Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just Finished Reading - Weirding the War

I think most of us are somewhat suckers for the bizarre. Tell me honestly that you don't sometimes wonder if there really are Sasquatches when you flip through the channels and land on "Finding Bigfoot." Or, that there might just be something to some of those far-fetched conspiracy theories. OK, "Ancient Aliens" may be going too far. But still, we like weird. What else can explain the popularity of a holiday like Halloween.

If you sometimes like to think about the Civil War's more unusual topics - those that just a little outside of the box - then Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War's Ragged Edges may just be your fix.

As editor Stephen Berry states "Here then is not the grandness of the Civil War but its more than occasional littleness. Here are those who profited by the war and those who lost by it - and not lost all save honor, but lost that too. Here are the cowards, the coxcombs, and the belles, the deserters and the scavengers who hung back and survived, even thrived. Here are those who did not see a redemptive conflict or a manly test by a fool's errand and a fool's grave that better belonged to somebody else. Here are those who did worse than nothing, who were animated not even by misbegotten principles. Here are those who saw and lived the reality of the war but decided it would be better lived down, misremembered, repackaged for public consumption. Here, in short, is war."

Included in Weirding the War rare 18 essays that are divided into six parts, with naturally 3 essays each. Part 1, "Death Becomes Us: The Civil War and the Appetite for Destruction" is sometimes ghoulish but even  more intriguing. Part 2, "Hell's Bells: New Looks Civil War Women" is seductive, flirtatious, and economically independent. Part 3, "Inside the Civil War Body" is tortuous, hungry and a coroner. Part 4, "Tortuous Road to Freedom" was probably my favorite group of essays. It included articles on the refugees at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, KKK connections with the age old tradition of horsemanship ring tournaments, and lastly but very interestingly, a look at desertion and community among USCT units. Part 5, "Honor is a Gift a Man Gives Himself - And Men Can Be Very Generous," is cowardly yet faithful, fictitious, and talkative. Part 6, "Picking Up the Pieces" is dismembered, mental, and vindictive.  Hopefully those tidbits pique your interest enough to give this book a look.

Berry's "Introduction" and essay, "The Historian as Death Investigator" are real standout gems, but the other essays do not disappoint either. I don't think you will be disappointed with Weirding the War. In fact, I think you will find the "strangeness" of the essays rather refreshing. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this unique and "weird" book a 5.

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