WVPA Sharing

Giles Snyder: Modern Civil War experiences

WVPA Note: Giles Snyder’s columns will soon be available for purchase by WVPA member newspapers. The columns will be distributed through the WVPA Sharing network.


I should have known better than to pile my wife and kids in the car and drag them on a three-hour road trip just to watch grown men dressed as Civil War soldiers stage an elaborate battle reenactment that only one of us (me) would appreciate.

Actually, I did know better, at least when it came to our kids. They’d rather stick a fork in their eye and twist it than go anywhere or do anything with their parents these days.

What I should have been looking out for was my wife’s reaction. I could have saved myself some trouble if only I had thought things through to their predictable conclusion.

I’ve never been accused me of thinking ahead, though.

If I had, I would have remembered my wife’s wide eyes when I came home one day about 16 years ago and announced that my great, great-grandfather was a Civil War soldier from Shepherdstown who marched in the Stonewall Brigade, one of the most storied military units from any war in American history.

I had been looking into family lore because we were knee-deep in baby wipes and diapers. I wanted to be able to tell our kids where they came from.

When I got home that day I was excited and pleased to have discovered a Snyder in my direct line who had actually participated in well-known historical events rather than shrugging his shoulders and heading back to the bar.

My wife, however, was not impressed. It would be more accurate to say that she was, well, shocked.

“You mean, I married a Confederate?”she asked before shrieking an answer to her own question.

“Oh my God! I married a Confederate!”

I tried to explain that no, she was not married to a Confederate, that I merely descend from one, but she was inconsolable, horrified by the thought she had somehow offended her northern family.

To this day, I’m not sure if she was more mad at me or herself for not calling in the NSA to do a thorough background check on my family history before our wedding day.

But I do know this: I should have thought twice before taking her to this month’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.  That’s because after I came home with my Stonewall news, my wife started checking into her family background and discovered her own Civil War grandfather. And, as it turns out, hers and mine were on opposite sides during the campaign that included Spotsylvania.

I wanted to go to the Spotsylvania reenactment because the battle fought there in 1864 was the battle in which my grandfather was mortally wounded. Records from the period suggest he suffered a ghastly injury. I hesitate to pinpoint where in a family newspaper, but let’s just say I’m fortunate he had kids before he marched off to war.

Since my wife’s great, great grandfather was also there, it’s occurred to both of us that it’s a remote possibility that he could have pulled the trigger – a point my wife didn’t fail to bring up over and over again while we were at the reenactment.

The fact is, she delights in mentioning the possibility whenever the conversation at our house turns to the Civil War. Rather than debate her, I usually keep my mouth shut.

The reason is simple.

I don’t want history repeating itself.

Giles Snyder lives in Martinsburg with his wife and two kids. You can follow @GilesSnyder on Twitter, find him on Facebook or reach him through his blog at gilessnyder.wordpress.com.

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