“We feel very deeply that interest in the Civil War is not a sometime thing drummed up by the Centennial hullabaloo,” wrote Bob Fowler, in the “Editorially Speaking” column of the April 1962 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated. He was introducing his readers to the first issue of a new magazine that had been started because of the surprising success of its predecessor, Civil War Times, which Bob had published from his home in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, since 1959.
The centennial of the Civil War–1961 through 1965–had become the occasion for a sort of “rediscovery” of the war. Interest had faded with the passage of time, the death of the old veterans, and the appearance of new and horrible wars to occupy Americans’ attention. But in the peaceful and prosperous years of the early 1960s, when middle-class Americans were enjoying a new level of leisure created by widespread ownership of household appliances and automobiles, the War Between the States reached the magic age of 100 years.
Bit by bit, Civil War fever infected an ever-larger portion of the population. A few bold souls donned makeshift blue or gray uniforms that would mortify today’s “farb”-conscious reenactors, and fired Springfield replicas at the rod and gun club on Sunday afternoons. The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, with its pictorial maps and its lively narrative by the eloquent Bruce Catton, had been in print since 1960; Catton’s Centennial History would appear in three volumes over the next five years. Readers eagerly devoured such popular-history treatments of the war, along with the spectacle and pageantry that appeared with increasing frequency to commemorate the 100-year-old war. The “Centennial hullabaloo” was in full swing.
For most Americans, the effects of the Civil War bug’s bite wore off midway through 1965. A sizeable minority, however, never recovered–nor did they have any desire to do so. They had discovered in the Civil War a seemingly unlimited wellspring of true and meaningful stories about human courage, about leaders wise and foolish, about honor and human frailty, and about high ideals and lost causes. They recognized that the Civil War was America at its best and its worst, and that it was, in the words of historian Bernard De Voto, “the crux of our history,” without which “you cannot understand any part of our past, from the convening of the Constitutional Convention down to this morning….”
Bob Fowler used De Voto’s words in Civil War Times Illustrated‘s first editorial–the same essay in which he guessed that there might be a readership for a Civil War magazine even after the “hullabaloo” was over. With this, the 35th anniversary issue of Civil War Times Illustrated, I think it’s safe to say that Bob was right!
My sincerest thanks to those of you who have been part of these 35 years, whether you have been reading Civil War Times Illustrated since the April 1962 premiere issue, or only since the last issue. You are the people who have made this magazine possible, and continue to do so. Here’s to another 35 years!
Jim Kushlan, Editor, Civil War Times
Originally published in the March 1997 issue of Civil War Times.