I just finished reading the book Shiloh, 1862 by Winston Groom. It is a book that recounts the events and people involved in the first great (and by great I mean bloody) battle of the Civil War. In the two days of Shiloh there were more casualties in the Union and Southern armies than all the casualties in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War combined! Think about that for a minute, because it is a shocker. There was much more blood to come in the Civil War, but Shiloh was certainly a precursor to what would happen.
The book was excellent because Groom goes into the trenches and gives the reader the experiences of the average soldier with the attendant confusion and fog of battle. Henry Stanley, who would go on to find David Livingstone in the wilds of Africa (with the famous introduction, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”) fought on the Southern side (and was injured) at Shiloh.
The primary thing that stood out to me in this book (and in all of the Civil War for that matter) was the appalling bloodshed that took place which really began at Shiloh. Yes, there had been battles before, but none as bloody as this (as an example, the total casualties at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 were 3500 killed, wounded, or missing for Shiloh it was almost 24,000). Shiloh was the United States introduction to what the Civil War would really look like.
Studying and reading about the Civil War from this distance there is a certain insanity that seemed to prevail in which an effusion of blood was a small price to pay for slights to the honor of the cause, or the state for which one was fighting.
Which leads me to the question. How will those who live 150 years from now, look at our day and culture and ask themselves: “How could they have possibly thought that particular cultural value was a good idea?”