23 March 2011 by Published in: General musings 1 comment

I’ve been fairly cutting edge with the Civil War on the Internet. I was one of the earliest participants in on-line discussions, I had a website as early as 1997, I started blogging in 2005, and I’ve been using Facebook to promote and sell my stuff. There is, however, one thing that I absolutely and categorically refuse to do: join Twitter. While some argue that no social media strategy is complete without tweeting, I can’t get beyond the thought that Twitter is the ultimate exercise in narcissism. It never ceases to amaze me that with all of his loony, demented ravings, nobody has ever gotten a larger following on Twitter faster than Charlie Sheen, who admittedly doesn’t even write his own posts.

The bottom line is that I already spend too much time on this stuff as it is, and the last thing I’m about to do is to add another layer to my daily Internet usage, and I just won’t do so. That doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t make good use of Twitter as a means of marketing and selling books, I just won’t be one of them.

However, I have to tip my cap to a historian at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources who is using Twitter to spread the word of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Here’s the article about it, from Yahoo News:

Historian tweets about Civil War to bring back era
By TOM BREEN, Associated Press – Tue Mar 22, 5:02 pm ET

RALEIGH, N.C. – Two months before the start of the Civil War, a North Carolina belle named Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston tapped out a frustrated message about her secession-opposing sibling in a tweet to her followers: “Sister Frances is a terrible Unionist!”

She might have tweeted, that is, if Twitter had existed in 1861. Instead, Edmondston and other long-dead North Carolinians from a bygone era are having their social networking done for them posthumously. A Raleigh-based historian is using the popular service to bring the home front of a war to modern day audiences nearly a century and a half later.

“We’re not imposing any of our words. This is purely from men, women, and even teenagers who stayed at home and fought the war in their own ways,” said LeRae Umfleet, the historian who manages the collections at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Since last week, Umfleet has been tweeting from the account (at)CivilianWartime with the words of an escaped slave, a woman whose husband owned a plantation and others. The tweets are moving roughly in chronological order along with the war, meaning that so far the messages mostly express the foreboding and uncertainty of people in North Carolina as they watched war clouds build.

“I have just seen the President’s message,” Umfleet tweeted in the March 11, 1861 words of Mary Bethell. “Mr. Lincoln, I think he intends to coerce those seceding States.”

The Twitter account is part of the ongoing effort of the cultural resources department’s ongoing effort to mark the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest conflict in American history. It seeks to highlight the experiences of those who remained at home while others went off to war — a conflict ever more dire as the battles drag on.

“By the end of the war, we will have seen conflict on North Carolina soil, and we’ll have heard from people with firsthand knowledge of that,” Umfleet said.

The tweets aren’t just short excerpts from a time when letter writing was far more common than today, though. Each tweet links to a blog that contains the full passage being cited as well as information on where to find the original documents.

And all of the tweets are taken verbatim from letters, diaries, autobiographies and other records of what people thought of the conflict as it unfolded.

These tweets of war are an attempt to reach those now accustomed to getting their information from tiny portable screens rather than thick and musty volumes. Siince Monday, the Twitter page has gone from fewer than two dozen followers to more than 240.

“How cool is this!” one Twitter user tweeted Tuesday, linking to the site.

Umstead has been tweeting several times a day so far. She plans to follow the war’s progress by recording thoughts of North Carolinians roughly in step with the chronology of the war, from the first stirrings of secession to the final surrender in 1865.

One of those following the tweets is Wilson Hines, a history major at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro. Hines, 37, says that some history buffs may turn up their noses at services like Twitter, but it’s increasingly important to use tools familiar to younger people to teach them about such a big part of American history.

“All these kids do is spend time on the Internet,” he said. “It’s on their phones, it’s on their laptops … Twitter is a fantastic way to get the word spread about historical events.”

Hines has even seen specific interest in the Civil War growing on Twitter, where the (hash)CivilWar hashtag — a way to search for tweets referring to a particular topic — has grown significantly in the last few months.

“Almost every minute someone’s saying something new about the Civil War, where not long ago there might be one post a day,” he said.

The conflict that millions of Americans followed at the time through newspapers, letters and the telegraph has become something of an Internet-era sensation, with efforts that also include blogs and web sites featuring accounts and images from the war. There are also numerous Facebook pages, and even Twitter accounts set up on behalf of long-dead figures from the war era, including Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

Umfleet, who is new to Twitter herself, said she’s taken to tweeting with enthusiasm, although there are hurdles to negotiate when bringing 19th century ways of speaking into the digital age.

“Sometimes their prose is a little difficult to follow, and unfortunately they don’t end their sentences with LOL,” she said.

I’m still not going to run out and sign up for Twitter, but I have to tip my cap to Ms. Umfleet for coming up with a really novel idea, and if it helps get one person in the Civil War, then it’s a good thing.

Scridb filter


  1. Gary Emling
    Tue 29th Mar 2011 at 11:51 am

    What a clever idea for putting technology to good use. Even a blind squirrel like Twitter finds a nut once in awhile. I must, however, disagree with her ending quote “that it is unfortunate that civil war era people didn’t end their sentences with LOL”.

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