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The Day I Learned About the War - Other Civil War Talk - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 04:48 pm
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Wrap10
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I thought I’d pass along a story that basically involves telling on myself, from when I was quite a bit younger, much better looking, and even still had most of my hair. Sigh. Anyway, it’s from a visit I made to Shiloh when I was about 21 years old.

On this particular visit, I happened to be out by Duncan Field about the time a ranger was going to give a firing demonstration using a rile. Since I was there anyway, I thought I’d stick around and watch. There were probably about a dozen other folks there as well. Before he gave the demonstration though, the ranger told us he was going to give a short description of what it was like to experience the battle of Shiloh.

By this point in my life I’d been reading about the war since I was around 10, and felt like I had a pretty good handle on everything. In fact, standing there as the ranger was about to start his talk, I was thinking to myself that I could probably give the firing demonstration myself - never mind that I’d never fired any kind of Civil War weapon in my life - and I could most assuredly give a talk describing the battle of Shiloh. For that matter, I figured I could probably switch places with the ranger and do a better job of describing the battle than he could. After all, I’d been reading about this stuff for more than ten years. I knew it cold.

Then the ranger started to talk about the battle. From start to finish, I’d say his talk lasted no more than about ten minutes. When he began, I was an expert on both the battle and the war. If you didn’t believe it, all you had to do was ask me. Ten minutes later, as I stood there watching this ranger finish up by firing his rifle, my Civil War world had been turned upside down. In that short span of time, I came to understand that what I knew about Shiloh, or the war, or war itself, didn’t amount to spit. The expert standing in that field wasn’t me. It was the man holding that rifle.

In essence, what he did was paint a word picture of the battle that essentially put you there, in the middle of it. It was a verbal walk-through more so than a talk. A time machine through which, for ten fearful minutes, the romantic veil fell away and the true face of the battle, and of the war, stood revealed. I can still see him in my mind, standing there telling us what that battle was like, and sounding as if he was describing a personal experience. It wasn’t just the knowledge he clearly possessed that struck me. It was the understanding he possessed.

There have been a number of times in my life when I experienced something that left me feeling pretty humbled. That was one of them. I felt like I knew the war because I could recite names and dates, and describe, or so I thought, some of the battles pretty well. But this guy could do more than just tell you about the facts and figures. He could show you the faces that went with them. He could show you what the war was like for the people who went through it. He made the battle, and the war, more personal. More tragic. More real. I walked away from Duncan Field that day feeling a bit foolish. And that turned out to be a good thing.

Unfortunately I don’t remember the ranger’s name, but I’ve never forgotten that talk he gave. It totally changed my view of the war. Or rather, it changed the way I thought about the war, and how I approached learning about it. And what I thought I knew about it. From that day to this, I’ve always tried to remember that there are indeed faces behind all those facts and figures. That the people who went through it all were as real as you or me. And I’ve never again thought of myself as an “expert” on any aspect of the war. I like to think of myself as a “student,” which is what I think we all are. But I’m no expert.

Since that day, I’ve come to realize than however much I learn or think I know, there is far more about it all than I will ever know, or be able to fully grasp. It’s a learning experience that never truly ends.

Not bad for a ten minute talk.

Perry



 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 07:39 pm
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susansweet
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What a great story. Perry I understand how you feel. I know I am no expert, only a student. The more I read the more I know I don't know much. The more I visit the battlefields the more I know I need to learn more and go back and visit the field again. Thanks for sharing your experience with us . Thanks too to that park ranger who talked to you that day.
Susan



 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 10:45 pm
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ole
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Was going to venture that the Ranger might have been CalCav, but I don't think he's old enough to have been that one.

I'm envying you your experience, Perry. Great story!

ole



 Posted: Sat Sep 20th, 2008 11:06 pm
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Crazy Delawares
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At the school where I teach, my fellow professionals call me the expert on the CW. They send Honors students to me so they can write A+ reports (and hopefully learn). BUT, and that is capitalized for a HUGE reason, every time I go on this site or another CW site, or every time I talk with one of my CW buddies, or whenever I go to a battlefield and listen to a LBG, I realize just how much I don't know! It keeps me humble. Every time one of my constituents pays me that awesome compliment, I can't help but think, "You should meet some of the folks I know who REALLY know the CW!" I'm just small taters stacked up next to them!
That's why I don't post as much as some. I am guilty of "eavesdropping" in an effort to learn as much as I can.
AS Will Rodgers once said, "If you're too busy talking, you ain't listenin'."
Thank you to all of you for making me a better CW student!
A tip of the kepi and three "HUZZAHS!" to you all!



