One of the hardest things about understanding history is divesting yourself of the contemporary ideas in your head and looking at things in a way that more closely resembles the point of view of those who lived it. It’s never possible to do entirely because you can’t set aside the framework through which you view and interpret the world. We historians know what happened next, and avoiding the pitfall of treating it as an inevitable conclusion that everyone who paid attention would have seen coming is a challenge. One of my favorite books is James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, in which he argues that the way we teach history is boring and uninteresting for these very reasons. How did I get here from George Huber’s tombstone? It’s the words “during the rebellion.” The rebellion is, from the dates, the Civil War, but the decision to call the conflict in our history books and classes “the Civil War” was something that came after the fact. The men who marched off to Antietam, Gettysburg, and Shiloh didn’t necessary call the war they were in “the Civil War,” and so that’s not what their families placed on their tombstones when they failed to return home.
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A Grave Concern by Ashley D. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.