WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Civil War “An Immense Pool of Sadness”

Mar 8, 2013

This week on Emphasis, Rich Egger’s guest is Steve Berry, Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia. He was in western Illinois to give presentations at Monmouth College, Knox College, and Western Illinois University.

Steve Berry
Credit Rich Egger

Berry earned his Master’s degree and PhD from the University of North Carolina during the 1990s, and was intrigued to discover the memory of the Civil War remained strong in that state.

“It tugged at me and I said, ‘I want to figure out what this is,’” Berry said.

“For me, the Civil War is this immense pool of sadness that I find hypnotic.”

He said hundreds of thousands of men in the south fought on the wrong side of a great moral question, and it’s his belief that it must be tough to get over something like that. Berry also pointed out that America fought such a bloody war because it could not find a solution short of war.

Berry edited Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges, and also contributed a story to the book. Berry said there is sometimes a tendency to glorify the war. He wanted to show a more gritty side of it.

Selfish people did selfish things, and did an immense amount of damage.

Berry also is author of House of Abraham: Lincoln & the Todds, A Family Divided By War. Berry said Mary Todd Lincoln’s family had members on both sides of the Civil War, and two of her brothers who fought and died for the confederacy.

“So when Lincoln looks out and sees the Civil War as this family conflict, it’s not just metaphorical. It’s his personal experience.”

Berry said the Todds were unique because no other family was stretched between the confederate trenches and the White House.

Berry is currently working on a book about Edgar Allen Poe.