The Tyranny of the Blank Page

Quite some time since the last blog post. Yes, it was last decade for those of us following the ISO standards for calendars and all. I could blame that on changes with work (being more a “required” attendee on many processes now). Or I could say changes with family, particularly a teenage boy and all the extracurricular activities, has taken away some time. Or I could even point to a self-motivational increase in daily physical activities, toward a healthier lifestyle, has cut down time normally reserved for blogging. Heck, I could even say my dislike for new WordPress editing format has brought me to a blind alley.

But those would not be fair.

Truth is that blogging about the Civil War no longer brings the joy and satisfaction I once experienced. I started full time Civil War history blogging to fill a need. Wasn’t a need to “get it out there.” Rather my need was somewhat personal – to organize things I’d studied and learned into an organized format. This effort began as a means to convert field notes, research journals, and hundreds of post-it book marks into a coherent story. To organize what I had complied into a narrative. The aim wasn’t for publication in a book or magazine, though in some cases events worked out that way. Instead, just simply to have my “body of knowledge” for some small aspect of the war compiled into one spot for reference. Mostly for me… but if it helped someone else along, then that was all good. Right?

And I think blogging with that mindset would still be productive, enjoyable, and satisfying.

But things change.

For me, some of that change happened after events in Charleston, in June 2015. The aftermath of that event sucked the oxygen out of any Civil War discussion. Didn’t matter what your focus, if you discussed the Civil War. The context of the Civil War was irrevocably altered to force the inclusion of present day constructs, regardless of what aspect of the war one wished to consider. One can no longer interpret the details of a battle, wading into the tactical components of the action, degaussed of the polarization of our present times. There are times when writing a blog post seems like turning on a hair dryer in the shower…. I’m just waiting for the inevitable electric shock.

I’ve drafted up two dozen posts since the start of this year. All set unpublished. All are “unacceptable” for fear that one or more passages will be the element attracting the lightning. Not so much inviting argument or such. Rather the fear of having one of those “bodies of knowledge” cast out of context of the subject and writer’s intent. And then becoming a log fueling someone else’s fire, which in turn deprives us of even more precious oxygen that the subject needs.

Rather odd, all things considered, that the Civil War studies have devolved as such. But such is the state of things now days. And we should be saddened by the state of affairs. We’ve allowed the natural context of the Civil War to be stripped away so that it might be re-branded… dare I say “weaponized” … as part of the ever polarized balkanization of our society.

Now, as I write this passage, we are all experiencing something known as “self quarantining.” Everyone of you readers, to a greater or lesser extent, is… right this moment… participating or not, is experiencing that practice. World-wide!

But back away from the here and now. Think about what this will look like to a person from some future time studying it as “history.” They will know how this story ends. They will know if there is some “wonder drug” that wipes out COVID 19. They will know if within six months all 401Ks recover. Yes, they will be reading a story for which they already know the ending. And, being human, they will marvel at all our mistakes, missteps, and… perhaps even laugh at our memes. All the time wondering why we didn’t do X, Y, or Z early on to prevent the problem. Of course, from a perspective of knowing what was “right” and what was the “solution.” That’s the benefit of having a past to consider.

But we often forget that “benefit” is only secured by the efforts of those living through that “past.” The only shield we have against the judgment of future generations is the shield we call “the context of our times.” And context is to history what location is to real estate.

I will contend the Civil War deserves the same shake. We can look back and know slavery was the cause, and scorn those bad people who let it happen. We can say that war could have been prevented by one of a thousand decisions made from 1776 (or earlier, if you latch on to that 1619 Project) forward. And some will even say, with arrogance, that *we* would have done better.

All of which is ground firmly in a foundation of clay. And none of that is proper history.

So please understand why I still sit here under the tyranny of a blank page.

4 thoughts on “The Tyranny of the Blank Page

  1. Now that is a really scary posting!! Do your statements mean that this valuable resource to my understanding of some facets of the CivWar will disappear?

    I’m a retired Lt. Col., USAF, Foreign Affairs Officer (China), Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and collector, and now retired in New Bern, NC where I find but one really good Chinese restaurant, and no longer the access to the China military capabilities info I previously had. I found the Civil War niche in the Burnside Expedition in North Carolina, and in general, and the Battle of New Bern, 13-14 Mar 1862, in particular — a significant joint force amphibious operation that took place at Slocum Creek not from where I presently reside, and just a mile or so from where the battle lasted but 6 hours or so with a U.S. victory celebrated in New Bern and occupied by U.S. forces for the duration of the war.

    I’ve learned much I need to understand and then enjoy from your writings, and I hope that you will continue.

    Steve Sgaffer

  2. I will echo Steve’s comments, I enjoy the posts here and have read, and then re-read several at different times. There will always be people out there looking to pick a fight or argue a point, it is just their nature. I would say if you want to make a post, make a post, I will likely read it. But if writing is not a positive experience and you would prefer to do something else with your time then certainly do whatever makes you happy.

  3. I am hoping you continue your excellent blog when you’re ready.

    I agree with your statement about the current way in which people look at the Civil War and how people will be viewing the current virus crisis. I know I did some writing about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 and never thought I’d be living through something like it here in the 21st century.

    But, like you, I like to start an aspect of the Civil War and see where it goes. Right now I started with a proposed Nebraska statue at Fort Donelson, and that has led to Nebraska troops in the war, Indian Wars, Fort Sedgwick in Colorado, Galvanized Yankees and the Battle of Julesburg in Colorado. A month ago, I didn’t know anything about any of this.

    Still no idea where I will end up.

    It is kind of like going to You Tube to hear a specific song and then finding yourself still at the site four hours later and a long, long way from where you started, but really enjoying all the nuggets you have found.

    Anyway, hoping you get your groove back.


  4. As both a Civil War History and Artillery Nut, I enjoy reading your blog. Some of this info you have posted has been used to learn more about civil war Artillery in general
    . Thank you for your hard work. Do not let the PC Police discourage you, Some people will try to pick a fight over anything to include the color of the sky.

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