I had never understood people’s preoccupation with the Civil War. We visited Gettysburg as a stopover on a return from someplace else. Quiet visitors on the battlefield. Rangers respectful of both blue and gray. Visitor Center impressive. But it didn't really take hold.
|Gettysburg National Cemetery|
We went back this year. Stopped by Little Round Top (for the view) and avoided the lengthy ranger talk nearby. Observed a group on horseback listening to another lengthy talk. Too lengthy. For the 150th anniversary we came home and watched the movie Gettysburg. Over the next few weeks several of us watched the film Lincoln and the entire Ken Burns’ Civil War series. Shelby Foote, an engaging commentator on film, became an engaging historian over the 20 years it took him to write the 3 volume, 3000 page The Civil War. It was lengthy. I read every word. One might say the Civil War finally took hold.
Getting caught up in the war was appalling when I found myself rooting for general so-and-so to win the battle. All this killing should be painful to read; it sometimes isn’t. I was surprised, too, to find myself praying the psalms from the point of view of a soldier from either army:
Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out with our armies.
Grant us help against the foe, for human help is worthless.
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is God who will tread down our foes. (Ps. 60)
I am reading beyond the battles now, into war’s effects, which haven’t changed much. The anguish of a family, the struggle of a veteran to adapt to a prosthesis, unending work for civil rights, and the efforts to stamp out slavery, which has only changed its face.
Fifty years after the Civil War, veterans then in their 70’s and 80’s met at Gettysburg to reenact Pickett’s charge, a futile attempt resulting in an awful loss of life. As the old Confederate veterans looked up at the “enemy” and the old Union veterans looked down, a mighty groan of pain and remembrance arose from each side. The old soldiers rushed toward each other and threw their arms around each other. Fifty years of living with the “fruits of war” led them to reconciliation.
Sr. Christa Kreinbrink, OSB