The war is over

A House Reunited:
How America
Survived the Civil War
by Jay Winik
It really doesn’t get any better than this. Cruising in the car
(OK, commuting) and listening to a
born storyteller talk about a topic you find fascinating. Truly, this is good.
Many years back, I went through a Civil War phase that eventually
waned. But occasionally I have a flare-up of the old condition, and this series
of lectures about the Civil War’s final months was just the ticket.
(The Modern Scholar series: Why am I late to the party on this?
I’ve known about them for years, and yet it’s only now that I dive in. I can be
a strange creature.)
Winik is the author of the book April 1865: The Month That Saved America, which made a good-sized
splash when it was released. And he’s one heck of a good lecturer. He’s got an almost
preacherly cadence (preacherly, meaning: lyrical, not didactic) that drew me
right in. Also, he does this thing where he says, “Picture this scene if you
will…” and then he’ll describe the situation so clearly that you can indeed
visualize it. It’s a good tactic.
So this audio series is all about the way the end of the Civil War
was kind of a mini-miracle—that things worked out as well as they did (given
how horrible things were), and how close things were to not working out at all. It’s actually a bit chilling.
I mean, most of us know the story of the Lee’s surrender to Grant
at Appomattox.
And then shortly thereafter, Lincoln
was assassinated. We all know that. But the thing I sure didn’t realize was
that the South was considering launching into guerrilla warfare when they
realized they could no longer win a conventional war. Yikes, guys. It coulda
happened that way.
And if Lincoln
hadn’t been all “With malice toward none, with charity for all…” we likely
would’ve ended up with a country that never came back together fully.
Here’s a quote from Robert E. Lee that I really think will stick
with me: “I surrendered as much to Lincoln’s
goodness as I did to Grant’s armies.”
It really hits a person that so much depends on the decisions and
the character and the temperament of a few key historic figures, and if any of
those variables had been different, things could’ve gone so very wrong.
Seriously, thank goodness for those humans and their wisdom. 

3 thoughts on “The war is over

  1. Oooh, I definitely need to read this! I'm a bit of a Civil War nerd myself, and you're totally right–it always gives me chills to think of how if one little thing had been different, we could be living in a totally different world today!

  2. Bybee — It's a good one!

    Jess — It's unsettling, isn't it? This lecture and book gave me a stronger sense than I'd ever had before of the true peril of the situation.

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