Letter from Civil War Times – October 2007

Madness Great and Small

The War Between the States was madness manifest on a grand scale in its enormous loss of life, limb and treasure. But madness at a more personal level also shaped the course of the war in ways less obvious but just as significant as the struggles on battlefields.

How, for example, can we fathom the burdens of Abraham Lincoln without factoring in Mary Todd Lincoln’s manic depression? Her angry outbursts, disabling depressions and relentless spending sprees led to one of the more intriguing debates of Civil War history: To what extent did her state of mind and behavior distract her husband and compromise his performance as president and commander in chief?

Can we discount the contributions of wild Kansas politician Jim Lane, who earned renown for his violent temper, erratic behavior and flip-flopping on the Kansas-Nebraska Act? He ended up on the anti-slavery side of the issue and earned a Senate seat and a brigadier generalship from a grateful Abraham Lincoln. He would later step out of a moving carriage and shoot himself. But he also will go down in history for keeping Kansas a free state—and in the Union camp.

Unlike those who knew Mary Lincoln and Senator Lane, no one in their right mind ever saw Confederate General Patrick Cleburne as crazy—until he proposed to arm slaves in order to solve the South’s crippling manpower problem. With 144 years of hindsight, Cleburne’s concept clearly could have made the crucial difference for the Southern forces and possibly have changed the war’s outcome. But Jefferson Davis and his generals quashed Cleburne’s proposal as pure madness.

It makes you wonder who had the better grip on reality.

Change of Command

Starting with next month’s issue, Civil War Times will be edited by Dana Shoaf, who has served as the editor of America’s Civil War for eight years. “Dana’s development and improvement of America’s Civil War over the last two years is a remarkable achievement,” says editor-in-chief Stephen Petranek. “His lifelong passion for the Civil War will be im-mediately obvious to readers.”

Shoaf is a frequent speaker at conferences and symposiums, a part-time history professor and the author of numerous articles on the Civil War. He also has a keen interest in Civil War preservation and serves on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

Civil War Times played a key role in spurring Shoaf’s love for history. “I have been reading the magazine since childhood,” he says. “And I consider it a privilege to help further its long tradition of excellence.”

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