I Have to Say Something
As of this writing (it could change tomorrow), a local group from the Tennessee chapter of the NAACP was, but now is not, but might (they haven’t yet made up their mind) come to Chattanooga to push for the removal of a statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart from outside the front of the Hamilton County courthouse. Speaking of statues like this, including the one of Gen. Robert E Lee recently removed from downtown New Orleans, a representative of the group said, “it’s time for these to come down.”
Is it really?
Speaking to one of our local news outlets (see source), another representative of the group said back in June: “We find it offensive to be reminded constantly of the atrocities that they [Confederate statues] represent.”
Really? Is that what they represent?
Look, I don’t want to be insensitive to my fellow Americans who suffered for generations under slavery – that is the last thing I want to do. However, if I allowed myself to constantly be reminded of evil every time I saw something that was connected in some way to that particular evil, I would have to call for the destruction of every high school I attended, every place my ex-girlfriends and I parked, and especially the places where bad things happened to people I love – including a few formerly-abusive, legalistic churches.
The reason so many of the statues of Southern generals were erected had little to do with the Confederacy and much to do with what was common on both sides of the Civil War – VALOR.
The Civil War (War Between the States) of the 1860’s was full of unbelievable tragedy. Literally, brothers, friends, cousins, uncles, fathers, and sons stood toe-to-toe across grassy fields and stared down the barrels of each others’ muskets. Thousands upon thousands of young and old men fought to the death in hand-to-hand combat, the surviving often left to suffer lifetimes of pain due to the horrible wounds for which modern medicine was not present to treat.
The reasons why men fought this war were not as simple as just a desire to end slavery. Actually, the Civil War was also about states’ rights (for the South), the struggle to preserve the Union (the North), and defending the honor of one’s own home. That was a time in our nation’s history of which context is very difficult to comprehend, even though volume upon volume of history books attempt to explain it. We weren’t there; we weren’t brought up the way they were; we don’t think the way they did; we don’t even write simple love letters with anywhere near the same literacy as the common soldier of that day, so we must be careful when we judge the characters being memorialized in bronze, including those who erected them.
Here’s My Point
I’ve said all this not to cause an argument, stir up hard feelings, or create debate. I’ve said all this in order to segue into a very important, yet rarely discussed event that happened 50 years after the battle of Gettysburg.
In early July, 1913, surviving veterans of the battle of Gettysburg, both Union and Confederate, came together once again. The big difference was that this time they were not enemies, but fellow Americans.
As you might imagine, some of the organizers of this historic event were a little nervous, but none of their fears were realized. There were no skirmishes, no clashes, no hateful banners, no protests, and no modern media looking to stir something up. No, what they had was quite the opposite of what the modern mind might expect – there was peace and reconciliation.
You see, these old men who 50 years earlier were attempting to slaughter each other understood the battle was over, the causes were settled, and that each, a fellow countryman, a fellow American, did what they did because they had little choice to do otherwise. They met as brothers, as new friends, as ones who respected the sacrifices each had made for the sake of duty and honor.
It’s not difficult to look up this on Wikipedia or other websites, should you desire, so the stuff I just told you is easily confirmed. But one story that totally amazes me, especially in the comparative light of our modern culture with all it’s protests and internal conflict, is the story of what happened at the conclusion of the 50th Reunion, the last event being the reenactment of Picket’s Charge (an event which originally resulted in 1,500 Union and 6,000 Confederate casualties – click HERE for history of the battle).
The following is from the caption accompanying the picture below:
“The climactic moment of the 50th Reunion was a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch as the Union veterans took their positions on Cemetery Ridge, and waited as their old adversaries emerged from the woods of Seminary Ridge and started toward them again. They converged as they had 50 years earlier at the stone wall but this time the Confederates were met with embraces of brotherly fellowship.”
What we have these days are people who are unwilling to forgive. What we have these days are people who can’t embrace. What we have these days are people who want to keep fighting old wars. What we have today are people who can’t appreciate honor, dignity, and valor.
What we have today is a country full of people who never literally stepped onto a battlefield to defend anything going around destroying everything when the blood has already been shed.
What we have today are people who can’t do what those who were actually there did: embrace in brotherly fellowship.
What we have today is an America divided, even though the very ones who once went to war to divide us were embraced by the very ones they tried to kill. I’m I the only one who sees the irony in this?
The monuments of Confederates here in the South are not monuments celebrating division or slavery; they are monuments commemorating honor, duty, courage, and sacrifice. The monuments of Confederates here in the South don’t celebrate old ways or injustices; they celebrate universal characteristics that turn ordinary men into leaders, the kind others would trust with their lives.
I believe the men who embraced at that stone wall in Gettysburg would have had no problem seeing monuments made of each other. After all, they were brothers.
Unfortunately, the time has come when we’ve forgotten that.
You know, it was reported in an earlier-linked news story that a representative from the NAACP said, “If you take [monuments] down, the history will not be erased. The history, that’s written in the pages and annals of libraries and tombs all across the nation.” Should you read the story linked to the picture of the monument you’ll come to learn that that’s not always so. If it had not been for the monument the history might have been lost forever.
So, I know I’m going to get hate mail, but I want the monument to stay.