The American Civil War was the most devastating conflict the United States ever endured. The war officially started in 1861, but the lead up to the first shot fired at Fort Sumter was years in the making.

Until I had been to the South and saw the cemeteries with rows on rows of tombstones reaching far into the horizon, the fact that hundreds of thousands of Americans died during that four-year war wasn’t a reality. It is now. One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, the South still remembers and pays honour to those who died.

At the Atlanta History Center, the war comes to life. One of the most interesting exhibits ongoing is called War in our Backyards. The Civil War was literally fought in Atlanta and while the battlefields are long gone, maps and computer generated overlays show how much of Atlanta today were major scenes of fighting 150 years ago.

The photograph by George N. Gardner has a prominent place in the center. While many textbooks in the years after the war depicted part of the photograph, showing prominently the slave auction building, more recently, the whole picture has been displayed. The lone soldier guarding the building has become a fascinating mystery as to his identity. He is clearly a black soldier reading a book while his rifle stands on guard beside him. It is a quiet moment in what had been a devastating war. A good book is easy to get lost in even during a time of conflict.

Thanks to the Atlanta History Center for the tour.


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