Since we’re talking about the Civil War on the show today, I thought I’d take the opportunity to point you in the direction of one of my favorite short essays in recent memory. A few years back, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic took a trip to Virginia with his family to visit Civil War battlefields. His blog posts about that trip are remarkable. Especially the final one. It grabs you from the first sentence: “By Saturday, Virginia was overwhelming.” A Virginian myself, I find myself rereading the piece with some regularity, and I’m always amazed at the emotional immediacy and resonance Coates brings to his writing about the Civil War.:
I love the lore of the Wilderness. Early in the fight the Union had pushed the Confederates all the way back to Lee’s headquarters. Lee stood up, about to lead the counter-charge himself, until a division of Texans held him down, “Go back General Lee!” they yelled. I think that is so beautiful, the complete disregard for logic, and personal safety. Still I see it through a cracked glass. It’s like reading a lush love story about a man and a woman, who do not like you.
Above is a photograph from one of my favorite photographers (and fellow Virginian) Sally Mann. In 2004, as part of her "What Remains" project, Mann took photographs of the battlefield of "Antietam". 23,000 men were dead, wounded or missing at the end of the day on September 17, 1861 near Sharpsburg, Maryland, making it the single bloodiest day in American history. Mann’s photographs are haunting and evocative of that horror. To heighten the connection between past and present, Mann printed the photographs using the 19th-century methods used by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, among others.