There is no doubt in my mind that Rod Serling was a genius.
Largely known for his late 1950’s, early 1960’s series The Twighlight Zone, Serling was a prolific writer and producer, a talented television figure with an eccentric image. Besides spotlighting big names such as William Shatner, Serling’s programs popularized sci-fi writers such as Ray Bradbury, now a staple for the genre’s afficionados, and inspired generations of writers to imitate the mystery, paradox and imagination housed in The Twighlight Zone.
Why am I writing about Serling on a Civil War book website/blog?
Anyone who has watched multiple series of The Twighlight Zone will recall the Civil War themed shows that, in spite of Serling’s oft humorous appearances and ironic commentary, bring metaphysical and psychological perspectives to the Civil War.
The most recent Civil War themed episode I enjoyed is called “Still Valley,” written by Serling himself, in which a Confederate scout stumbles upon a witch who has used black magic to freeze Union troops in their traces on the town’s main street. The witch tells the scout he can immobilize the entire Union army using just a book of spells and offers the book to the scout.
The scout takes the book back to his regiment and, after discussing the benefits of the witchcraft, begins reading. However, he soon realizes the incantation requires him to praise the devil and renounce God, at which point he throws the book into the campfire and declares that if the Confederacy is to die, let it be buried in hallowed ground.
“Hallowed ground” is a term I was unfamiliar with until I moved to the Manassas area in 1999. Since then, I have come to better understand the reverence with which the battlefields are treated and why. The battlefields are burial grounds, places of suffering where, now, the dead can be remembered and finally find rest from a war that tore their families and country apart.
However, “hallowed ground” also echos Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which he says
We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
According to Salon’s Gabriel Winant, “hallowed ground” of any kind is not reserved, or should not be reserved, for a select group. In his article “Glenn Beck, Park 51 and the politics of hallowed ground,” Winant writes
David Blight, one of our leading historians of the era, has shown how the process of reconciliation between North and South entailed an agreement that what the war was about was the valor of the soldiers , the romance of blue and gray. Countless memorial events and battlefield reunions featured veterans shaking hands. At newly-sacred places — cemeteries, battlefields and memorials that still dot the South and the border states — white Northerners and Southerners forgave one another and dismissed the meaning of the bloodletting. “I think that we were both right and both wrong,” wrote one soldier, capturing the essence of the moment. “Life and history, and right and wrong and minds of men look out of more windows than we used to think! Did you never hear of the shield that had two sides and both were precious metal?”
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, a historic preservation and educational organization, welcomes travelers, locals, teachers and students to “discover Where America Happened and the nation’s 38th National Heritage Area.”
All–not just a few–are encouraged to “Drive the National Scenic Byway and experience firsthand the most historic region in the nation.”
The 180-Mile Journey Through Hallowed Ground is a treasure trove of local culture, loaded with vibrant downtowns, wonderful inns, restaurants, markets and shops. It’s alive with breathtaking views, natural landscapes, and a bounty of farms, wineries and local foods for everyone to enjoy.
More than 10,000 Listings on the National Register of Historic Places, including 9 presidents’ homes, 30 historic Main Street communities, 13 National Parks, and hundreds of African and Native American historical sites. Sites from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812.”
It’s interesting that in a country as divided as the United States was during the Civil War, we have moved beyond it enough to invite one another to learn more about our shared history and our shared hallowed grounds.
I also think it amazing that writers like Serling popularized and subsequently brought history to another level, (read in Serling’s signature voice) ‘a level that can only be found in the twighlight zone.’
I am not sure how far Civil War studies had progressed when Serling lived. He passed in 1975, and doubtless the Civil Rights era impacted the way the Civil War was being taught. It would be interesting to study Serling in this historic context, and should I happen upon anyone who loves both science fiction and Civil War history, I might mention it. Until then, I can only laud two other Civil War themed Twighlight Zone episodes, “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge,” the classic short story written by Ambrose Bierce in 1891 and adapted for the screen; and “The Passerby,” by Rod Serling, 1961.