Of course, when I discovered the Civil War, my attention went to the nautical side of it. I began with a nine-volume dissertation on The Naval Engagement of the Civil War. I made models of the Monitor and Virginia (no, not the Merrimack) to illustrate my class project about that famous battle.
One of my greatest surprises came when I discovered that the founding editor of my favorite magazine, American Heritage, Bruce Catton, was writing some of the best stories about the Civil War. Catton wasn't an academic historian. He was a journalist. He had grown up listening to aging veterans telling stories of the Civil War and that's how he wrote it, as a story. Too many (almost all) academics “teach” history. They make it a dull and tiresome thing full of dates and places and other mundane details that murder any interest a student might have. Fortunately, I am self-taught and my interest in history only grew, especially when it was nurtured by storytellers of Catton's caliber.
It's interesting to compare Catton's work with that of Jeff Shaara. Shaara also tells stories, vastly interesting stories, including several good ones about the Civil War. However, he used fiction to help illuminate the personalities while Catton limited himself to documented fact. I suppose that is what makes Catton's achievements so much more remarkable.
The most recent issue of American Heritage, and sadly, possibly one of its last, contains a tribute to Bruce Catton, wherein they say, “Catton almost always wrote about the Civil War with a sense of the epic.” I can only add that it is a great shame that he never taught educators how to teach history properly, as a good story – our story.