America's Civil War: May 1998 From the Editor | HistoryNet MENU

America’s Civil War: May 1998 From the Editor

9/23/1998 • America's Civil War, Archives

On the occasion of our 10th anniversary, we look back with pride at promises made and kept.

Ten years ago this month, a sergeant in the 4th Alabama Infantry defiantly waved his new national banner from the cover of an equally new magazine–America’s Civil War. Fittingly enough, the painting on the cover, by contemporary artist Don Troiani, depicted the Battle of First Manassas, the first major battle of the Civil War. Since that time, it has been our privilege at ACW to accompany you, our readers, on a decade-long trip through dozens of battles large and small, as we have traveled together through the not-so-distant past to look over the shoulders, as it were, of the remarkable men and women who made our nation what it is today.

Anniversaries, like birthdays, are a time for looking back, and perhaps it is proper to begin at the beginning. The maiden issue of America’s Civil War included four feature-length articles that, taken together, exemplify the direction–or directions–the magazine has attempted to follow over the last 10 years. There were articles on the battles of Glorieta Pass, N.M., and Gaines’ Mill, Va., on the Confederate attack at St. Albans, Vt., and on Union General James H. Wilson’s cavalry raid through Georgia and Alabama. Glorieta Pass was one of the westernmost battles of the Civil War, while St. Albans was the northernmost action of the war. Gaines’ Mill was a major early battle in the eastern theater of the war, and Wilson’s raid was one of the last actions on the western front.

Then as now, it was our intention to provide the broadest possible coverage of the Civil War, both literally and figuratively. In doing so, we have ranged widely across the American continent, from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to San Francisco Bay, from Montreal, Canada, to Key West, Fla. And since the Civil War was in some ways an international conflict, we have followed Union and Confederate warships from the Bering Strait of Alaska to the warm-water harbors of Nassau and Bermuda, from Tangiers, Morocco, to the coast of Australia. Nor have we limited ourselves strictly to the war years of 1861­1865. Instead, we have published articles looking back as far as the 1820s, when the first malignant seeds of war began to sprout, and flashed forward to the bittersweet last encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, the once mighty Union veterans group, in 1949, and the death of the last Confederate veteran in 1952.

In our first issue we promised to “go behind the myths to recover the true war,” and to feature the common soldiers as well as the great generals. With the help of our talented writers and artists, we have striven to keep that promise. The giants of the war–Lee, Jackson, Grant, Sherman, Lincoln, Davis, Sheridan, Stuart–have all received their due share of coverage. But we have also looked at such little-known heroes as Sergeant Amos Humiston, the Portville, N.Y., harnessmaker who died at Gettysburg clutching a photograph of his three small children; Private James Grant of Monroe, Wis., whose condition was perhaps the first documented case of what we now know as posttraumatic stress disorder; and Thomas Hines, the shadowy Confederate spy who managed to disappear entirely from the pages of history.

Nor have we limited ourselves strictly to soldiers–or to men. In the past 10 years we have looked at such extraordinary women as Mother Bickerdyke, the great Northern nurse; Captain Sally Tompkins, the only woman to hold an officer’s commission in the Confederate Army; Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; Elizabeth Keckley, the former slave who became Mary Todd Lincoln’s closest confidant; and the high-spirited young women in the Rhea County, Tenn., Spartans, who carried secret messages for the Confederate cavalry. We have profiled “Albert Cashier,” the Northern woman who disguised herself as a man to serve in the Union Army; and M.J. Clarke, the smooth-faced Kentucky guerrilla who masqueraded in petticoats as “Sue Mundy.” We have even covered the humble horses and mules who gave their equine lives in service to their country, and Old Abe, the much-beloved “war eagle” of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry.

And always, in keeping with our promise, we have sought to avoid romanticizing a war in which 600,000 young Americans lost their lives. They and their comrades would be the first to caution that there is nothing very romantic about a .58-caliber Minié bullet to the belly, or a slow, lingering death from dysentery. While we remain awed by the courage, fortitude and self-sacrifice of our Union and Confederate forefathers, we have not shied away from the uglier aspects of the war: the prison death camps at Andersonville, Ga., and Elmira, N.Y.; the Union burning and looting of the Shenandoah Valley; the revengeful Confederate burning of Chambersburg, Pa.; the savage border skirmishes in “Bleeding” Kansas and the murderous little war-within-a-war between John Singleton Mosby and George Armstrong Custer. We have watched good men die in great battles and small skirmishes (see the story in this issue on Lieutenant John Meigs’ lonely death on a muddy mountain road, P. 8), always keeping in mind something the editor’s father, a World War II combat infantryman in Europe, told him many years ago: “When someone is shooting at you from behind the next tree, every battle is a big battle.”

With this special, all-cavalry issue, America’s Civil War enters its second decade. Many thanks to the thousands of readers, subscribers, advertisers and contributors who made the first decade such a happy–and humbling–experience. You have enabled us, the ACW staff, to spend countless hours in the company of our betters, the heroic men and women of the Civil War who fought their big battles and won their big victories–peace, reunion and reconciliation–in a country truly “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Roy Morris, Jr., Editor, America’s Civil War

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