Despoilers of an Uncivil War

There is an old Song sung by Johnny Horton:

Johnny Reb

You fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
You fought all the way Johnny Reb

205a confederate soldiers

Saw you a-marchin’ with Robert E. Lee
You held your head high tryin’ to win the victory
You fought for your folks but you didn’t die in vain
Even though you lost, they speak highly of your name

Dead_soldier_(American_Civil_War_-_Siege_of_Petersburg,_April_1_1865)

‘Cause you fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
You fought all the way Johnny Reb

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I heard your teeth chatter from the cold outside
Saw the bullets open up the wounds in your side
I saw the young boys as they began to fall
You had tears in your eyes ’cause you couldn’t help at all

310 antietam

But you fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
You fought all the way Johnny Reb

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I saw General Lee raise a saber in his hand
Heard the cannons roar as you made your last stand
You marched into battle with the gray and the red
When the cannon smoke cleared, it took days to count the dead

309 antietam

‘Cause you fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
You fought all the way Johnny Reb

786 near spolsylvania courthouse

When Honest Abe heard the news about your fall
The folks thought he’d call a great victory ball
But he asked the band to play the song Dixie
For you Johnny Reb and all that you believed

Lincoln4a40254r

‘Cause you fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
Yeah, you fought all the way Johnny Reb

695 confederate soldier with gun

You fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
You fought all the way Johnny Reb

785 near spolsylvaia courthouse

You fought all the way Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb
Yeah, you fought all the way Johnny Reb

544 little roundtop

099 confederate and union dead gettysburg jpeg

George Santayana said it:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

What then can be said of those who wish to despoil, deny and bury the past because they neither wish to understand it nor wish to make the effort to learn more about that which they castigate, revile and denigrate?

Flames shoot from the mouth of a field gun during a recent reenactment of the Battle of Carthage.

Flames shoot from the mouth of a field gun during a recent reenactment of the Battle of Carthage.

The men who fought in the uncivil war between the states, on either side were just that.  Men.  Often young men, even boys.

us_civil_war_photos_11

 

They were no sort of demon, no sort of monsters; just men.   Men who, as the great bard Shakespeare was to note, bled red blood just as any other man, woman or child does.  Men for whom there were probably as many reasons to join either side as there were men present. No man goes to battle for exactly the same reason as his comrades in arms, it is a purpose very unique unto each man present, just as what each man faces in combat is unique unto himself.

 

For those who survive it, it cannot be explained, only experienced.

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And for those who do not, it can only be honored and respected.  For it is a lonely destiny to be buried amidst one’s forever silent comrades who also will never return home.

Cemetary4a40052r soldier's cemetary Alexandria Va

099 confederate and union dead gettysburg jpeg

They were tough sons a bitches.  They had to be, to survive at all.  It is difficult to say who was luckier, those who were killed or those who were wounded.  Hospitals were not the best.

storymaker-civil-war-photography-1104115-514x268 savage station field hospital

Battles during the Civil War were something unseen ever before, the entry into the modern era of mass produced means of dispensing death.

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There are those who wish to sanitize it all, to remove what is known and replace it with their version because they find the symbolism offensive.  In doing so, they despoil the history of  any number of individuals who paid the ultimate price for what they believed.

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It is just a flag, after all.  Of no more intent nor disposition than any other piece of cloth woven and sewn for a multitude of purposes.

Battle_flag_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America.svg

It is a battle flag, a standard by which a body of troops can identify the location of others of their army in the confusion, noise, smoke and death of a battlefield.  It is a symbol to unify terrified men who know they may be about to die.  It is a symbol of pride of those who live and a shroud for those who do not.

What others make of it should not reflect upon those who marched until their shoes fell apart — until the dusty soil collected the blood stains of an army marching past — and spent lonely nights with the noise of it snapping in the wind while they waited the morning’s call to arms; perhaps to be their last morning of their lives.

Those who refuse to face the past, who refuse to accept that it is much more complicated an issue than can be expressed in a single sentence or two, or in twitter’s 140 characters are all too likely to be setting up the very circumstances to repeat an episode which should be studied and understood, but never, ever repeated.

Once was more than enough.

828 unburied dead cold harbor

 Sanitizing that which is distasteful instead of meeting it head on only leads to its repetition.  It also diminishes and disrespects those who tried — and perhaps failed, but tried none the less — to make the world better for those to follow.  Allow the long deceased the dignity of their death.  Understand what the flag was about before condemning it.  Before condemning those who marched with it, under it, alongside it and behind it, to the beat of a young drummer.

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Let not your voice be added to those who call for a repetition of a long ago time of insanity.  Allow those who died to lie in silence, in dignity.

546 devils den gettysburg

In looking at any of these photos, particularly of the dead, can anyone without some other clue or method of identifying, tell which is which, confederate or union?  Which marched to battle under the stars and stripes or those which rallied to the stars and bars?

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4 thoughts on “Despoilers of an Uncivil War

  1. Many things to think about here, thanks for putting it all together. I will read it several times.

    Lincoln remains controversial. Some think he was a great president, others think he was not so great. Although the South actually “fired” first, I can’t help but wonder if there were not things Lincoln could have done to prevent war. Even with all the cultural differences, the North and South had plenty of ties. Both Lee and Grant had graduated from West Point, for example. The fact that the war produced such carnage is not controversial.

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    • Hey Geran. How are you doing?

      Lincoln’s purpose was to keep the Union together. He is known to have said “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.” (The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume V, “Letter to Horace Greeley” (August 22, 1862), p. 388.)

      Yet he also said “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, “Letter to Albert G. Hodges” (April 4, 1864), p. 281.

      He viewed his role as President to keep the United States of America united. He did not view himself as any great “liberator”, but rather as the Executive in charge whose role was to keep the nation together.

      However, my post here is not about the Northern role in the Uncivil war. It is about the Stars and Bars, the battle flag of the Confederacy. It is about those who fought on each side, but more about those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in following what they believed. The battle flag is an honorable token of warriors, warriors who were willing to put their lives at risk in following what they believed. Whether or not that was right or proper I leave to others to argue, what my argument is in regard to is the honor of those who died.

      War is no pleasant experience and neither should it be glorified and raised into something it is not. It is ugly, violent and terrible in every measure. But the warriors who experience it, particularly those who do not return home, should be recognized as something special and should not be mistaken and mixed up with those who would use the battles they died in for political and selfish reasons. The deaths of those men, should never be taken in vain nor assumed to have been born of folly. It is as Lincoln himself said (In his Gettysburg Address), “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

      In looking at my family history, I have ancestors who were on both side of the Uncivil war. Ancestors who both survived and did not. As for me, I hold no particular preference for either side, nor hold that one side or the other was particularly more in the right or the wrong. But I do have a bone to pick with those who would hold me responsible for actions about which I have had no input or for actions of which I am accused by those who know me not.

      Some of my ancestors fought under the stars and bars. Perhaps some of them were racist; or not. Who is to say without knowing them? So I am aggravated by those who point to the battle flag and say that it should not be displayed because of what it symbolizes. What the flag symbolizes remains in the eye of the beholder and not to all is it a symbol of oppression. For some it is a reminder of what can happen. what did happen, and what should be avoided in the future.

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