Americans have refused to remit the history of our Civil War to professional historians. This past Friday Andrew Ferguson told the story of James O. Hall, the recently deceased expert on Lincoln’s assassination. Ferguson noted that Hall “exemplified a tradition in the study of American history, particularly in the Lincoln field, where the most interesting writing and research is often done by hobbyists.” (I hope to return to Ferguson and his Land of Lincoln some time soon.) But the phenomenon extends beyond the Lincoln field to the Civil War generally. The great Civil War historians Bruce Catton, a journalist, and Shelby Foote, a novelist, for example, were both inspired amateurs.
Today’s New York Times provides another remarkable example of the phenomenon in Glenn Collins’s “Rows of new markers, and untold sacrifice by Civil War veterans.” Collins’s article tells the story of a band of volunteers who have identified, restored and marked the grave sites of nearly 3,000 Civil War veterans in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The article begins with the story of Conrad and Charles Joachim, father and son, who both served in the 15th New York Heavy Artillery. Their sunken marble headstone (depicted in the photo above) was discovered in the course of the project. The Times story includes a video of Collins at the Cemetery talking to the volunteer researchers.
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