Lessons to Learn

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As we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is all too easy in studying battles, strategies, emancipation, political conflicts, etc., to lose sight of the fact that those going through this immense struggle were individuals like us.  The video above, with photos of Confederate soldiers, helps remind us of what just an immense tragedy the Civil War was for the loved ones of every soldier who fell in that war.  Virtually every soldier was loved by some one, and usually many people:  parents, siblings, friends, other relatives, and a wife or girlfriend.  It is fitting and proper that we study the war, but we must never lose sight of the human suffering behind what we study.  Many of the men in the photos in the video above doubtless died of illness or battlefield wounds far from family and loved ones.  It is for us to draw meaning from why they fought and what they died for.

It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy.  Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death.  It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach;  for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it.  From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth.  In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth.  But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.

Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884

6 Responses to Lessons to Learn

  • You can’t say civilization don’t advance… in every war they kill you in a new way.
    Will Rogers

  • Well, Joe what I would say for the generation that fought the Civil War is that their conflict ended slavery and we haven’t had a civil war since nor had a serious secession movement since. Some lessons I think were learned from that conflict. Ironically European militiaries failed to learn fairly straight forward military lessons from the Civil War, including the impact of easy to load long range rifles on tactics, or the trench warfare of Petersburg, both of which presaged World War I.

  • Fifty years ago when I was ten years old, Irish-American relatives in Pennsylvania sent me a pack of facsimile documents relating to American history. Among these was Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I had of course heard of the battle and the American Civil War – thanks to Hollywood, English boys of my age knew more about this war than our own more remote fratricidal conflict. I was so impressed with the language and the sentiments expressed that I learned it off by heart.

    If the PrayTell blog is anything to go by, a large number of Catholics in the USA (and it seems in Ireland as well) are up in arms about the new translation of the Roman Missal, even going so far as to claim the language is not English, or if it is, it is not comprehensible to the man in the street. I know that most of the critics have other axes to grind, but I wonder what they think of Lincoln’s celebrated rhetoric? ” … we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground.” This sort of rhetorical flourish occurs in the Latin of the Roman Canon, and is now rendered into English; “… these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices …” and “… this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim …” to give two examples. What is it about this that makes liberals foam at the mouth? And what would Lincoln’s address sound like if it were written by Obama or his speechwriters?

  • John I truly believe that the current translation we are working under had to be banal by intent, since I do not think it possible that it could have been rendered so painfully prosaic, and at the same time inaccurate, by accident! Liberals within the Church, at least most of them, often have a vampire-cross reaction to anything that in any way, shape or form departs from what was given birth to in the immediate wake of Vatican II. History of the Church starts for them in 1965 and ends around 1975.

    Note that Lincoln could write so beautifully and yet with such concision. Today most politicians use endless words with no grace, usually to conceal rather than to illuminate.

  • Don, had the Founders true foresight they would have picked their own cotton and never imported any slaves. Both races would have been better off.

  • Slavery existed Joe for over 150 years in the North American colonies before 1776. It was a well-established institution. The big cotton plantations were in the future Joe in 1776, thanks to the cotton gin and new lands, with fresh soil, opening up in the Southwest, which gave new life to what seemed to be an institution on its way out, North and South, during the Revolutionary era.

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