Bear with me on this one. We will eventually come to how the American Civil War ties into this conversation, but I have a lot of other things to talk about first. And I should also warn: minor spoilers ahead.
I was moved to silence after seeing Rogue One, the first spin-off film of the Star Wars franchise. Even now, tears creep into my eyes as I remember how it shook me. I had heard reviews claiming that it was the first Star Wars movie to put the cost of war at the center of the narrative. I hadn’t expected it to be so true.
Those who know death know mourning. Those who know mourning know the meaning of empty spaces that we all wish had stayed filled. But do we, or even can we, as the few members of this society who habitually reflect upon the tragedies and triumphs of the past, fully understand the immensity of the suffering we dwell upon while wandering our battlefields? In the Civil War field, whether as professors or as history buffs, we deal with the heartbreak and the violation of violence on a daily basis. However, this summer, as I worked at Gettysburg National Military Park and gave my National Cemetery tour almost daily, I quickly realized just how much of a disconnect the ages have put between us and the Civil War generation. I realized how never having known the people in the graves at your feet warps your perception of the events that took their lives. And I realized how, especially for the majority of the park’s visitors who have never known war, it is imperative that we try to connect to the reality of suffering that the war generation bore in order to understand not just our fragility as humans, but the long reach and lasting consequences of our actions.
A photograph of the dead of Cold Harbor taken three months after the battle, via Off the Beaten Path.
A mass grave where vicims of the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre were disposed. Photograph by Adam Jones adamjones.freeservers.com, via Wikimedia Commons.
Trigger warning: This article contains detail concerning rape and sexual assault.
On March 12, 1864, in the midst of a bloody war which had long overflowed its thimble, Margaret Brooks was returning from her home near Memphis, Tennessee when her wagon broke down in Nonconnah Creek. Not long after her driver left to find help, three rambunctious New Jersey cavalrymen, all white, approached Brooks, demanding her money. She was then raped multiple times at gunpoint.
Throughout the Civil War around 400 men were prosecuted for sexual violence crimes against women such as the 24 year-old Margaret Brooks, calling into question the issues of sexism and racism in nineteenth century society. Historians will sometimes consider the American Civil War to be an anomaly among other wars because they claim the adversaries did not use widespread sexual violence as a battle tactic. However, cases of rape and assault against women, particularly African American and Southern, can still be found in unsettling numbers, littering the pages of the war’s history. Continue reading “Finally Speaking Up: Sexual Assault in the Civil War Era”