Why am I so passionate about learning about the American Civil War?

kraig_sudan2.jpg by you.Kraig McNutt is the publisher of this blog.

I have been a serious enthusiast-student of the American Civil War (1861-1865) for twenty-five years now. Ironically, in all of my educational pursuits I’ve only had one undergraduate class on the subject but did not have one single class in over 100 graduate hours.

So where does this passion and interest come from? Since I’m basically asked about my Civil War passion frequently I thought I’d write a lengthy post for my blog that is in the format of a mock interview. The questions are real questions I’m asked all the time. So here goes.

What is your academic training in the Civil War or American history?

I have a B.A. in philosophy and speech-n-theatre (Indiana University), and two master’s degrees (theological studies, as well as library and information science). I minored in history in my undergrad program. My education taught me how to think and how to research. I apply those skills to my research on the Civil War every day.

Do you consider yourself a serious student of the American Civil War? Do you consider yourself an historian?

Yes I do. What I mean is that I read, research and study about the Civil War several hours a week. I typically read 2-4 books on the subject each month. This does not count the articles, letters, diaries, journals and Internet web sites I read regularly. I am also doing ongoing research for various writing projects, film works, Internet resources, etc. I have the good fortune of not having to earn my living as a professional historian, but I nonetheless enjoy and contribute to the field at levels of engagement and quality one would expect from a professional historian. I have many good professional historian friends who would say I am a serious student of the subject. I do research for a a few professional historians who publish traditional monographs. I also write lots of book reviews. I have over 2,000 Civil War volumes in my personal library. I speak at Civil War Round Tables and appropriate events on occasion.

Have you published material or resources on the American Civil War?

I have not published books that can be purchased through the traditional channels like bookstores or on Amazon. Because my interests vary so greatly I have never focused enough to publish a traditional-length monograph. Rather, I have written and published (in some cases) thousands of essays, articles and blog posts. Much of my published resources is accessible via the Internet but a lot is not.

Did you have relatives who fought in the American Civil War?

Fortunately I do. I have only found two soldiers I am directly related to who fought in the American Civil War. Both were Union boys who fought for the 6th KY Infantry. On the other hand, my wife is related to many ancestors who fought in the war. The Wallace-Taylor boys of Gibson County for the Hoosier State in many Western theater battles. There were over 40 of those boys, all from the same grand parents. She is also related to a handful of Confederate soldiers including several CSA Generals.

What is the personal human connection for you in terms of learning about the American Civil War?

First, I love history, American history in general, and Civil War history specifically. The thrill of discovering little known or tidbits of information that helps to weave together a coherent story from seemingly disparate facts is fun. Doing history is intellectually and emotionally stimulating.

Second, the tragedies, ironies, questions, etc., drive me to explore why Americans killed Americans; why loved ones and families split because of the war; what motivated men and women on the home front to support or undermine the war; how the common soldier handled suffering and death; and on and on.

Third, I just love great stories. Some of the greatest stories come out of the Civil War. Do you re-enact? No I do not re-enact. If I did, I’d re-enact as War correspondent in the field, working for the Harper’s Weekly newspaper.

Where did you grow up and did it impact your present views on the American Civil War?

I was born and raised in Louisville, Ky. Kentucky was one of just four states that technically remained neutral during the war. Ironically, Lincoln and Davis both were from Kentucky. Thus, I was not raised in an environment or setting that significantly impacted my view of ‘who was right’ from either the Union or Confederate side. The views I hold today have been mostly forged through diligent personal study and reflection apart from natural geographical biases.

I have lived in Middle Tennessee (south of Nashville) for the past eight years. This area was largely pro-southern during the war.

Do you collect memorabilia and items related to the American Civil War?

Yes I do. I especially enjoy collecting ephemera or paper items. My favorite item of ephemra are letters, diaries and documents. I also collect Civil War newspapers and sheet music. Though not a big priority I also collect images. And of course I do collect period books about the war. I do not collect hardware like guns, swords, etc. I do plan on starting to collect uniforms and clothing, as well as flags.

