Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Part Of The Civil War In Four Minutes

Leo Casey thinks that this video is a good visual summary of the Civil War because, as he puts it,
Histories of the Civil War, especially for the high school student, tend to lose the forest of the war in the trees of particular campaigns and battles; this little video provides a context for all of those details. One can see how the first years of the war were largely a bloody stalemate, look at how the war in the West and Gettysburg broke that stalemate, understand how Sherman’s March to the Sea broke the back of the Confederacy and grasp the strategic logic of campaigns designed to split the South and the North.
Yes and no.

Yes, because it's basically true that many of the details of the Civil War - or any war, for that matter - that students are forced to learn in their history classes are essentially unimportant. There's no need to spend student time and brain power memorizing any but a few of the 10,000 or so instances of hostilities between the North and the South. What's important about the military history of the American Civil War, in a high school education, is the general phenomena that gave each side its relative advantages and the way in which those advantages were used (or underutilized) so as to lead to the result that actually occurred. Except as an indicator that he or she has spent a great deal of time studying, knowledge of the Battle of Brentwood is of no significant importance to a high school student. They call it "trivia" for a reason.

At the same time, though, the military history of the Civil War is not, in fact, "the forest of the war" at all; the military trends themselves require context. Watching this video, one has no sense as to why there was any fighting in the first place. On some level, of course, the level of violence in question is completely senseless, because in a sensible world, the war never would have happened. On another level, though, the outcome of the military conflict was going to have tremendous consequences for basically the entire world, and this video, as cool as it is, just doesn't capture that in any way.


Leo Casey said...

I don't disagree with you. Perhaps I was too cryptic in my comments, but I certainly wouldn't want to have that video substitute for a full study of the Civil War. What I thought was interesting is what it could add to that study -- how it could help create a piece of context.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I suppose different people learn different ways. This might be useful if you were already familiar with the actual battles of the civil war but if you had a less sophisticated understanding (like I do) then it's not terribly helpful.

Paul said...

Fair enough. It's certainly a neat visual representation of the course of the military conflict and, provided you've got a fair sense of the background, pretty interesting to watch. I think it's a reasonably good answer to the question, "How bloody and tedious was the war?"

Birney said...

Pity, the video was taken down. Though from the description I think perhaps it is a good grand scope video. A half year highschool course covering the entirety of world history (or failing to cover if you will) would do well to use something like that just to let people know there was a Civil War in this country and that yes, it was violent.

Seemingly among friends for the appreciation of trees within forests let me just add that specifics allow for greater breadth of context. Knowing about Pickett's Charge and why it failed allows one to understand the awful foolishness of World War I all the better (and why Perhshing refused to give up command of his troops to the French. A pattern of not putting U.S. troops under foreign command that continues, albeit in a weaker form, to this day). To use flog the forest analogy one last time, studying a redwood withing one forest with grants an understanding of all redwoods. That is to say history is not just several definite periods but just one vast period messily interconnected.