©Bert Gildart: Officially, the Civil War began 150 years ago on April 12, 1861, but anyone somewhat knowledgeable about American history knows that several earlier dates might be ascribed to its beginning.
There was the infamous John Brown Rebellion, which Robert E. Lee squelched as a Union officer in 1859. But even before that, history has taught us that our Constitution of 1776 set us up for the war, asserting as it did that “all men are created equal.” However, it welcomed into the Union states that were avowed slaves states. In fact, the Constitution of the Confederacy was based on the foundation that the Negro is not equal to the white man, “that slavery… is his natural and normal condition.”
Victors, of course, always consider themselves morally superior, nevertheless, the question that continues to assert itself in the mind of many is: what would have happened had the war not been fought, a war that resulted in the death of 620,000? Horrible (See previous posts from Andersonville and Antietam) as it was – was the abolition of slavery worth all those lives? Was it worth the absolute destruction of Atlanta, the devastating siege of Vicksburg, the complete looting of homes in Fredericksburg…
CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGES: (L to R): Statue at Gettysburg; Robert E. Lee put down John Brown rebellion at Harper’s Ferry; 20,000 killed at Antietam in the course of a single day.
Many believe slavery would have died of its own accord, and some very prominent southerners had abandoned the practice, believing it morally wrong. Among them was Robert E. Lee, who once wrote his wife saying: … “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.”
HEROES OF THE TIME
But men of the time were impatient, and so a war was waged. Paradoxically perhaps, but in my mind’s eye Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln both emerged as heroes, but I sympathized with Lee, believing as he did that it would have been impossible to fight and kill members of my own family. Some historians also believe that Lee hoped his resolve might end the war and that the two sides would reunite as one; and in the beginning, it appeared as though he might succeed, for Lee and Stonewall Jackson outgeneraled their foes at every turn, yielding only toward the end when northern masses and vast technology finally prevailed four long years later.
Lincoln on the other hand had a vision, one that might have been difficult for a young man engulfed by the vitriol of contemporaries to share. Lincoln realized that to survive as a country, we must have unity. And unity back then could not have included slavery.
CLICK TO SEE LARGER IMAGES (L to R): Statue intended to depict horrors of the Andersonville Civil War Prison Camp; Lincoln pennies atop Gettysburg Address; Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Had Lincoln not been assassinated post war difficulties would have been more readily resolved: “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” were words from another famous Lincoln speech.
And so the North and South engaged in a horrible war. But the war provided a legacy, and it lives on as a series of lessons found today in a number of National Park Service managed areas. Visiting those battlefields is what Janie and I have been doing every chance we get. We hope these images serve to remind readers of the horror that can occur when men can not agree, but then, too, of the capacity to forgive though never to forget.
Note: We’ll be visiting family on the East Coast for the next two weeks, but will be returning on our round trip flight May 2.