Some of Utah’s oldest families moved to the Beehive State to get away from the painful memories of the American Civil War. But one relative newcomer came here with the hope that he can keep the history of the country’s deadliest internal conflict alive for future generations to remember.
Monticello resident Garry Mooneyhan Jr. is appearing at the Moab Information Center on Thursday, June 25, at 6 p.m. to speak about soldiers’ lives during the war. His talk is part of the Canyonlands Natural History Association’s ongoing lecture series at the MIC, which is located at the corner of Main and Center streets.
Mooneyhan knows that there’s only so much that he can get around to in the span of an hour.
“Because of the limited time, I can’t get too carried away,” he said.
But he hopes to cover as much ground as possible, while offering audience members new insights into the war. Among other things, he’ll be focusing on the technology and crude medical care of the era, as well as the outdated battle tactics and the state of the prison camps where many soldiers languished and died.
He’ll be bringing reproductions of historically significant items along with him, including a soldier’s bayonet and other weapons, as well as period costumes and real bullets and canisters.
Mooneyhan grew up in Rockingham, North Carolina, where personal and family connections to the conflict remain strong.
Fourteen of his ancestors fought for the South, while one served with Union forces. One of those relatives survived five years of conflict with all of his limbs still intact.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Mooneyhan said. “If a soldier was able to survive two years without losing a limb, he was lucky.”
Another relative who fought for the Confederacy died in a Union prison camp, where the person in charge deliberately starved his wards to death, he said.
Mooneyhan has been participating in reenactments since he was 16 years old, taking him to Shiloh, Tennessee; Chancellorsville, Virginia; and other famous sites across the South.
History has long been one of his favorite subjects, and he cites the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II as the periods of time that he finds most interesting.
“I’ve had a passion for history ever since I was a kid,” he said.
However, he believes that many people nowadays may not be able to appreciate the full scale of the conflict during the Civil War.
“When you read history, it’s just words in a book,” he said.
Likewise, he says that modern-day Americans may not fully comprehend just how tough the average Civil War soldier’s life was.
“It was horrifying what the soldiers had to go through, even with the supplies that the North had,” he said. “The Southern soldiers, even more so, had it 10 times rougher than the Union soldiers because of the lack of supplies they had to deal with.”
Morphine or other painkillers were virtually impossible to come by, and injured superior officers on the operating table may have received a shot of whiskey if they were lucky, he said.
In addition to those who were injured and permanently disfigured on the battlefield, one in five soldiers who served on either side died during the conflict. The death rate among Confederate soldiers was three times higher than the Union death rate.
Altogether, the war reduced the country’s total population by 2.5 percent – the equivalent of 7 million people today. Most of those deaths occurred off the battlefield: Two out of three people who died were felled by outbreaks of disease.
“The Civil War was a conflict which nobody in this nation was completely prepared for,” Mooneyhan said.
While the most famous battles were fought in the South, the conflict spilled over into the West. The 1862 Battle of Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe, New Mexico, was one of the decisive military actions that ultimately kept the area under Union control.
Of course, the war’s effects continued to be felt long after the conflict ended, and Mooneyhan said that many families headed West to put the past behind them.
“A lot of people viewed the West as a way of forgetting about the war (and) forgetting about the horrors they saw,” he said.
However, Mooneyhan said he believes it’s important to remember what happened during the war, with the hope that current and future generations can learn valuable lessons about the past.
“As the old saying goes, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them,” he said.
Historical reenactor plans June 25 presentation on soldiers’ lives
“As the old saying goes, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them.”
When: Thursday, June 25, at 6 p.m.
Where: Moab Information Center, corner of Main and Center streets
For more information about upcoming MIC lectures, go to cnha.org/mic.cfm.