What is your favorite Civil War battlefield or site to visit?

Since I live in Middle Tennessee I am certainly able to visit key Western theater sites like Spring Hill-Franklin, Nashville, Shiloh, Perryville, Chattanooga and Chickamauga. So my favorite woudl probably have to be the Franklin sites since it is in my backyard (almost literally). I have visited numerous other sites outside the Western theater. I will try and stop at any park or site during travels if time permits.

Are you “in” to Civil War preservation?

Yes I am. I feel it is important to preserve what we reasonably can related to Civil War battlefields. If nothing else, they make wonderful green spaces for our communities. I do support and am involved in Civil War preservation efforts in Middle Tennessee and the Franklin community specifically.

Do you support any Civil War or history related organizations?

Yes I do. I support (i.e., give money and time) organizations like:

  • The Civil War preservation Trust (National)
  • Franklin’s Charge (Tennessee)
  • The Williamson County Historical Society (Tennessee)
  • The Gibson County Historical Society (Indiana)
  • The Historic Carnton Plantation (Tennessee) . . . . and several other small organizations.

What is the CSACW you started?

The CSACW is The Center for the Study of the American Civil War. I started the CSACW in 2001 to be the public arm and face of my work and collection. I will eventually incorporate the CSACW as a non-profit entity. What are you going to do with your personal collection when you die? Donate it to the CSACW and endow it as non-profit to support serious research and scholarship related to the American Civil War.

Are you pro-southern or pro-northern? In other words, ‘who ya fer’?

I am pro-United States today. I probably would have been for whatever side my local county (or perhaps just surrounding neighborhood) was in 1860. One of the myths is that everyone who was a Southerner in 1860 was also pro-Confederate. Not true. The historical data does not support that belief.

What do you think was the main cause of the Civil War?

I believe human chattel slavery, and the institution that fostered it, was the single greatest direct cause of the Civil War. Were there other causes or influences? Of course. Many. But if I had to choose THE single greatest influence it would have to be the peculiar institution (i.e., slavery).

Do I lead Civil War tours or can I be contracted to do personal research?

Yes, sometimes. On rare occasions I will lead personal tours of the Battle of Franklin. They usually take at least a half day and can easily take a full-day. I charge for them and donate the money to animal rescue efforts. A half-day tour is $200 and a full day is $500. Everything is customized and personalized for your interests. Why do I charge so much? Because I don’t want a ton of requests and for the few I do the sizeable donation to an animal rescue effort I support is worth my trouble. If interested email me [tellinghistory[at]yahoo.com

Do I speak at Civil War events?

Yes I do. I speak at Civil War Round Tables, conferences, dinners, ceremonies, historical societies, etc. My speaking fee (if any) is usually just to cover my expenses.

Do I do personal research for people? For the average person?

Rarely. For a serious scholar, maybe.  If interested email me [tellinghistory[at]yahoo.com

Do you have a favorite Civil War film?

The movie Glory is my favorite Civil War film.

Questions “Civil War” geeks might be more interested in?

Are you a Neo-Confederate?

No I am not. A Neo-Confederate is basically a modern day proponent of the Southern cause as espoused by the leading Southern thinkers since the mid-nineteenth century. Neo-Confederates basically believe the war was NOT fought over slavery, believe it was a war of Northern aggression, despise Abraham Lincoln, believe the war was mainly over States’ rights, believe that the South was morally right for secceeding, etc. Neo-Confederates want to continuing defending the Lost Cause myth.

Many Neo-Confederates today live mostly in the South. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is the most visible arm of the Neo-Confederate perspective. I have many Neo-Confederate friends and I respect them. I just feel they are substantially mis-informed and often mis-lead in their perspectives about the Civil War and the mid-nineteenth society in America.

What kind of projects are you working on?

  • I research and write articles or posts on personal soldiers and civilian letters I collect.
  • I enjoy digital photography and documenting the condition and state of battlefields and sites today.
  • I do research for professional historians and organizations.
  • I am working on writing projects like revised regimental histories and even screenplay material.
  • I am creating an interactive Google map of the Battle of Franklin.
  • I enjoy working with some very cutting-edge web-based tools and technology.

