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As I struggle to write what I hope to be a series of articles focused on some of the larger, enduring myths surrounding the American Civil War, I am reminded of the little details which have been allowed to perpetuate in the history books.
For example, what comes to mind when we mention the Battle of Little Big Horn? What’s the name that comes first to your mind, or more precisely his rank. For too many, I believe, it was George Armstrong Custer, General George Custer, the boy general. Yes, George Custer did achieve the rank of General in 1863. This promotion, however, was brevet a promotion due to it being a battlefield promotion and he was serving in a volunteer unit at the time. But during that infamous day in 1876, he wore the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col). In the end, it made very little difference.
The famous warfare changing naval engagement that took place at Hampton Roads, Virginia in March of 1862 between two iron clads; care to name them? If you said the USS Monitor and CSS Merrimack you would be mostly right except that the Merrimack was what the Confederate ship was called when it was being built in the Norfolk Naval yard. The ship that had been the Merrimack was scuttled when the federal forces withdrew and when salvaged by the nascent Confederate Navy, she was rechristened the CSS Virginia. Some history books reflect this reality while others do not, and like the above, the overall effect on history could be considered nominal just like the battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution. But of course as you have guessed, the battle actually took place on Breeds Hill. Even when the history books have it correct, the false narrative endures.
All of history is full of such little details. I can name a good dozen more, from “the British are coming” being shouted by whom, to the actual signal displayed from the church in question, and to Gen. George Patton’s pistols, or George Washington’s teeth, all of which would have little bearing on our […]