THE DEFINING MOMENT in Paul Fussell’s long life (1924–2012) occurred on March 15, 1945, in eastern France when shrapnel from a German shell tore into the young lieutenant’s back and thigh. Next to him, his platoon sergeant, Edward Hudson, was killed. Thirty years later, in 1975, Fussell published The Great War and Modern Memory, a defining moment in his career as a writer and critic and in our understanding of the place of war in modern society and consciousness.
I. On a hot Saturday in September 1962, I crowded with my brothers and cousins into my aunt and uncle’s station wagon and drove off to war. Passing through our county in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we headed toward Charles Town, West Virginia, then crossed over the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers at Harpers Ferry into Maryland. We had traveled through the familiar historic landscape of Stonewall Jackson’s skirmishes, Mosby’s raids, Sheridan’s ride, and John Brown’s capture and hanging to witness the centennial re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam.
Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South By Stephanie McCurry (Harvard University Press, 449 pp., $35) We are going to be hearing a great deal about the Civil War. November 6 will mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s election; December 20, the secession of South Carolina, the first Southern state to withdraw from the Union; April 12, the firing on Fort Sumter; July 21, the First Battle of Manassas, the first major engagement of the war. States North and South have established sesquicentennial commissions, which are planning a wide range of observances.