“Tell me a story, Dad.” It was with those words that many of us discovered how interesting the past could be. That simple, childlike request became a key that unlocked the door to an inexhaustible, wonderful realm we adults call “history.”
Humans have always perceived an essential link between history and storytelling. In fact, our English word “story” derives (with a few detours in Middle English and Old French) from the Latin historia, “history.” And, according to my beloved American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (third edition), historia comes from the Greek “historein, to inquire, from histor, learned man.”
So, our very word for history basically means to ask someone who knows something to tell you a story!
We all need the inspiration, the adventure, the romance, the idealism of historical stories. I continue to tell my own children the stories of George Washington’s alleged cherry tree incident, even though it seems to be based on imagination rather than fact. The way I figure it, the stories are only the introduction. In much the same way that many of us attend 12 years of school only to go to college and discover that everything we know is either wrong or incomplete, the stories get us to the heart of history, the meaning, the human experience. We know that the stories are inadequate for a complete and honest understanding of the past, but they act as engines that carry us forward into deeper study and more mature knowledge. And they help us ask the right questions along the way, so that our understanding of history is more truly human.
In this issue of Civil War Times, we have done something unusual, something we have never done before in our 36 years. We have published fiction. Beginning on page 36, you will find an excerpt from The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara, which the author bills as the sequel to his father’s classic novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. Shaara’s novel presents historical events in the form of a story, and with historical persons rendered as literary characters. It is historical fiction, and is meant to invite us into the past through the medium of storytelling.
We bring you this excerpt in much the same way that we have, in the past, brought you news of films and television series while they were still in production. You will get the first look at Shaara’s new book, which has been talked about for two years now. We encourage you to ask yourself whether the Lee, Stuart, and other characters presented in the excerpt are similar to or different from your perceptions of those men. If they are different, how so? Are the thoughts and emotions Shaara has assigned to Lee in harmony with what we know about the general? Through these kinds of questions–and motivated by the pull of a good story–we can grow into a deeper understanding of the past and its meaning.
Civil War Times is not going to turn into a magazine of historical fiction. That’s not our role. But we do plan to continue bringing you the first look at the newest, best, and even most controversial works that make their appearance in the Civil War historical community.
I hope you’ll consider sending us a letter or e-mail comment, telling us what you think about this first-ever publication of fiction in Civil War Times. While you’re at it, let us know what you think of historical fiction in general. Is it worthwhile? Does it help us in our understanding of history? Let us hear from you.
Jim Kushlan, Editor, Civil War Times
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