The battle was the worst Union defeat in the Western Theater during the Civil War, basically destroying the career of its Ohio born General, and almost destroying the army in which many Ohio units served.
Dr. Bradley Keefer will speak on this bloody battle at the Cuyahoga Falls Public Library on July 3, 2012, at 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by the General A.C. Voris Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), the event is free and the public is welcome.
It’s a topic he knows well. A history professor at Kent State’s Ashtabula campus, his book, Conflicting Memories on the "River of Death": The Chickamauga Battlefield and the Spanish-American War should be out this August.
The tallies for the September 1863 battle were 16,170 Union and 18,454 Confederate casualties, including 1,657 and 2,312 killed on each side. Eventually, the Army of the Cumberland surrounded at Chattanooga, had to be rescued by William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee and a Corps from the Army of the Potomac.
Keefer will be speaking on “themes that persist in our memory of the battle.” He said, “It is not as much a detailed blow by blow account as it is a look at how the battle unfolded, how it reflected the qualities of the armies’ commanders, and how we remember it today.”
Keefer’s book is a revised version of his Ph.D. dissertation Constructing Memories on the "River of Death:" Conflict, Landscape, and the Impact of the Spanish-American War on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The Ohio Academy of History gave its “Best Dissertation Award” in 2007.
It was a switch in pace for Keefer whose Master’s Thesis dealt with the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a unit with a lot of Stark and Summit County men.
He said, “I wanted to do something different for a dissertation rather than just expand on my previous research. I really wanted to know why Chickamauga was not more remembered, since it was such a bloody and significant battle.”
“ When I discovered that there had been a training camp on the Chickamauga park in 1898, I knew I was onto something. I also wanted to do a topic related to the themes of memory and commemoration, both of which play a role in the Chickamauga story.”
Born in Massillon and raised in Jackson Township, Keefer developed an early focus on the Civil War. “I was interested from the time I was a small child. I went to Gettysburg when I was around 6 or 7 and the war never let go of my imagination. I played Civil War games, had the Marx toy soldier set, and ran around the yard playing Civil War as a kid.”
Like many from his generation, author Bruce Catton played a role as well. “Bruce Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy was my inspiration. I had to learn to stop writing like Catton when I got to college, since he was a popular writer rather than a professional historian.”
Keefer has not only conquered the written page, but weekend battlefields as well. “I have been reenacting since 1989. My first event was the 125th anniversary of the Wilderness/Spotsylvania. The hobby has allowed me to participate in the filming of both “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals.” We (the 8th and the NR) will be spending the 150th of Antietam this September camped on the battlefield doing programs for the NPS.”
“I am currently with Company B, 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which is part of the National Regiment. The 8th served in Western VA early in the war but went east to fight at Antietam and Gettysburg as part of the Gibraltar Brigade which included the8th Ohio, 4th Ohio, 14th Indiana and 7th West Virginia.”
Commenting on the Civil War sesquicentennial events currently going on in the country, Keefer said, “So far, it seems pretty low-key with an emphasis on battles and reenactments. I know there are many in the history community who would have liked to have seen it go deeper into the causes and meanings of the war.”
“I think we tend to overlook how much reconstruction influenced the way we remember the war itself.”
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