Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges

Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges

Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges

Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges


"It is well that war is so terrible," Robert E. Lee reportedly said, "or we would grow too fond of it." The essays collected here make the case that we have grown too fond of it, and therefore we must make the war terrible again. Taking a "freakonomics" approach to Civil War studies, each contributor uses a seemingly unusual story, incident, or phenomenon to cast new light on the nature of the war itself. Collectively the essays remind us that war is always about damage, even at its most heroic and even when certain people and things deserve to be damaged.

Here then is not only the grandness of the Civil War but its more than occasional littleness. Here are those who profited by the war and those who lost by it--and not just those who lost all save their honor, but those who lost their honor too. Here are the cowards, the coxcombs, the belles, the deserters, and the scavengers who hung back and so survived, even thrived. Here are dark topics like torture, hunger, and amputation. Here, in short, is war.


Meatloaf was likely the start of it all. Conversations at a series of lunches in Athens, Georgia, with Stephen Berry, Sam Thomas, and myself wandered into topics that intrigued us about the study of the American Civil War. the word “weird” surfaced quite often. We remarked upon this circumstance and achieved consensus, and alliteration, about a symposium entitled “Weirding the War.”

The papers presented here in this volume emerged from the symposium held at the T. R. R. Cobb House in Athens. As Steve has pointed out in his introduction, “weird” is wonderful. These topics, presumably at the edges of the war, are often “edgy” indeed — at the leading edge of where our studies seem to be heading. Our contributors are exciting scholars whose insight offered here explains a lot about the American experience.

My own offering to “Weirding the War,” the symposium, was a piece of “history as performance art,” regarding the plight of the Museum of the Confederacy. At a “welcome to Athens” dinner party hosted by Peggy and Denny Galis, I showed up with a shopping bag containing familysized boxes of Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, and Honey Bunches of Oats; a half- pint of half- and- half; and two sticks of butter. I used these items to demonstrate the problems associated with the location of what is the premier collection of Confederate artifacts anywhere. the Museum of the Confederacy is to the Confederate States of America what Hollywood is to film, what Wall Street is to money, or what Wimbledon is to tennis.

The Museum of the Confederacy is located where it is because the White House of the Confederacy is there, and together these buildings compose three- fourths of an acre of real estate. But surrounding this parcel is the Medical College of Virginia, the teaching hospital complex that was a couple of blocks away when Jefferson Davis lived in the White House. Now the Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University and its hospitals are sprawling and threatening to swallow the museum.

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