Thursday, September 06, 2007
Walking away from a mountain. . .
"The truth of it is, I think, that the whole country, South included, is just beginning to see the Civil War whole and entire for the first time. The thing was too big and too bloody, too full of suffering and hatred, too closely knit into the fabric of our meaning as a people, to be held off and looked at—until now. It is like a man walking away from a mountain. The bigger it is, the farther he's got to go before he can see it. Then one day he looks back and there it is, this colossal thing lying across his past."
—from "The American War," Commonweal 65 (March 29, 1957): 655-57; republished in Signposts in a Strange Land, by Walker Percy, edited by Patrick Samway (New York, 1991).
Percy, an increasingly obscure southern novelist and friend of Shelby Foote, wrote this essay in anticipation of the Civil War centennial. He makes a number of interesting observations in this essay, and another—"Red, White, and Blue-Gray"—that are deeply compelling and insightful, and, I think, surprising or unexpected to people whose roots and experience lie outside the mysterious South.
The other day my friend Steve, historian emeritus of Loudoun County, reminded me of the quote above, which I was once in the habit of including in Civil War Round Table newsletters, the Civil War Forum's start page, and the like. I was prompted to go back and read the two Civil War-related essays in the Signposts collection, after a long time since last looking them over. An often fascinating thing about rereading something after many years is that you are not the same person who read it the first time around. I'll try to explain the "surprising" or "unexpected" part in my next entry, and include some more passages from those essays.