The following subject areas are areas I focus on:

  • The respective roles of the following states in the Civil War: Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.
  • The life and legacy of escaped Charleston slave Robert Smalls (1839-1915).
  • Various regiments and units, most notably the 58th Indiana Infantry, Indiana units at the Battle of Franklin, Shiloh, Chattanooga and Chickamauga.
  • How the following things impacted the war: the home front, technology, newspapers, medicine, 19th century pop culture, etc.
  • The McGavock Confederate Cemetery

Do you have Civil War web sites or blogs you personally write for?

Yes, I have several. Many are not public. My two largest Civil War sites are The Civil War Gazette and The Battle of Franklin web sites. They each get thousands of accesses a month.

Who are your favorite American (and American Civil War) writers or thinkers?

My favorite writer and historian related to the Civil War is Steven E. Woodworth. I also like Williamson County historian and author Rick Warwick.

Do I have any references or recommendations?

Kraig McNutt brings with him not only years of study and understanding, but the necessary passion to make the cold facts of history come alive. Driven by that passion, Kraig has honed his studies into scholarship and his scholarship into understanding. As the Civil War slips further and further into a dim past, we are fortunate to have Kraig breathing life back into the story. Robert Hicks, best-selling author of The Widow of the South

Kraig McNutt is an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and passionate student of the Civil War. He has for a number of years maintained one of the finest websites on the conflict and possesses, along with a wealth of knowledge, a deep inner appreciation of what the war meant for those who lived through it and for us their descendants. I highly recommend him to groups seeking a top-flight Civil War speaker. Steven E. Woodworth, Professor of History, Texas Christian University

Kraig McNutt is an omnivorous reader, thinker, writer, researcher, advocate, and speaker–not only on the American Civil War, but on a host of other historical and cultural issues. His educational and professional background would indicate that he is qualified to speak on many of these issues–but, we all know folks who are qualified yet they bore us to tears. Not Kraig. His lively and engaging style makes history come alive. George Grant Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church Founder, King’s Meadow Study Center

One thought on “Why am I so passionate about learning about the American Civil War?

  1. When I lived in California I was facinated by the geology of the place. Chunks of rock standing around that had come from thousands of miles away, sutured, crushed, turned into something else, all riding on the great fault where the Pacific Plate meets the North American.

    Mid continent geology is very interesting but…well… covered with kudzu. But under the kudzu you find that, living in Tennessee is to live on a kind of human fault line. More Tennesseans fought for the South than any state but Virginia. More Tennesseans fought for the North than the rest of the Confederate states combined.

    My interest in the Civil War dates back to the early sixties and the Life Magazine series at the centenial of the war. I never forgot the image of the dead lying under peach blossoms at a place of peace. So it was early in my stay in Tennessee that I went to Shiloh. Once you’ve done that you get to the 6th Mississippi and thence to Cleburne. One day you find yourself standing in front of a metal pole in the ground, across the street from a Pizza Hut parking lot wishing that you had an address on Cleburne Street.

    Cleburne is a compelling character for a number of reasons. First, and always, what kind of man is capable of inspiring in others, the 6th Mississippi, the will to dash themselves against a rock until they virtually ceased to exist?

    Second, he was bold, even entrepreneurial in the contemporary sense of the word, rising from an immigrant in New Orleans with nothing, to businessman, lawyer, and valued member of his community in Helena.

    I think he was unique in that after his experience at Shiloh he quickly understood the lethality of rifled weapons, and marksmanship. At Shiloh his men shot Sherman; at Atlanta they shot and killed McPherson. That is third. He understood that the Civil War dynamic was something new, not like the Napoleonic wars as Hood supposed, but much more like something else, something Cleburne could not know, the meatgrinder of WW1.

    Fourth, ” If we must die, Govan, let us die like men.”

    Five, six, seven, eight… you can just keep going if you wish.

    Integrity, and a very Irish addiction to freedom.

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