Top Ten Civil Discourse Posts of 2015: #1-5

As we begin the annual countdown to New Year's Day (and Civil Discourse's one-year anniversary!), let's finish our own countdown of the blog's post popular posts of 2015. Earlier this week we cracked the top ten, so today let's finish off 2015 by looking at our top five posts of the year! You can read more by clicking a post's title.

#5-"Mental Stress in the Union Army" by Katie L. Thompson

"The conditions and new experiences of the war were unsettling to the volunteer soldier, and they had to deal with them mentally as well as physically.  Some men adapted to the war better than others, but all were affected by what they saw, did, and felt.  As Argentinean writer José Narosky said, 'In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.'  Becoming callous to the death and destruction of battle did not mean that soldiers were impervious to its effects.  Men had to overcome and reverse their cultural understandings of killing other men to be effective soldiers; for many men it was easier to die than to kill.  Men feared dehumanization; feeling like machines could help them withstand battle, but feeling desensitized or disposable was not comfortable.  Soldiers came to realize that there were limits to courage, including the fact that it would not protect them from harm.  Men realized their own vulnerability and knew their chances of wounds, death, and survival.  This acceptance of war’s reality could turn a soldier bitter and hopeless, leading some to varying degrees of depression.  Soldiers could concentrate on their task during battle, taking advantage of the 'hardening' process, but they still witnessed horrible things and reacted to them..."

#4-"Editorial: Charleston, America, and the Confederacy's Legacy" by Zac Cowsert

"Last week, twenty-one year old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  An act of violence and racial hatred, the tragedy has sparked a nationwide debate over racism and, in particular, the symbolism of the Confederate flag.  The flag of a now-dead nation dedicated to the defense of slavery, the flag that appears in photographs with Dylann Roof, and the flag that today floats free over the South Carolina Capitol grounds.

I suspect, owing to public outcry and political pressure, the flag in Columbia will come down.  The governor of South Carolina has called for its removal, and yesterday Alabama removed its Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds.  Yet while the flag faces greater scrutiny, the current debate cannot merely rest on the Confederate flag. The discussion instead needs to encompass the Confederacy’s legacy in the United States—what the Confederacy stood for, what it means today, and the place (if any) it should occupy in 21st-century America..."

#3-"'Consent in Case of Minor': Young Soldiers in the Civil War, Part I" by Rebecca Welker

Edwin Jemison, who enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 16, and died at Malvern Hill in 1862

Edwin Jemison, who enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 16, and died at Malvern Hill in 1862

"Edwin Jemison has a famous face. If you've taken a history class in the United States, you've almost certainly seen him in your textbook; if not there, then in a photo montage in any documentary. There's something about the look in his eyes that seems to have captivated historians, textbook authors, and the general public.

We see his fictional counterparts portrayed in the media, as well, for that same emotional effect. In Cold Mountain, for example, the first character we follow across the screen is a young, beardless, enthusiastic Confederate soldier, of whom Jude Law's character observes, 'He can't be old enough to fight, can he?' Predictably, the young soldier is wounded and dies within the first fifteen minutes of the film.

In media for adults, these young characters serve to further the goals or emotional growth of the older main characters, not to tell their own stories. Similarly, Edwin Jemison never appears in textbooks as more than a poorly-spelled sidebar (his name is often given as 'Jennison') and what little we do know of his story is rarely included.

But it is unfair to the many boys who served to present their stories merely as a sidenote, used to provoke emotion, rather than delving more deeply into the lives of the soldiers themselves and their experiences during the Civil War. Underage soldiers made up a significant proportion of both armies, and their sacrifices should not be undervalued. The hardships endured by soldiers who enlisted at young ages were no less than that of older soldiers; their service no easier, their deaths no less final..."

#2-"Scapegoat or Scandal? J.E.B. Stuart and the Battle of Gettysburg" by Zac Cowsert

J.E.B. Stuart, Often blamed for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg

J.E.B. Stuart, Often blamed for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg

"The June 12th, 1863 edition of the Richmond Examiner seethed.  Just days before, Confederate cavalry had been caught completely by surprise in a daring strike by their Union counterparts at Brandy Station, Virginia, and only after a hard fight with the help of Southern infantry was the enemy repulsed.  'But this puffed up cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia,' the Examiner crowed, 'has been twice, if not three times, surprised since the battles of December, and such repeated accidents can be regarded as nothing but the necessary consequences of negligence and bad management.'  Such humiliations were unacceptable, and the Examiner concluded by charging that better organization, more discipline, and greater earnestness among 'vain and weak-headed officers' was needed.  Other Southern papers offered more of the same.  The Richmond Sentinel called for greater 'vigilance…from the Major General down to the picket.'  The Charleston Mercury thought the affair an 'ugly surprise,' while the Savannah Republican thought it all 'very discreditable to somebody.'

The commander of Confederate cavalry, James Ewell Brown (Jeb) Stuart, had to be wondering if the Brandy Station fight wasn’t 'discreditable' to him.  Having risen to command by superb leadership during the war's first years, the surprisingly tough fight at Brandy Station seemed to stain Stuart's reputation (which he cultivated assiduously).  For the troopers underneath him, Brandy Station was 'the hardest cavalry fight…since the war began.'  The Army of Northern Virginia's cavalry had always enjoyed total domination over its Yankee foe; Brandy Station challenged that assumption.

Soon enough, however, Jeb Stuart and his Confederate troopers would have a chance at redemption.  Young Benjamin Parker of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry, writing to his sister on June 10th, opined that '[Robert E.] Lee I think is going to make a move across the river.  There will be some hard fighting pretty soon.'  The young Tarheel’s intuitions proved correct.  Indeed, Confederate soldiers were already pounding the roads north, headed for the small Pennsylvania hamlet named Gettysburg.  The Confederate cavalry would soon be trotting north as well, in search of glory and perhaps redemption..."

#1-"'A Sunken House with Nothing but the Roof above the Tide': Rebuilding the C.S.S. Virginia" by Katie L. Thompson

"On March 9, 1862, the famous duel between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (better known as the Merrimack) occurred at Hampton Roads.  Both ships signaled the dawn of a new age in Naval tactics and architecture; however, the Virginia makes more of an impact on the navies of the world and is made more remarkable in the fact that she was built by a confederation with so few resources and had such a short career.  The Virginia only lived for nine weeks between the time she was floated and her destruction; she spent only twelve days out of dry dock during those nine weeks, and was in battle for a total of about twelve hours.  In that short time span and with the resources pulled together by a fledgling Confederate government, the CSS Virginia ushered in the next era of naval technology..."

The U.S.S. Merrimack burns in the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1861; she would be resurrected and rechristened the C.S.S. Virgina by the Confederacy

The U.S.S. Merrimack burns in the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1861; she would be resurrected and rechristened the C.S.S. Virgina by the Confederacy