There is an old combat adage that states, “War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”
It’s a saying that exemplified the military experience for both Northern and Southern soldiers, according to Kelly Knauer, the editor of “TIME Civil War: An Illustrated History” — a new book that marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.
“There was an awful lot of downtime and the war really became this long stalemate,” Knauer said from his home in Springfield, Mo. “And probably 90 to 95 percent of the time you had guys sitting around drinking and playing cards, simply trying to kill time.”
Knauer, who has also edited historical collections of photography on President Abraham Lincoln and World War II, said that the Civil War was a uniquely difficult and complex subject for the 200-page book.
Knauer also chose to illuminate the well-known and epic battles of the Civil War — the deadliest conflict in American history — but says that he wanted to make sure that the boredom was highlighted alongside the terror.
Some examples include men aboard the U.S.S Monitor waiting to be served a meal, former Southern slaves donning blue uniforms to fight in Union brigades and untrained nurses caring for the wounded.
Also, the photographs illustrate the importance of the latest technology of the time.
Both the telegraph and the railroad were being perfected during the 1860s, accelerating the pace of combat and altering how military campaigns would be waged going forward.
One image shows workers stringing together a telegraph line for the Union’s Army of the Potomac in 1864, which helped send dispatches back to President Lincoln in Washington.
“Lincoln really spent most of his evenings in the telegraph office of the U.S. War Department waiting to hear what was happening on the battlefield,” Knauer said. “And that was an advantage that no one had ever had before.
“Of course not all of his generals thought this was an advantage,” Knauer said, “Because then Lincoln would immediately send orders back that they didn’t always want to hear.”
Knauer says the Civil War continues to resonate with Americans because of the ongoing role it plays in today’s political climate.
“We still live in a Red State, Blue State country,” Knauer said, “And amazingly many of our divisions can still be traced right along the Mason Dixon line.”