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This Cruel War
Eric Swanger

tcw_bannerThis is about an active blog. The blog is a long way from done so this can’t be a review and it has already started so this can’t be a preview . I guess this is simply a “view” — and a recommendation.

I have never met Eric Swanger although I’ve known him, in an internet sort of way, for many years. We share some interests, like old roads, music, and photography, but Eric manages to make each of these hobbies his own. Take old roads. Eric has crossed the United States and ridden Route 66 on a Vespa. Music? He’s a punk rock maven who has had at least two music related blogs. As for photography, Eric likes old and odd — sometimes really old and very odd — film cameras. He develops the film himself. Except, of course, for the Polaroids. The currently running Load Film in Subdued Light is his photography blog.

We both like history but Eric isn’t even the least bit casual about it. Like many others, he has a deep interest in the American Civil War and, also like others, he focused a lot of attention on it during its just ended sesquicentennial. He wasn’t the only one publishing a Civil War blog during the last few years nor was he alone in doing it daily. It was in the breadth of his coverage and the depth of his analysis that set him apart. When Civil War Daily Gazette first appeared, I expected it to have a few borrowed headlines and a picture or two on most days. I sure was wrong in a very good way. From Abraham Lincoln’s election in November of 1860 through Andrew Johnson’s May 1865 offer of amnesty, the Gazette presented a collection of each day’s events and did an admirable job of tying them together and putting them in context.

The subtitle of the Civil War Daily Gazette was the very accurate “A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later”. As much as I was surprised by the range and quality of that accounting, I was even more surprised by an after-the-fact revelation. Gazette posts were not just informative, insightful, and witty. They were truly “fair and balanced”. The times when I thought I sensed any north or south leaning in an article were extremely rare and (here’s the big surprise) were wrong. Apparently those imagined slants were more the result of my own prejudices than those of the writer. Only after the Gazette‘s run ended and This Cruel War‘s framework put in place, did I realize that Eric had begun the Gazette as a fan of the south and a self-identified Neo-Confederate. It was a jolt but a jolt that made what I had been reading for four and a half years even more impressive.

The subtitle of This Cruel War is “An Evidence-Based Exploration of the American Civil War, Its Causes, and Repercussions”. I have no doubt that is every bit as accurate as the Gazette‘s subtitle and want to draw particular attention to the phrase “Evidence-Based”. The blog’s launch day post, “History — Not Heritage Not Hate (A Preface)”, points out that history and heritage, though often used interchangeably, are two very different things. This Cruel War is all about history — and accuracy. A huge percentage of what floats around the internet is pretty much the exact opposite of “Evidence-Based”. There is no question that emotions and misinformation played a role in the Causes of the war. That is a sad truth about virtually every war. What’s sadder is that emotions and misinformation continue to play a role in our understanding of the Causes of the American Civil War.more than a century and a half later. I’m really looking forward to that “Evidence-Based Exploration”.

I learned of Eric’s pro-south past and conversion through the new blog’s About the Author page. The story it tells is not entirely unique. Although I have never bought into “the South was right” line of thinking, I can still see a little of myself in his story in terms of what I once shrugged off as misguided but harmless. I’m guessing that it is obvious that the recommendation I mentioned in the opening paragraph is that everyone go back and read This Cruel War from its recent (Aug 24) beginning and follow it to the end although I have no idea when or where that will be (and I doubt Eric does either). An even stronger recommendation, and one that is much easier to follow, is that everyone at least read that About the Author page. Not only did I learn some things about the author from it but I also learned acknowledged some things about myself.