The lure of Civil War history

Published 8:27 am Thursday, April 14, 2011

I have always been fascinated by history in general because, simply, as a writer I like a good story.

At the Murfreesboro Historical Association’s Civil War “Living History” Exhibit on Saturday, which kicked of the town’s commemoration of the conflict’s sesquicentennial, I was pleased to see interested parties, especially young children.

It was an interactive and localized exhibit that took into account the stories of all Americans (not just those who fought), including slaves and women. After leaving the exhibit, I realized the Civil War probably holds a story for everyone.

I think many people are blasé when it comes to history in general. Especially in the age of computers, televisions and technology galore there exist a disconnect they feel towards the past and its events.

The unique aspect about Civil War history is that it often draws attention with its stories of tragedy, controversy, politics, propaganda—and it’s all a little bit of each American.

My interest in the Civil War began when I was younger.

I can remember clearly, standing on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa. when I was a teenager.

Like the many school kids who visit Gettysburg, I was there on a field trip.

Though I had been to Gettysburg before with my family when I was a child, it was this trip that made the most impact.

At an older age I understood the repercussions of war. I understood that lives were lost on that spot and the scarred trees held bullets and shells that had taken those lives. Our tour guide for the park made sure to give us all of the facts and stories attached to the Battle of Gettysburg, which yielded the most casualties of the war.

It would be years later before I would find my own connection to the American Civil War in an ancestor named Levi Henry Dunbar.

Levi, being from New York, fought on the Union side of the war. He enlisted on August 16, 1862 and was assigned with the New York 9th Heavy Artillery Company. The “9th” was involved in many battles, including the Siege of Petersburg, Va. and was there for the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army. In all, there were 461 losses within the 9th.

However, Levi was not one of those. At the Battle of Monocacy he was captured by the Confederates as he was listed as a prisoner of war. After capture, the POWs from the 9th were transported by rail on to Danville and nearly a year later they were marched to a landing where they boarded a Confederate vessel and were transported down the James River to Aiken’s Landing.  There they were exchanged.  After a three mile walk to Varina Landing, they boarded the Union transport “George Leary” bound for Annapolis, Maryland. Levi was discharged July 6, 1865 with his regiment.

Levi’s story is just a drop in the bucket of all the other stories that go along with the Civil War, but I am proud I have my own.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.