Thursday, July 9, 2015

NEVER Lose Sight of This


This needs to be said. It needs to be read. It needs to be shared. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops for all to hear and understand. While any discussion as to the merits of the Confederate battle flag has its place in our society, we are dangerously close to losing sight of what is really important. And it isn't our fault, really, because the media depictions of the Civil War be they film or television program do no justice to the war. Yes, it is romanticized in our culture and I am not just talking about the Lost Cause mythology either. Has there ever been a Civil War program which truly depicts the horrors of a Civil War battlefield? Do you know what is missing from our collective conscious as it relates to the war? Reality. Plain and simple. Here is what all is missing from our national discussions over the war and also of the flag:

The fact that when canister rounds struck a line of advancing infantry, body parts flew as high as the tops of the trees. The screams of wounded horses which sounded almost human. The screams of wounded men which sounded like an animal. The sheer carnage wrought on the human body by a Mini Ball, far more than a modern round. The coppery scent of blood spraying your clothing from a wounded comrade's shattered body. The palpable odor of fear mixed with the sulfur stench of gunpowder mixed with sweat, and shit, and wet wool. The courage of the Irish Brigade assaulting Marye's Heights and the entire Army of Tennessee making the ill advised charge at Franklin. The fear and pain of having a limb amputated with a dirty saw as surgeons probed with ungloved fingers. Of the morphine addicts made so by their Civil War wounds. And what of those wounded in mind rather than body, many spending their days locked in mental institutions which, in some ways, were worse than prisons. The pain of abdominal cramps brought on by dysentery, more deadly even than combat itself. And typhus. And cholera. There is no glory in dying a long slow death brought on by fluids leaking out of every orifice. But tens of thousands died that very way. And what of the pain of women and children as they waited for word of casualties following a battle. And how you felt grateful when your loved one's name wasn't on it only to feel guilty for feeling relieved when so many others suffered loss. And what of the anguish of entire communities when all the men marched away and yet none came back. What of the generation of widows and orphans? And what of slaves, awaiting their day of liberation and hoping they survived long enough to see it. Some opted to free themselves by escaping to Union lines, only to be used as forced labor. What of those laborers working long hours in dangerous conditions to feed the industrial appetite of the war machine. Of the immigrants enlisted fresh off the boat and sent to fight a war they understood nothing of.

Debates over the battle flag has its place. However, we are in danger of forgetting how brutal the war really was. The war wasn't over a flag. It was the most traumatic event that our nation has ever gone through and to try and sum up the entire experience through a flag is wrong. The flag is not as important as the war and the outcome. It isn't our fault. No one wants to talk about the reality of the war. What I've written above may in fact have disturbed you. Good. That was the point. The Civil War was nasty, ugly business. You cannot praise the courage of one side and denigrate the courage of the other, as courage does not depend on the color of one's uniform or the validity of one's cause. Pardon the pun, but history is not black and white. Southern soldiers were not all evil and Northern soldiers were not all out to free the slaves, contrary to what has been taught and what the media says. Good and evil existed in both armies. Trying to boil everything down to South bad North good is absolutely ridiculous and something that no one who calls themselves a professional historian should engage in, but many if not most do.

We are at risk of whitewashing the entire episode from our history and to what end? So we can forget it and thus risk repeating the same mistakes of the past? We MUST honor the soldiers who fought in the war in whatever way we as individuals choose because of the sacrifices they made for the homes, their families, and their comrades. Not for their cause. Men don't die for causes. They die for their comrades in arms. Brave men fought on both sides. So did cowardly men. So too did men who were not especially brave nor especially unbrave. So too did a few women disguised as men. The whole country was affected by the war. 2 percent of our population died, near 700,000 people! Do NOT simply view them as statistics. They were living, breathing humans with the same hopes and fears as all of us. Most were men, young men, who never got to live their lives as we have.

All of them died for a country that no longer regards their sacrifices as important, but rather a part of an episode in our past that must be forgotten. I am fiercely proud of my Civil War ancestors, on both sides. Yes. I'm proud of my Confederate ancestors. Why? Because they lived through the conditions described above. Or died because of them. How many of you would be willing to do the same? Yes. I am proud of the battlefield exploits. I mourn those who were lost. And I am glad that their cause did not succeed. So fly the flag or not fly the flag, that is your choice as an individual. Personally, I don't but that's my decision. But no matter what you do or how you feel about the flag, for the love of God, NEVER lose sight of what happened during this war. NEVER forget the bloody hell that was a Civil War battlefield. NEVER forget the experiences of soldiers, civilians, adults, children, slaves and free people during, what was the crucible of our national experience. PLEASE don't let those deaths be in vain.


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