Indirectly, this project began in 1989 when as a college student I went to the movie theater and saw Glory. I always had had a fascination with history but not an especially strong interest in the Civil War. I understood that the primary cause of the conflict was the South’s desire to preserve slavery, but that meant little to me as a white Alabamian. When I thought about or discussed the Civil War at all, I tended to celebrate the South’s valiant struggle against great odds. In short, I rooted for the home team. But Glory changed that. The opening battle scene was immediately engrossing, and the film’s powerful depiction of runaway slaves fighting for freedom pulled me into a world that in many ways I have never left. When teardrops slid from Denzel Washington’s eye as his defiant character was being whipped, I realized that the Civil War involved something more profound than just southern military heroics. I was exhilarated when Morgan Freeman’s character stopped to speak to young black children who were admiring the African American soldiers as they handsomely marched by. “That’s right honeys,” he announced, “ain’t no dream. We runaway slaves but we come back fighting men!” During the black prayer meeting the night before the final battle scene, I choked up as Washington asked rhetorically, “We men, ain’t we?” When day dawned in the movie’s last scene and the Confederate flag still flew triumphantly over Fort Wagner, my heart plummeted, and I instantly knew that I would never view the Civil War the same. Thus, as melodramatic as it may sound, it is only fitting that I begin my acknowledgments by thanking everyone involved with the production of the movie Glory.
My interest in the Civil War broadened in time, especially when I began visiting battlefield sites. There is something indefinably special about connecting to the past by standing on hallowed grounds, and I hope that this book demonstrates my conviction that the Civil War’s social and political dimensions are best understood within the context of the war’s military events (and vice versa). In 1995, thanks to the suggestion of Peter S. Carmichael (then a seasonal park ranger, now director of Gettysburg’s Civil War Institute), Edward Sanders recruited me as a volunteer at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, and that eventually led to my first job for which my college degree prepared me (that is a special blessing when you are a history major). Working as a seasonal park ranger, I learned more about the Civil War and the Peninsula Campaign from conversations on the battlefields with my friends and colleagues than I could have ever learned on