What most people don’t know about Memorial Day… – Press Pros Magazine
All my life I have observed the traditions of Memorial Day – the soldiers and servicemen who gave their lives so that we could live to pursue a destiny. And the so-called “progressive thinking” about an imperfect world is not a reason for any of us to stop.
This will be the first year in twenty that I didn’t observe on Memorial Day weekend – the holidays – in Gettysburg, PA.
Many of you who know me know of my interest in history, and in particular the history of the Civil War. I am a direct descendant of three Union Army veterans, all of whom survived and lived into the 20th century. My mother’s uncle Joshua Kite lived until 1937 and freely shared what he had experienced in the Infantry of the Seventh Virginia (Union) in places like Second Masassas, Antietam and smaller conflicts. in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
I also have many relationships – friendships – with people of southern descent, who like me had family serving in the Confederate forces. And many of them have the same stories and perspectives conveyed about the horrors of that time in history – things written down, stories firsthand, and preserved for the sake of the family.
Oddly enough, the Southern experience was not that different from what Nicholas and Robert Simpson, my great-grandfather and brother, and Mr. Kite experienced for the North. As Sherman said during the 1864 campaign – his march to the sea – war is hell, no matter which side you are on.
This year I have other tasks that prevent me from going back this weekend, but I will get there soon. The flags will be gone, but the incentive is still fresh to pay homage to the brave, North and South, who fought for a cause they were forced to believe at the time.
Many now ask me if I am not reluctant to express opinions on the Civil War because of the current culture, demands for destruction of everything that represents Confederate consideration and the modern view than if you profess an interest in the life and impact of men like Robert Edward Lee, Thomas J. Jackson and James Longstreet you are racist. Of course, everything is now considered racist so you pick your topics and take your chances if you are a history student.
But to answer the question… NO! What I have learned from decades of studying and dealing with the most learned historians of our time – Bud Robertson (professor of history, Virginia Tech University), Wiley Sword (recognized author) and Edwin C. Bearrs (author and historian).
While many believe the Confederate military was fighting to maintain the institution of slavery, it was only one piece in a larger secession puzzle. The term “rights of states” was much broader than the fact that a man of one color has another of a different color. As with the problems of the day, many farmers and less important southerners were just fed up with the federal government. Like the Revolutionary War, they believed they were unfairly taxed and disproportionately represented. And the politicians who represented them, like the ones we have now, have done their best to stoke that fire for personal advancement.
In truth, very few members of the Confederate army owned slaves. Those who did were usually the rich who had “bought” their way of ordering. The grassroots fighter could not and ignored the policy of slavery. All they knew was that they weren’t wealthy plantation owners and were fighting for many who could afford to buy their way out of the struggle. Many called it “the war of the rich and the fight of the poor”. And their only justification for fighting was that the Federal Army was exacerbating their misery by invading their homeland. In short, they thought they were killing Yankees for the sake of self-preservation.
And they fought, which has always intrigued me – the fact of their blind loyalty to the state, and the only other common denominator – family.
In the North, the cry was to save the Union.
In the South, the cry was the rights of the state – the right to pursue their own destiny, economy, and foreign alliances without paying homage to a central government.
Men on both sides fought and died in unthinkable numbers for a cause they didn’t know enough to embrace. They were simply unwavering in their duty to follow orders.
The losses were horrendous, up to 30% in the average battle. Men who suffered arm and leg injuries ended up losing those arms and legs through amputation because the surgical methods were so rudimentary. If a limb was fractured, it could not be repaired. It had to come off.
The men knew their fate before battles, pinning their names, loved ones, and hometown to their uniforms so that they could later be identified for proper transportation to their homes and buried. They knew their chances of survival were slim, and yet they fought anyway – their call to duty.
Now come back and browse through these same fields. If you have the imagination you can’t help but hear the guns, the screams of wounded and dying men as the evening breeze sweeps across the landscape, through the sedges on the road to the charge of Pickett on Cemetery Ridge.
You can stand on the very rocks of Little Round Top, where the men bled and died.
And you know as you walk through Evergreen Cemetery, consecrated by Lincoln in November 1863 through his famous address, that so many others have been buried on the battlefield in hastily dug graves, and without an identity.
The deceased historian, Edwin C. Bearrs, said before he died in September 2020. He was 97 years old. “People can raise anything they want from monuments above the ground. But the ground itself is a monument, consecrated by blood.
I will always be amazed at what they did, the fighters – the courage of our ancestors who were so willing to die for the sake of people they would never know. I’m not sure we have more, which is why it is all the more important to understand it.
That’s why I go to battlefields and cemeteries on Memorial Day, a statutory holiday established in 1868, expressly for the remembrance of the dead of the civil war.
Remember the men who gave their lives for something imperfect… which still has a long way to go!