Ta-Nehisi Coates's love affair with the Civil War





TA-NEHISI COATES, a senior editor for The Atlantic and author of “The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood,” had only a passing interest in the Civil War when he picked up James M. McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era” three years ago. By its end, he had become “fanatical.”

“I went through all the books I could,” Mr. Coates said. “I was driving my wife crazy, my son crazy.” So he took his obsession on the road.

For the last three summers he has traveled with his family to Civil War battlefields. This summer he’ll be doing the same. A collection of essays and novels on the war (yes, plural) is in the works.

Below Mr. Coates answers questions on the battlefields he’s visited.

Q. What was the first battlefield you visited?

A. Petersburg, which is just south of Richmond, Va. It’s extremely significant in African-American history. It is one of the last major campaigns of the war, and by the time Ulysses S. Grant gets there, one in eight soldiers is African-American. When we were there in 2009, I saw markers everywhere for Confederate and Union regiments, but I missed the one for African-American soldiers. (There is one there, but it didn’t have the same presence as the others.) The fact that the African-Americans who fought there didn’t enjoy much recognition filled me with a feeling of debt and obligation. The books I am writing really come out of that spirit.



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