Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Weapons of War

Secession set up the Civil War, but it was cannon fire that started it. The colonies didn't like Great Britain much (or at least some of the things GB was doing), but it wasn't until Lexington and Concord that it was a Revolution. It was an armada of Japanese bombers that brought the United States into the second World War, and it was two very big bombs that ended that war. Guns may or may not kill people (we'll leave that to the bumper sticker writers to decide), but the bullets sure do.

The American Civil War, by comparison with other civil wars in world history, was a relatively small affair. China's myriad rebellions in the same century took millions of lives, but our Civil War killed less than 700,000 (or slightly more depending on the source). Civilian casualties during the Russian Civil War exceeded 13 million, and that's before we start counting soldiers. And yet, in many ways, the American Civil War was more brutal than anything that had come before it.

Using battlefield tactics dating from the Napoleonic Wars, line after line of soldiers marched at line after line of other soldiers. When muskets were in use, this was an effective strategy because the weapons were horribly inaccurate unless at very close range. But then we found rifles.

The rifled musket added two things to the musket -- range and accuracy. Now, our line after line is getting picked apart from hundreds of yards away, but they continue to march forward into the leaden hail. Thus the casualties from the American Civil War exponentially grew as rifles replaced muskets. (Despite the new technology, disease remained the biggest killer in the war, but that's the subject of another post.)

In September, Riddick's Folly will install a new, permanent exhibit displaying more than a hundred weapons used in the Civil War. These pieces -- rifles, pistols, and swords -- trace the evolution of weapons engineering from the antebellum to Antietam to Appomatox. Come and check it out. It will be worth the trip.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

There's crape on the door

Judge Nathaniel Riddick died on December 30th, 1882, just two days before the new year. Judge Riddick was a prominent politician and lawyer in his time, and it was his home -- Riddick's Folly -- that served as headquarters to the Union Army during its occupation of Suffolk in the Civil War. His funeral, near the height of the Victorian era, was likely a grand affair to which the Who's-Who of the area would have been expected, if not obliged to attend.

126 years later, that event, which was as much public display as private mourning, may once again lead the community from the doors of Riddick's Folly to the unassuming tombstone where Judge Riddick rests forevermore.

We'd like to recreate that funeral as a way to educate our community about mourning practices in the late-19th century. Death and dying were both intimate experiences to be shared mainly with family prior to the Civil War. The war's legacy was an end to the "Good Death" -- dying at home in your bed surrounded by family. Later years yielded greater, more elaborate displays of grief perhaps as a reaction to the anonymous death that was the fate of many Civil War soldiers.

The current-day citizens of Suffolk would be invited to participate in the funeral of one of Suffolk's favorite sons, allowing them to not only learn about mourning customs of the time, but to also share a role in this living exhibit (if you'll forgive the pun). Of course, we want to be as respectful as possible to Judge Riddick's descendants, and those with whom we've spoken so far have been both appreciative of the interest and supportive of the idea. There's a lot of organizing to do, but we're well on our way. Keep reading for more information soon.