Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Which side was fighting for slavery?"

During my Orientation talk yesterday afternoon, a couple from Australia was sitting right up front. Half way through the talk, I paused to see if any of the visitors had questions. The Australian gentleman raised his hand and asked, “Forgive me for not knowing this already, but which side was fighting for slavery?”

I thought this gentleman's question was really interesting. In the United States, the Civil War is still an active event in some ways. For most of us, we could be described as having a “dog in the fight,” depending on where we were born, where we grew up, where we live, where our ancestors are from, so on and so forth. Yet, this gentleman from another country didn’t have any concerns about the moral implications of the conflict on his own heritage. He simply wanted to know perhaps one of the most important things about the Civil War. Which side was fighting to perpetuate a slave based society, a slave based economy, and a slave based government, and which was fighting to preserve the Union and give freedom to four million people. 

I told the gentleman that it was the Confederacy which seceded over the issue of slavery, and it was the Confederacy that, if they won, would perpetuate slavery and spread the practice into new areas. A few visitors from Texas in the back noted their disagreement with me, but, they were about as polite and cordial as one could possibly expect (I wish all visitors were as friendly when disagreeing with me!). I had a great conversation with them after the program.

Later in the day, a bus of visitors from the Netherlands stopped by the Visitor Center, and after conversing with them, as well as with the Australian gentleman’s question in mind, I have to say: I truly enjoy talking to visitors from other countries. It is, perhaps, one of my favorite things about being a park ranger. The perspective that travelers from across the world bring to American history sites, especially those of the Civil War, give us an outside glimpse of how the world views our history.

Now, I’m off to another day of working the best job in the world.


  1. Dan, I'm going to be in Sharpsburg/Hagerstown over the next few days working on our documentary "Antietam Illuminated". I'd like to talk with you a bit if possible. I met with Ted a week or so ago.

  2. That is great. If you would like to chat I will be at the Antietam Visitor Center. I am there almost every day, but my work week is Wednesday to Sunday.