Despite the fact that I am at least a mild critic of sports culture   , I have long been fond of playing fantasy teams. There is something that is truly comical about competing with other people in other imaginary teams based on real statistics. For one, you watch a game a lot differently when bragging rights (I’ve never been much for betting) depend on having a particular player get a certain number of points (it’s even more amusing with fractional points, as that makes it even more complicated).
Different fantasy leagues for different sports have a different way of going about the problem of determining your team and competing. For example, I participate mainly in Yahoo fantasy leagues (though not exclusively) given the fact that most of my invitations from fellow athletically inclined friends come from yahoo leagues. In football, you may have a QB (or 2), 2 or 3 RB’s, 3 WR’s, 1 or 2 TE’s, a kicker, a defense or two, and maybe (if your league is cursed) a few individual defensive players, with various scoring rules about how many yards passing, running, receiving, or returning it takes to get a point. And off you go.
In other sports, the scoring and teams are a lot simpler. For example, in the yearly NASCAR fantasy league I participate in (I’m a Tony Stewart and Joe Nemechek fan), one has to choose four racers, each of whom get 9 races, one “A” racer, two “B” racers, and one “C” racer, all of whose points in eligible races add up. Likewise, in a (now extinct) college basketball fantasy league, one had 100 points to divide between various university teams based on their popularity, such that if you bought Duke you’d get stuck with a lot of SWAC teams to fill out your roster, but if you were more sensible and went with St. Mary you might be able to add in a Belmont or Colorado in addition, forcing you to choose between having one superstar team or a balanced squad of contenders. I usually sought for balance personally, so I would often have an IUPUI or a Lipscomb on my roster next a UT-Chattanooga.
So, what I thought of as a way of combining various interests together, would be to have some sort of Civil War Fantasy League, where each person present (who would presumably be an amateur or professional historian of sorts) would pick, in order, their choices for best general, and would then have to defend their choice. For example, some people would qualify as theater commanders (Grant, Lee, Sherman, Johnston, Beauregard, McClellan, Halleck, and so on), others as army commanders or occasionally detached leaders (Thomas, Sheridan, Jackson, Early, Longstreet, Bragg, Hood, Pemberton, Buell, Curtis, Canby, Pope, Hooker, and so on). Others could be colorful corps, division, or brigade leaders who never went solo but who are remembered in history (Gordon, Ramseur, Hampton, Wheeler, Stoneman, Hooker, Gregg, Pickett, Cleburne). For a bit of interest, throw in cavalry (Stuart, Forrest, Wilson, Garrison), navy (Semmes, Porter, Farragut), or obscure fronts (like the Transmississppi–pitting Sibley against Canby, Slough, and Covington in Glorietta). Adding political leaders (like Lincoln vs. Davis) and their impact on the conduct of war would only add to the debate and amusement value.
If you add a meal (or two) this sort of debate could go on for many hours. How would you argue which general was the best? Would you reward tactical brilliance in battles, or skill in motivating men to fight, or strategic vision, or logistical competence and the ability to keep an army supplied and fit to fight? Would you pick a roster based on big name decisions or would you have a more detailed knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your roster, balancing out an impetuous soldier like Custer or Stuart with a more cautious and defense-oriented soldier like a Thomas or a Longstreet, in order to achieve balance. Given the fairly deep and broad knowledge of the Civil War, one could imagine this scene being repeated on a humorous History Channel panel, or in the living room of a well-read friend with a group of history fans.
The Civil War, with its passionate opinions, would appear to be well suited to this sort of friendly (?) competition between people with a great deal of knowledge of and interest in their “team” of generals, admirals, and politicians. Such a spirited debate would be the historian’s version of a draft party. Theoretically, other subjects, assuming they were well known to the audience, could serve (World War II, American Revolution) as fantasy squads, but for an American audience, it would appear as if the Civil War offers the deepest rosters and most searching arguments and debates and the most well-known subject to the broadest amount of people. So, who wants to be in my Civil War Fantasy League?