First, I’m not a historian. Like many others, I have a passion for this period of time and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic – particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating.
My earliest memory was when I was almost three years old and living in Springfield, Illinois. With my parents and a few other family members we went to the Lincoln home, followed by Oak Ridge Cemetery. The cemetery felt more like a park than a place of burial with the rolling hills and tranquil views. We entered a statuesque building surrounded by beautiful blossoming trees, and I immediately felt like I was in the presence of something greater than what I could comprehend. Once inside I was surrounded by statues; the floors and walls were lined with luxurious materials that exuded wealth & importance. As we made our way through a series of long, barely lit hallways, we then entered a room took my breath away. In the center stood a large, brownish marker with words I could not read. Surrounding this marker were various flags, hanging in honor as though they were marking the presence of a higher power. I was told by my father that a great man was buried there, below the brown marker. I stood transfixed. I was too young to understand what I was seeing. But seeing the adults standing silent in the room and surrounded by majestic images, it was a moment I have never forgotten. I left that day wanting to know who was buried there, and what he had done that was so important to warrant such a place built in his honor. And most importantly, a place that even made grown adults stand in awe, respect and silence.
A year or so later my grandmother gave me a series of children’s books on historical figures, which included a book on Abraham Lincoln. I was told that this was the man who had walked the city streets of the place we once called home, and most importantly he was the one buried in that grand tomb. In the book I saw a young Abraham chopping wood, rafting down the Mississippi River and serving as a lawyer. He was then elected 16th President of the United States, shortly after which began a great Civil War that split our country in two. As it was a book for young eyes, it did not describe the war in much detail. It merely described it as a war for freedom and that with President Lincoln’s leadership he made people free and brought our country back together again as one. Most puzzling was “the end” of the story, where President Lincoln was shot while watching a play. On the next page it showed the man who had shot him laying next to a burning barn while a man in uniform held his head up. President Lincoln had died, and so had this mysterious man. Because of President Lincoln’s service to our country, he was memorialized in history and throughout the country.
This book raised several questions in my mind. What drove the country to war? Why did some people feel it their right to own others? Why were some people free and some enslaved? Why would someone harm a man that appeared to do so much good for the country? How did the killer end up laying down in front of a burning barn, and why would they keep him them instead of moving him away from the fire? Unfortunately I did not have many history buffs in my family, so if I wanted to know the answers I needed to figure them out myself.
These two seemingly minor events led me to spend thousands of hours researching people, places and events of the American Civil War. I had no idea just how expansive and important this event was to the history of this country, but after years of research I now know that this topic is never ending. There have been thousands of books written well as many movies and the acclaimed Ken Burns documentary called “The Civil War,” but even those just touch the surface. I’ve been lucky that in my short 35-years I’ve been able to live in places all over this great country, North and South, East and West; each with its own unique stories of what happened back in 1861 to 1865. For someone like me, who has had many years with poor health and has lived with chronic pain, I have been truly inspired by those who lived during this period. Their stories constantly fill my mind; they give me hope & comfort, and remind me that the world & our history is full of suffering – but we all must push on and make the most of our time. To do anything less is unacceptable.
My professional background is business, everything from marketing/communication to accounting to information technology. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my childhood and professional career to have many short stories, poems and articles published in regional & national magazines and journals (though never on the topic of the Civil War). Though my specific interests on the Civil War are constantly changing, currently I’m focused on things you normally don’t hear about – especially when it comes to people. As much as I can talk about Lincoln all day, I find the stories of “everyday” people more interesting at this stage in my life. I’m fascinated with relationships, personalities and interactions with others; I’m also driven to know what motivates/drives them and their views as an individual, whether they are a politician, a private, a nurse, a spy or a slave.
I decided at the end of 2010 that I was going to start my own personal project, which I called “The Civil War Project.” A dry name, but it’s my own personal project so the title, to me, was fitting. I am the only individual involved, besides the love & support I have received from family & friends. I created relational databases of information that I utilized to store all of this information I’ve learned over the years into some kind of organized, searchable format. Given that it was the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I decided I wanted to take it a step further. To get a better feel for the war in “real time” I decided I would keep a daily journal as part of my research. Every day I would take time to answer the question “What happened 150 years ago today?” I didn’t want to focus on one person or side. One most focus on the big picture and the key players, but I wanted to extend beyond that and find people that aren’t known to the general public. I also wanted to live through it in “real time”, as I felt it would give me a clearer perspective. I was a little disappointed I didn’t think of the idea sooner, as there was a lot of interesting stuff leading up to the first shot at Fort Sumter!
Two weeks before the 150th anniversary kick-off, I decided that I would create a web site – that’s what you see today, though it’s still evolving. Instead of doing my “project” behind the scenes, I decided to put it out there for anyone to access. With the Web there is so much information out there that is incorrect, I didn’t want to create another site with misinformation. This puts added pressure on me to really do the research and get it right! Most of my information is from original sources. The National and State Archives, Footnote, etc., along with letters, diaries, and books (published before 1923 from those who lived during that time) are my key resources. My goal is to give the reader a good, overall feel for what is happening that day. I try to be as well-rounded as possible, though Confederate information is currently harder to come by (though I think that changes once the government moves to Richmond – my own personal observation, anyway!).
Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone’s interest sparked about a person or topic – and as much as I love to share information, I think it’s also great to point people to where they can go to find out more. My goal is to build the site over time; it will grow as history unfolds. I will do my best to provide readers with links to other sources so they can find out more on people or events that catch their interest.
I’m not trying to be deceptive or present myself as something I’m not. I have a great respect for history and it’s important for me to be accurate and appropriately honor the people that lived through it. Sometimes facts are blurred; it’s not always black & white and I’ll call attention to it. When I’m giving an opinion, I state it as such. I realize that when I list something as occurring on a certain date it’s being presented as a fact, and if I find something is wrong I would be horrified but will also correct it right away and admit to it – so if you find something wrong, tell me! Nothing bothers me more than seeing something in a book or on the TV/movie theater screen that is not factual, especially because I think the facts are so interesting during this time that exaggerations are not necessary. While there are many wonderful historians out there, I made the decision not to use that type of information as a source unless it’s vital to do so, and then it will be clear who the source is.
The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture.
It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created “The Civil War Project.” If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.