Lessons to Learn
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