Poet and critic Stephen
Cushman publishes narrative on Civil War battle
films, novels and reenactments all try to tell or show us what
happened. But how can we fully comprehend the elusive and many-sided
meanings of the Civil War in American life?
Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle, published
this month by the University Press of Virginia, English professor
Stephen Cushman examines a single famous battle, The Wilderness,
as if through the many angles of a prism to try to understand
the Civil War and its larger meanings today.
doing so, he looks at how others have seen this horrific Virginia
battle and gives a sweeping account that pulls in eyewitnesses,
contemporary newspapers and magazines, memoirs by participants,
studies by historians, and the views of fiction writers, poets
and even today's reenactors.
Cushman, who says he has been obsessed with the war's complexity
for much of his life, lives 50 miles south of the battlefield,
where, on May 5 and 6, 1864, the Union and Confederate armies
under Grant and Lee met near an unfinished railroad in central
Virignia. The battle is remembered for its brutality and ultimate
futility, with 26,000 casualties on both sides.
personal narrative is not another history of the battle. "If
this book is a history of anything," he writes, "it's
the history of verbal and visual images of a single particularly
awful moment in the American Civil War."
in an informal first-person style, he traces his own fascination
with the war to a single book, a pictorial history he read as
a boy. He shows how the war has had a continuing grip on Americans,
in novels from The Red Badge of Courage to the recent Cold Mountain,
and in films, songs, poems and paintings.
maps and a brief discussion of the battle for those not familiar
with it, Bloody Promenade is a unique combination of memoir and