new Civil War Guidebook For The Sunshine State

On Monday, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning unveiled the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail guidebook.

“The Florida Civil War Heritage Trail guidebook offers a factual account of the impact that the Civil War had on Florida’s communities and families,” said Browning. “Information presented in this publication provides a valuable educational resource that will enhance our knowledge and understanding of the Florida places, people and events that played a role in this historic struggle.”

It’s a remarkable book which informs and, unlike far too many books on the Civil War published in recent years, is actually accessible and readable. The 80page work is an effective guide to more than 200 Civil War sites across the Sunshine State.

While this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, public interest in the Civil War simply is not what it was in 1961 or even in the early 1990s during the aftermath of the Ken Burns PBS series. There are several reasons for this, such as changes in demographics and population centers.

Then there are the books. As a former college registrar who did a master’s thesis on Edmund Ruffin (who fired the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter and fired the last shot when he killed himself after the Confederacy fell), I appreciate academic writing more than most. But the Civil War section of the bookstore is increasingly full of works on historic memory and other topics of intense navel gazing. These books may look good on a curriculum vitae, as adjunct bureaucrats dream of becoming assistant bureaucrats who can then go on to dream of being assistant bureaucrats with tenure.

While they may help with academic ambitions, these books do little to instruct or entertain, which is why you can still find the works of Shelby Foote, Kenneth Stampp, Bruce Catton, David Potter and Douglas Southall Freeman on the shelves and why anything by David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin still has an audience. Whatever their flaws, McCullough and Goodwin write for real people not committees. Warren was a better commander than Oliver Otis Howard), but even I can’t stomach some of the more recent offerings.

The team behind the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail guide David Coles, Frederick Gaske, David Stanford Gregory, Bruce Graetz, Malinda Horton and Patti Cross deserve the thanks of all Floridians. So do the organizations behind the new guide the Department of State, the Florida Association of Museums, the Florida Historical Commission and the Division of Historic Recourses. They have taken our history out of the footnotes and offered a wonderful gift to the people of the Sunshine State. Thank you. Backs Jon Huntsman in 2012

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