Friday, August 10, 2018

My Civil War

I've only just been there -- to Gettysburg -- and now I'm obsessed. Maybe not obsessed in the way so many of my Southern brethren have always been obsessed -- with the hallowed names, the superior military breeding, the incredible bravery, the almost super-human sacrifice, and the ultimate heroic loss in "Lost Cause." That's nostalgia, like faith, the evidence of things not seen.

I'm obsessed with how close we came to losing our nation.

Joshua Chamberlain
Really, really close. Union General Dan Sickles single-handedly just about did it. But for the quick thinking of Col. Joshua Chamberlain of the Maine 20th -- you wanna talk bravery? -- the road to Washington would have been wide open for Robert E. Lee.

Today, the streets are crowded in Gettysburg and you meet people. Everyone's from everywhere. I met a young guy from Greenville, North Carolina (small world). He was with his wife and two very young children. He was a loud talker and an entertainer by nature, so other people heard him mention North Carolina, including me, and he noticed it and spiked that ball.

"I'm from North Carolina, but I guess you'd call me a Union sympathizer."

We fell in after that and discovered we were both reading the new Ron Chernow biography of U.S. Grant -- he was actually re-reading it -- big Grant fan. And you might call me a Grant sympathizer. So we were not your typical North Carolina boys in Gettysburg, maybe, and we found that amusing. Because we also heard grumbling in the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor center that the entire "public" history being practiced there was one-sided and did not appreciate the Southern point of view.

One woman from Florida -- a super-pleasant woman with an open face -- said to me, "Didn't you think that movie presented the battle from the Northern perspective?" I thought but didn't say -- because why be sarcastic and also because I probably would have run away on Day 1 -- "I thought it was the American perspective." 

At least the perspective of any country I would call home.

It is a good thing the Union won on July 3rd, 1863. A terrible thing too. It was all terrible. Horrendous. Suicidal. But it is a good thing that the country didn't split up. It was a good thing that slavery was abolished. It was a blessed thing that we had another chance to perfect our union.

So when I hear Southerners characterize the Civil War as a fight for cultural and individual freedom, I want to ask -- but won't, probably -- "freedom to do what, exactly? Please lay that out for me, as I've got a couple of basic questions."

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