Carole Marsh has been a
"student" of the Civil War since she was a child. While her more than
30 years writing on historic subjects for students has covered a lot of
territory, she has a special affection for trying to share the meaning of this
part of America's history...but let's let her explain in her own words...
"Some of my earliest
memories growing up in Atlanta are hearing stories of how my ancestors buried
the silver in the backyard to keep it out of the hands of the Yankees! True or not, it was fascinating. So was my first visit to the Cyclorama,
which depicts the Battle of Atlanta in all its burning horror. It was not especially appealing to me
(I was not much into blood and guts), but it sure was an eye-opener that
history is not just words in books, it's real people in real places awash in
the real consequences of the times."
"Perhaps because I come
from a military family (my Dad was a young soldier in World War II), I realized
that war is a real thing. I grew
up in "in town" Atlanta where some of my friends' parents had
concentration camp numbers tattooed inside their forearms. War, with all its reason, unreason, and
long-term consequences affected me profoundly. I had friends whose ancestors had been slaves. I went to Saturday afternoon movies
that were always preceded by black and white footage of Nazi horrors, picnicked
in Civil War cemeteries awash with white crosses. Elderly relatives still "fought the war" on
Sunday afternoons over lemonade and chocolate layer cake. I felt that the past was just
around the corner, not buried on some dusty lower shelf in the back of a
"Once, my husband and I
put all we owned in storage and traveled the U.S. in search of history as
first-hand as we could find it.
The history that most resonated with me was the shocking juxtaposition
of a now-beautiful battlefield, awash in magnolia trees, wisteria, soft breezes
and chirping birds... with the stark and horrid photographs and statistical
nightmare details of what had occurred there during the Civil War. Stones River especially struck me with
its winter battle horror.
Vicksburg's amazing monuments could not belie the horrors that happened
there. Gettysburg was ghostly and
ghastly. I knew instinctively that
I had to be about this eternal goal of helping kids learn about history, so we
would not repeat every darn last bit of it."
"I try to never
underestimate a child. You cannot
know what goes on the mind of that short, sloppy, ever hungry, often ornery
kid. But having been one myself, I
know that seeming boredom and disinterest can often hide an inquiring mind, a
serious worry over what has been and what may be. Kids are not clueless.
They care and are concerned.
To say that the Civil War is some dusty old subject they have to study
so they can pass a test does a complete and insulting disservice to young
people who have 911, Iraq, and Afghanistan as part of their lives.
Let them yawn in class, but
help them understand the mistakes adults make. Let them complain about homework, but explore the difference
between good causes and misguided actions. Help them discern, through the study of history, what was,
but how they can make the future wiser and better, for that is their innate
inclination and desire. Oh, yeah,
and don't make history boring or you'll quash their budding interest. Instead, I prefer to engage, instigate,
intrigue, and let them learn and draw their own conclusions. They deserve the opportunity to learn
the facts and the latest interpretation, but to also figure out how to assess
the situation for themselves. Aren't we all counting on them being very good at
that? I am!"
"What about the blood and guts? Aw, come on! You were a kid once. Just because they love to hear the ghost stories, the gross stories, and the silly—let those intrigues be entrées into the real meat of the matter. Boring just won't cut it anymore. Actually, neither will inaccuracies (kids are smart!), avoidance (kids are tough!), nor bias (kids see right through it, thank goodness!). Give them the facts, the interpretations, and let them have at the discussions. YOU may be the one who learns a thing or two! The Civil War is not just the study of history, but the exploration of human nature, good and bad, the contemplation of right and wrong, and the eternal determination of what leads to good consequences and what leads to things that cannot be undone."