The FNYTSF Mailbag (2/26/12): An Early Appreciation for the Civil War

Somewhere, there's a picture of me laying down in that spot when I was little.

Here we are, with another edition of the FNYTSF Mailbag! Sure enough, I must have jinxed myself by making this a regular column, because although I received emails from people quite regularly before I started this, I have now only gotten one since, which will be featured below. This one is not a question either, but a long, heartfelt statement about one reader’s appreciation for the Civil War, and where it all began, something we can all relate to:

Email: I stumbled onto your blog through an internet search and got sucked into the fascinating Gettysburg and Gods and Generals interviews.  I read somewhere on one of them that you had fallen in love with Gettysburg as a kid and I had to laugh because the same exact thing happened to me.  I was in 5th grade when it came out and I was absolutely mesmerized by it.  When all of my friends were reading Nancy Drew books I was reading anything I could find on the Civil War.  I read Alice Trulock’s 600 page biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in 5th grade!  In 6th grade my class took a four-hour bus trip to Denver, Colorado and I remember bringing my cassette tape of the movie soundtrack to listen to on the bus and getting laughed at by my classmates.  I even wrote Ted Turner a letter and told him how much I loved the movie and he sent me a photo and a thank you.  I was such a dork! As I got older I became interested in other periods of history, but the Civil War has always been my favorite era.  After graduating college I moved to Palm Springs and took a job as a museum director.  While there, I organized the first ever Civil War re-enactment in the area and it was quite a struggle.  Nearly everyone was telling me that no one in California cares about the Civil War, it was too long ago to care about, etc., etc.  Well, they told me I’d be lucky if more than 500 people showed up over the two-day event, and we proved them wrong with about 3,000 visitors.  Not only that, but I got to fire a cannon during the battle!  Bonus! I’ve since left the museum and have started my own business  doing military research for people about their ancestors.  I’ve uncovered several Civil War veterans in my family tree after a lot of work, and I’m not offering that service to others so that they can find a personal, meaningful connection to that part of our history.  But at the end of the day, I have to say, that the reason I got into history was because of Gettysburg.  It truly is amazing how something as simple as a movie can have such a profound effect on a person’s life, but it seems that I’m not the only one with that experience. (Johanna from California)

Response: Thanks for contacting me. It’s amazing where it all begins, an interest in the Civil War. I suppose every die-hard has stories similar to ours. I first saw Gettysburg was I was seven or eight years old, on TNT, and from there I was hooked! It led to a visit to the battlefield as a gift for my tenth birthday. I too always read Civil War books growing up when everyone was reading Louis Sachar (I think he was the popular author for when I was in the same grade as you). I was always a fan of the soundtrack as well, and still have the original CD, though the case is cracked and in two pieces. The double-VHS of the movie I owned was not so lucky—I watched that until the film actually wore out and it was no longer watchable. My aunt had the same problem, and she could not bear to throw hers out because she bought it in Gettysburg…she might even still have it! I would think that the Civil War is quite popular in California now, if only for the reason that there are so many transplanted easterners all over the place. That and the fact that they even have reenacting groups and roundtables in Europe. I have a friend in the UK who has the full get-up and goes to reenactments, and then there is a Civil War newsletter in Denmark that re-publishes some stuff I write on this blog. I’ve always been amazed at how far away our American history can spark interest. Anyway, it was great talking to you. It’s always a pleasure hearing stories from people about when they were little, when they first developed that interest. I guess you could say I was left with quite the impression, because I’m halfway through my studies to become a history teacher.

Have any questions or comments for the FNYTSF Mailbag? If so, send them over to! I would love to hear from you, and if it is something really good, will post it here in the next edition!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Wes says:

    That’s great that Johanna was reading the Trulock Chamberlain bio at a young age! I think Jeff Daniels read the same one to prepare for his role. I too am a history buff in California and like Greg am preparing to teach history full time (substitute in the mean time). I have the same Chamberlain bio in my library. I better read it soon if a 5th grader read it. That book is going to the top of my “to read” list. I’ve skimmed through it and it is fascinating, especially for fans of Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.

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