 Posted: Sun Sep 21st, 2008 01:22 am
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ole
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A nice bit of humility there, CD, but you have to stand in line to get a number for the one who knows least and learns most. See that guy way down there? The one in the yellow T-shirt? That's the end of the line. And that's me.

ole



 Posted: Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 02:25 am
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Crazy Delawares
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Well, the best part about standing in a line like that one is you can talk to the guy next to you and learn even more!



 Posted: Mon Sep 22nd, 2008 11:31 pm
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pamc153PA
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I really enjoyed your story, Perry. I too went through a know-it-all phase (a little later than you did), and when I did, it was both and humbling and enlightening experience. I think the lightbulb went on when I realized, "Oh, you mean there's more to it than Gettysburg? There's Shiloh? And Vicksburg? And Chancellorsville? And cavalry? And artillery? And. . . ?" Looking at the HUGE mountain of things I do not know, I am happily overwhelmed and sometimes feel there will NEVER be anough time to learn it all!

Crazy D, I'm my school's resident expert on the CW too. I get kids I don't even know who tell me,"Mr. G. sent me to ask you about. . . " It's tempting to rest on my laurels, but I too know I'm small potatoes in the CW war world. I think I might "talk" alittle more than you (?) but I'm really thrilled to have so many different minds to pick here: it's the next best thing to being able to travel to all the CW sites and talk to the rangers and guides, not to mention the foremost researchers and authors on the war.

And guys, don't forget that the "guy" standing next to you in line just might be a "gal," too!

Pam



 Posted: Tue Sep 23rd, 2008 12:48 am
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susansweet
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That would be me at the far far end of the line .  Only been studying the Civil War in detail the last five years .  Have learned much from this website.

Susan



 Posted: Tue Sep 23rd, 2008 12:30 pm
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TimK
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Great story, Perry. I'm humbled every day - many times by something I read on this board.



 Posted: Wed Sep 24th, 2008 12:55 am
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Wrap10
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Thanks for the comments, everyone. I don't think the ranger was Tom Parson. I've met Tom once that I know of, at Shiloh a year or two back when he was leading a couple of the anniversary hikes, and I don't think this would have been him.

I do have a picture of the 'mystery ranger' from that day, that I took as he was firing the rifle. I've still got it here somewhere, but I'd have to find it. That could be an interesting exercise all by itself. But I'd say that at the time he was probably a bit older than me, maybe late 20's or early 30's. This would have been 1982 I think. And even though I don't remember him saying, he may have served in the military at one point, possibly in Vietnam. That's a total wild guess, but as I mentioned earlier, his talk had a feel about it like he was relating a personal experience. Almost as if he had witnessed scenes that were similar to what he was describing from Shiloh. But it could also be that he was just very good at painting word pictures. Which he was.

I'm also pretty sure he had given that talk before. I remember that there was another ranger there with him, possibly two, but one for sure. I remember glancing at her about the time he was starting, and she had this look on her face as if she was thinking, "These folks have no idea what's about to hit them." In my case at least, she was right. I'd describe his demeanor during his short talk as almost challenging his listeners to pay attention. Not really "in your face," but not low-key or laid-back either. He was totally engaged in his subject. His attitude seemed to be, "You have this idea in your head, this image, of what the war was like. The image is wrong. This is what the war was really like."

 I don't remember his talk word-for-word of course, but I do remember several "highlights." One that sort of defined the entire talk for me was when he spoke of a Union clergyman coming across a mortally wounded youth, sitting against a tree and crying out for help. The young man had been shot in the stomach, and to try and be somewhat polite about it, his insides were no longer inside. The pastor did what he could for the young man, then gently told him that he must prepare to meet his maker. I don't think I will ever forget the matter-of-fact way in which the ranger related that story. "This is war," he seemed to be saying. "This is what they endured. Remember it."

Anyway, some very good points made here by everyone. I've thought before that it's a good thing comparing Civil War knowledge isn't like an Old West gunfight. I'd be boots-up on the prairie somewhere if it was. But that's the great thing about it - it's a shared experience rather than a contest. We're all students, and at times, we're all teachers as well. So we can all stand around in the back of that line together. :)

Perry



 Posted: Wed Sep 24th, 2008 02:39 am
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susansweet
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Perry one thing I strongly believe in is each of us can learn from the others here .  I agree we are all standing around together sharing what we have learned and learning what others have learned  I said on another post I am so grateful to Johan for introducting me to the term Pioneers and then explaining who and what they did .  I have run into the term so many times the past weeks .  Was nice to know what I was reading about .

Susan



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