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What’s So Civil About War Anyway?

I first became fascinated with the Civil War after reading Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that chronicles the Battle of Gettysburg. From the first page, this remarkable work of historical fiction grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Shaara’s writing made history come alive, and it debunked the myth that history is inherently boring.

From then on I was hooked, and I began devouring books on the subject. I even managed to drag my wife to Gettysburg one cold and rainy spring day to tour the hallowed grounds.

Then I read Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, in which Horwitz recounts a year he spent touring many of the war’s sites and battlefields, and, in the process discovers that, in many parts of the South, the Civil War never really ended. Horwitz’s tale inspired me to go on my own Civil War tour one day. And now I’m finally going to get that chance.

Next spring, students in RMU’s Civil War Study Tour course, taught by Daniel Barr, Ph.D., will be spending the first week of May visiting some of the war’s most influential sites and battlefields. This totally online course will take students to sites like Harper’s Ferry, Mechanicsville, Richmond, Cold Harbor, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, Antietam, and Gettysburg. I’ll be tagging along to document the trip and get some video of our students as they get a close-up look at American history.

I’m really looking forward to this trip. In fact, I’ve already started filling my haversack with salt pork and hardtack! (Actually it’s just my backpack, and I’ll probably just bring Slim Jims and stale crackers.)

Online threaded discussions throughout the course will allow students to discuss what they have learned about the sites and what they hope to gain from the tour. After the tour, students will evaluate the tour as an engaged-learning experience and compare how being at the sites differed from or enhanced traditional methods of instruction. (Registration will begin in early November. Interested students can contact Prof. Barr for more information at barrd@rmu.edu)

I’m really looking forward to next May. Once I finish the tour, I think I can finally refer to myself an official Civil War buff. Fortunately, I’m already married.

– Valentine J. Brkich

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