Modern America was born in 1865 at the cost of more than 620,000 men; what would amount to about 6 million today, according to James I. Robertson, a civil war scholar. Canned goods, home delivery of mail, standard-size clothing and the Christmas figure, Santa Claus, are just a few of the many basics brought about by the war fought north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The America people are accustomed to today would be drastically different if the bloodiest conflict in the country's history had not occurred, Robertson said.
“The war touches our lives so many ways,” he said. “No matter how you turn, what you do; the war is there.”
Robertson, founding executive director for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, will share his knowledge about the Civil War, and more specifically Gens. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, as apart of the second Summer History Symposium at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, on Thursday.
James Finck, USAO professor of American History, founded the symposium in 2012, aiming to get people involved in history. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war between the Union and the Confederacy, the symposium will continue to focus on the Civil War until 2016, before branching out to other historical topics.
As the turning point of the nation, the Civil War attracts more everyday people, not just history buffs, Finck said.
“There is such tragedy; this is Americans fighting Americans over ideas that some people understood and some didn't,” he said.
The Civil War helped determine what type of country the United States would be. Issues such as states' rights, slavery, federalism and more were settled as a result of the war.
“If someone was talking about the United States before the Civil War, they are going to say the United States are a great country; after the Civil War, the United States is a great country,” Finck said. “That simple word choice is so powerful.”
Robertson said visitors will walk out of his keynote address feeling personally connected to two of the most influential Confederate commanders. He said his intention is to present the larger than life characters as men more than generals.
“I am not a military historian; I don't get aroused by battles and fighting and killing and bleeding. I am a social historian. I am interested in people as individuals,” he said.
An author of 18 books and editor of more than a dozen others, Robertson is considered a pre-eminent scholar on Jackson, which is evident through his 957-page biography “Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend.”
Finck, a former pupil of Robertson, spoke of students leaving his class lectures in tears after witnessing Robertson's storytelling.
“There is something still romantic about that war,” he said. “I hate using words like that, but there is.”
To awaken a passion for history in young people, Finck has expanded the symposium to include a history camp component. High school students ages 16 and older will have VIP seats for Robertson's lecture and the opportunity to have breakfast with him the next morning. Finck said he encourages students to apply.
“If you love history, you are going to come hear one of the best,” he said. “Understanding the human side of this war is where he is brilliant.”
If you go
Summer History Symposium 2013