Herman Melville's beautiful poem The Conflict of Convictions
is the inspiration for the title of Walter Russell Mead's project
at the American Interest
to create a Sesquicentennial blog about the Civil War:
On starry heights
A bugle wails the long recall;
Derision stirs the deep abyss,
Heaven's ominous silence over all.
Return, return, O eager Hope,
And face man's latter fall.
How long it is that America has been set about the project of recalling the great events and the wretched horrors of our Civil War! There is no shortage of books about or interest in the thing. Indeed, Civil War mania in some quarters is too big even to be called a cottage industry. But is there understanding in measure equal to the interest? As 150 years have passed, time sets a great fog of distance combined with lore and confusion upon those events. And generations of American schoolchildren have had but a surface treatment offered up classes and in texts aimed mainly at satisfying some mere antiquarian curiosity. The lessons
of that war mainly go untaught as the trivia abides. Yet, as Mead notes, "Nobody can hope to understand the United States without understanding the Civil War and its legacy."
To aide in correcting this problem, The Long Recall
serves as a daily aggregator of the news, events and commentary, in real time, as it appeared throughout the conflict. It will come to readers as it would have come to intelligent and curious citizens of the Civil War era, had they had access to the internet. Think of it as the "Real Clear Politics" of the Civil War generation, brought to the readers of today.
In noting The Long Recall
on this day, however, I would be remiss if did not also recall that yesterday was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's farewell to Springfield
and the day he set off on his long, though far from triumphant, journey to Washington to assume the duties of the Presidency. Once there he would find himself immediately thrust into the midst of the beginning of this long and bloody conflict; a conflict that, for him, could have no assurance of a satisfactory result. The only certainty then was that there could be no happy ending.
I would also be remiss if I did not note that today is Lincoln's 202nd birthday. There probably is not a better way to recall that great man's birthday than to recall the great burden that must have beset his mind as he began his journey 150 years ago and The Long Recall
is a wonderful tool to help us in approximating some understanding of that.