I started out to title this post “Eastern Theater Exclusivity,” but felt that rather bias, and off the direction of my thoughts. Since my relocation to Virginia a few years back, I’ve been attracted to these great eastern battlefields. As any Civil War enthusiast would, I love the “anniversary” events in the parks (and yes I missed the Antietam hikes this year – double darn it). But leave it to Lee White to remind me more than one of the war’s great battles shares the September 17 date.
As I’ve mentioned before, my focus for years was towards the western theater (with I would argue the trans-Mississippi thrown in). Perhaps because I grew up near those battlefields. Or perhaps the Army opted to station me at installations in Georgia and Texas. Regardless, my exposure to the eastern theater was through books, reinforced during furloughs crammed full of stops and tours. (I fondly recall a “monsoon rain” day at Manassas in 1993, with nothing but my Army issue poncho for protection. You do learn a lot of about battlefields in adverse weather, I suppose.) Still, I strove to understand the eastern theater, if not in detail at least to be conversant.
Yet, I’ll often hear from my comrades here in the east something to the effect, “Oh, you mean there was activity west of the Shenandoah?” Sure, it is always in jest. But the comment is usually accompanied with, “I really need to read up on the western theater.” Not a knock on those folks, but personally, when I’ve admitted a lean area in my study as such, then I am inclined (if not outright challenged) to resolve such a gap with further studies – to round out my understanding. Sure, none of us are likely to achieve the mastery of the subject to the level of Ed Bearss. He’s one in a million, and spent most of his life in pursuit of greater understanding of the topic. But my goal is to continue to push the boundaries of my understanding, conceding I’ll never cover it to that level of mastery.
I would say the same applies outside of the military aspects, in particular to the social, political, and even financial subject areas as pertaining to the war. History is not a linear study, but one of connections and associations. Hard to say what influences played upon a particular event unless one approaches the study with a broad view. (Hey, just who exactly was this Jay Cooke guy, and how did his bond/note sales effect the war effort?)
Yes, I feel the turning point for the Federals came when Grant chose to renew battle on April 7, 1862 at Shiloh. And yes, Confederate defeat was sealed when The Army of the Cumberland overran Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. But I won’t let my opinions limit my studies. I’d be a fool not to capitalize on my location here in the “seat of the war,” as it may be.
I’ve been in a “western” mood lately, mostly due to recent visits out that way. I’ll get back to “eastern” topics at some point. But there are so many interconnected threads between the theaters and topics. For now, I prefer to be unfettered by faceted studies. I’d prefer to work that whole field of “high cotton.”