The Civil War is coming-- in tweet form


Every now and then I stumble across something that is both interesting and a little dorky. No, no, no ... I’m not talking about our advertising rep, Susan Mutz. But I completely understand why you’d think that.

Actually, what I’m discussing this week is an effort by a North Carolina historian to integrate personal accounts of those affected by the Civil War with social media — most notably, Twitter.
LeRae Umfleet, the historian who manages the collections at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, began sending out tweets last week in time with the months leading up to the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, as part of an effort to increase awareness to the fact that this is the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. He is not just making up narrative to tell the story, either. Umfleet told the Associated Press that the tweets come verbatim from letters, diaries, autobiographies and other sources of information available to him.

For instance, two months before the “start” of the Civil War, @CivilianWartime tweeted this from a North Carolina belle named Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston: “Sister Frances is a terrible Unionist!” A tweet attributed to Mary Bethell on March 11, 1861, read, “I have just seen the President’s message. Mr. Lincoln, I think he intends to coerce those seceding states.”
A little bit dorky, sure. But Umfleet plans to continue this effort throughout “the course of the war” and followers will be able to follow the historical record of those who did not go off to battle, and instead allow people of today to maybe better understand that period in “real time.”

Granted, I’m a war buff, so this probably interests me more than most people. I’m also one who is incredibly anti-war, which I know is an odd combination, but I’m intrigued by the historical record of events that triggered a violent struggle, the men and women who went off to serve and the strategies employed by those leading troops. I’ve also very much enjoyed reading about the efforts of people back home to support war efforts, and how conflict has often changed the way of life in the civilian world from that point forward.

And I’m a closet Twitter addict.

But I really feel as if efforts like this one by Ulmstead could provide a real boon to educating our young people. I know what many of you are thinking: What kids need today is more real teaching in the classroom and consequences if they don’t stay on top of their studies.

I’m not arguing that point. I do feel as if we teach students more to pass tests today than to actually learn how to learn, and I agree that consequences are important in every part of life. But I’m also a realist.

Technology is at a place where it simply wasn’t when I was a kid. There are more avenues available to acquire information than at any previous time. Shoot, when I started working in newspapers it was common for reporters to go head to the public library for a few hours to conduct research on a story. Now they do it from their cubicle. I click my IMDB app constantly while watching movies just to see what other roles I recognized an actor from or to find out who wrote the dreadful script so I can burn a bag of poop and leave it on their doorstep and ...

But I digress.

The reality is that people are on the Internet. They’re on Facebook. They’re on Twitter. And while people of all ages enjoy those tools, young people almost completely rely on them.
Why not give them an interactive and interesting way to learn? Why not give them factual narrative that can tell the real story of how the Civil War was affecting people of the time rather than just stuff dates and numbers down their throat to memorize, only to have them be forgotten the day after a test?

It’s a brave new world out there, and it’s moving faster than most of us can keep up — it only makes sense to make part of that ride informative.