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Lecture Series Explores Civil War Literature

October 08, 2012

The second chapter of Angelo State University’s 2012-13 Civil War Lecture Series will examine “Civil War Literature” as two members of the English faculty explore how the pen, if not mightier than the sword, is certainly more enduring and more insightful into our heritage.

The program, which is open free to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, in the C.J. Davidson Center in ASU’s Houston Harte University Center.  Featured speakers will be Dr. Wallis R. Sanborn, III, visiting assistant professor, and Dr. Gabriela Serrano, assistant professor, both of ASU’s English faculty.  Dr. Linda Kornasky, ASU professor of English, will moderate the panel.

Sanborn will speak on “Characteristics of the American Novel of War in the Civil War Literature of Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, Harold Frederic, and Ambrose Bierce.”  Serrano will address “Mourning as a Process for Healing:  Whitman’s Immortalization of Lincoln in ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ and ‘When Lilacs in the Door-yard Bloom’d.’”

In his presentation, Sanborn will apply certain defining characteristics in his 2012 book The American Novel of War to the Civil War-era literature of four authors.  Those works include “The Wound Dresser” by poet and essayist Walt Whitman, who is best known for his poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, and “A Mystery of Heroism” by Stephen Crane, author of the Red Badge of Courage, the most enduring novel to come out of the Civil War.  Other works to be covered will be “A Day in the Wilderness” by journalist Harold Frederic and “Chickamauga,” “Two Military Executions” and “What I Saw of Shiloh,” all by Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and satirist.

Serrano’s presentation will use poetry from the period to consider how the nation’s mourning process after Lincoln’s assassination is symbolic of the healing process that Walt Whitman believed the nation would embark on after the Civil War.  “O Captain! My Captain” uses the metaphor of a distressed ship to represent how the Civil War divided and damaged the nation, and, in a sense, killed the national spirit of unity.  By contrast, “When Lilacs in the Door-yard Bloom’d” attempts to reconcile us with the past and remind us that death and tragedy are universal experiences that ultimately unite us again.

Dr. Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai, a Civil War scholar and coordinator for ASU’s 2012-13 Civil War Lecture Series, said, “The war lives on in the passages that our nation’s greatest poets and wordsmiths put down on paper in an attempt to grapple with the profound experience that the American people had undergone.  Some of us, myself included, became interested in the conflict through novels or other artistic representations of the contest.  In my case, it was The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.”

Other programs in ASU’s 2012-13 Civil War Lecture Series are:

  • Nov. 13, “Mules, the Civil War and the Texas Frontier,” Dr. Emmett Essin, professor of history, East Tennessee State University, 7 p.m., Fort Concho Stables;
  • Jan. 29, “Soldier Motivation and Life,” ASU history faculty, 7 p.m., Davidson Center;
  • Feb. 8, “The Problem of Slavery in Early Texas,” Dr. Andrew Torget, assistant professor of history, University of North Texas, 7 p.m., Fort Concho;
  • March 26, “An Evening of Civil War Music,” ASU music faculty, 7 p.m., Davidson Center; and
  • April 17, “Beloved Companion:  The Civil War Correspondence of James and Frances Catherine Wood,” 7 p.m., ASU Auditorium, Mayer Administration Building.

Persons interested in more information on the Civil War series can e-mail the ASU History Department at

Wongsrichanalai said the goal of the lecture series is to engage the community in reflection on the Civil War and its impact, even on contemporary society.  He said the lecture series would also be a learning experience for secondary school teachers and their students.

The Civil War series is jointly sponsored by multiple ASU departments, including the History Department, Center for Security Studies, West Texas Collection, Multicultural Center and Air Force ROTC, as well as Fort Concho and the Concho Valley Civil War Roundtable, to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of that watershed event in American history.