confederate government faced a problem in balancing the hunger of civilians versus soldiers. Despite their different situation occupying enemy territory, Northern leaders faced similar questions in Union-held areas. Continue reading

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