Remembering the Civil War in Salem

Remembering the Civil War in Salem

For the generation that fought the Civil War, the concept of “forgetting” and “forgiveness” was a complicated issue. The brutality of the fighting and the passions which drove so many through the war could not so easily be laid aside.

Antebellum culture promoted ideals of masculinity which consisted of, as scholar Gail Bederman described it, “self–restraint, a powerful will, and a strong character.” Historian Michael T. Smith adds, ”In striving for the ideal men were not to be passive but were expected firmly to control their passions…”

Civil War Drum Corps




Civil War Drum Corps


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Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was related to Salem’s mayor (and musician) Henry Kemble Oliver, died two days before his 94th birthday. After his death, two Civil War uniforms were found hanging in his closet. On them, a note was found: “These uniforms were worn by me in the Civil War and the stains upon them are my blood.” Blood still flowed in memory, in metaphor, (and literally, due to continuing violence in the South) for years after the last gun was officially fired in the War Between the States.


The Civil War was the defining moment for Holmes’ generation; nothing was the same afterwards for men or women who lived through the conflict, whether active in the field, or at home.

The emotional and psychological costs of the Civil War, for men and women alike, so often gets lost: in discussions, in research and writing, and, especially, in enthusiasts’ battle reenactments. The Civil War, in fact, is a consuming “hobby” for many an armchair enthusiast.

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