The Long Road to Virginia

It’s about 4,300 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg. Vicksburg, Gettysburg and Antietam are each a good 4,200 miles away. There isn’t a single Civil War battlefield, museum or even a monument anywhere within Alaska’s 587,000 square miles, and for some strange reason, no one has ever thought of doing a Civil War conference or a reenactment up there. Needless to say, Fairbanks may seem like an odd place for a lifelong Civil War buff to have grown up. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

Unlike most Alaskans, I was lucky enough to have parents who grew up in the heart of the Eastern theater. This instilled in them an innate fascination with the war, and fortunately for me, they actively sought to pass this along to the next generation. Our yearly summer trips to Virginia to see the relatives more closely resembled two-monthlong battlefield conferences than anything else. The war first started to come alive for me on these trips. It was no longer a seemingly mythical event shrouded by the mists of time and distance, but a living, breathing entity that I could feel materializing on the fields in front of me.

But as essential as the battlefields are to understanding the war, we can probably all agree that reading is the foundation of any comprehensive Civil War education. I doubt I have to explain how a seven-month winter of subzero temperatures and sunset in the early afternoon is a powerful inducement to stay inside with your nose in a book. So stay inside I did, poring over the Civil War canon. With a healthy dose of the sights, sounds and smells of the battlefields still fresh in my mind from the summertime, it was so much easier to bring the war to life again, even from thousands of miles away.

Every month there was a new addition to the reading list called Civil War Times. Yes, we got it three weeks after everyone else (dog sleds can be laboriously slow) and we occasionally had to thaw it out before we could turn the pages, but Civil War Times was no stranger even to the diehard fringe of Civil War buffs on the Last Frontier.

I was so young when I picked up my first issue that I can’t remember how young I was—but I do remember the potent effect it had on me. Here was the war coming to life in an entirely new and different way. As much as I loved my well-worn copy of The Golden Book of the Civil War, it never changed. It was the same words and pictures day after day, year after year. Civil War Times, on the other hand, was seemingly alive. Every month it grew a little more, just like I did, and we became fast friends. From elementary school to this day, it has served as a constant reminder of why I’ve never really wanted to do anything else for a living except study the Civil War.

It probably goes without saying what an immense honor it is for me to begin my tenure as the editor of Civil War Times. It is a privilege to see my name alongside the long list of distinguished historians and editors who have written for this magazine or been on its staff. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I now hope I can begin to repay. I particularly want to thank the men who sat in this chair before me: Robert Fowler, William C. Davis, John Stanchak, Jim Kushlan and Jim Weeks. I will do all I can to ensure that Civil War Times maintains the standards of scholarship, historical accuracy and relevancy, and excitement factor that they created and shepherded for the last 44 years.

As Mr. Fowler said back in 1962: “We intend to give our readers a lively, accurate magazine that will both entertain and educate….It will be carefully balanced in editorial content and strikingly illustrated.” He would go on to say: “We feel very deeply that interest in the Civil War is not a sometime thing drummed up by the Centennial hullabaloo. As evidenced by the thousands of persons signed up for this new magazine, there is an abiding interest in what Bernard De Voto called ‘the crux of our history.’ This, we venture, will last until some event occurs in our national experience to eclipse the Civil War. To serve this worthwhile interest is our purpose.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.