Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Shadows on My Heart

My father had a healthy obsession with the Civil War while I was growing up. To be more specific, he really liked Gettysburg. I think the enjoyment of that battle (is it wrong to say enjoyment of one of the bloodiest days on American soil?) was stemmed by the movie and a trip to the yearly reenactment while I was a tiny thing.

I still remember the reenactment though. I remember the cannons and gunshots, the smell of gunpowder and hay, and the hot Pennsylvanian summer day. Watching the movie Gettysburg is tied to that memory and we would watch the movie each summer. 

When I began looking for colleges, I looked into Gettysburg. I visited the campus and town and fell in love fully. We toured the battlefield and I too caught the fascination that my father long had. I started looking up information on the battle and the war in general but found the details of the war were hard to follow. A lot happened. But I knew a few things with certainty: the Union won. 

The Union, the Yankees. I grew up in New York where no Civil War battles were fought but plenty of the Union's soldiers hailed from the state. I grew up always knowing that "our side won" and that the South was still quite bitter over it. I didn't understand why they still flew the Confederate flag and knew that while both sides suffered great losses, the South suffered quite a deal because... well, they lost.

When I moved to Virginia three years ago, I was thrilled to see that I was living near battlefields. Right down the road was the location for the Battle of Bull Run; when I moved to another location a small battlefield was in walking distance; every day I drive home from work I pass by a number of historic markers that indicate where skirmishes were. I was surrounded by Civil War history and I still knew so little. While I grew up in an area where sites of Indian raids and Revolutionary War battles were, my boyfriend was used to having the Civil War around him.

Whenever I go to visit my parents I drive through Gettysburg and on the way home, I stop at the park's visitor center to use their bathroom and stretch my legs. I always browse the bookstore there and marvel at all the things I want to read, and on one of my visits I spotted Shadows on My Heart.

Plucking if off the shelf, I took a look at it and found I was instantly intrigued. Lucy Buck of Front Royal, Virginia lived about an hour west of where I currently live! Shadows on My Heart is a compilation of the diary entries she kept during the Civil War. In it, she speaks often of southern news, wins and defeats, and the local pains and discomforts of living during war times. On another trip to Gettysburg, I picked up the book and proceeded to go into Lucy's world.

How odd it is to read someone's diary. More than once I had moments where I had to step back from the passages and remind myself that this was a real person, the people in the book were as alive as I am, and what they experienced is certainly not fiction.

This book was entirely eye-opening to me. It's educational in so many ways and I hope, whether it be in High School or college, that this book is referred to. If not the whole book, just different entries would do because many were very detailed and moving. As a Yankee, I was surprised by how passionate the South was, how much they hated the northerners, and how they saw their fight to be honorable and right. I was raised with the opposite in mind. It was just fact that the South had decided to do all of these things and they were obviously in the wrong, it was just proven by the fact that they lost the Civil War.

But reading the details of Lucy's experience during the Civil War... I can understand why she disliked the northerners so much. Soldiers would appear on her doorstep, demanding entry and then proceed to go through all of there belongings--often taking things they wanted or searching for items that weren't "allowed" and would immediately be confiscated. Such things as meats or materials to make clothes. They took their horses and set up camp in the fields they destroyed. Battles were taking place around them with guns and cannons going off while the family hid in the basement for safety. How terrifying! And this didn't happen only at Lucy's home but all over the south during the Civil War.

Many of the soldiers were also just awful. If I had soldiers coming along doing all of this and then being rude and disrespectful as well, I wouldn't like them very much either. Lucy's hatred seemed to fill her and I think, in that way, it's brave and a saving mechanism. I imagine if I were in her place I would be frightened and the whole event would leave me shaking. Friends and family members are dying from the war or broken hearts but Lucy only stands by her beliefs all the more.

Smaller details weren't as often included in this book and I appreciate the editor's mindset with how she presented the material. While Lucy wrote many entries detailing the more "boring" days that are filled with cleaning, meandering in the garden, headaches or mending of clothing, the author included these but eventually tapered off with those particular entries. The point being to bring attention to how life was and what life became during the war. Christmas is written in detail and the weather is often noted--I loved this and always have found enjoyment in learning how people lived before the radio, television, and internet.

But life changes during a war and sure enough, this is reflected in the book. Passing comments are made about the shortage of different day-to-day items we take for granted. The family loses their servants and has to care for the home themselves, which is interesting to read simply because the family has little knowledge of how much work goes into the upkeep of a home.

I was, however, just endless shocked by how scary the time period must have been and the heartache these people went through. When someone Lucy cared for was killed in action, the act of finding the body and bringing it home, preparing it for burial, was drenched in the heartache of the actions taken. I can't say I understand, I don't. Even knowing people in the military in this present day this was so much different--the time was different and the battles were on American soil.

The home that Lucy grew up in still stands in Virginia and I hope to visit it someday in the future as well as look at the town I heard so much about. I feel that I came away from this book truly feeling like I had gained more knowledge and insight than I had before. Certainly a must-read for those interested in American History or the Civil War.

Last Week's Review: Poetry of Lang Leav
Next Week's Review: Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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