A Union flag that survived one of the major battles
of the American Civil War
Last night I finally finished the last of the three Civil War books by Bruce Catton. Each one was between 450 and 500 pages with microscopic print! ZERO pictures and a few impossible-to-read maps. (The pictures on this post are from the good ole WWW.) I was so happy to be finished with these tomes--I had my own kind of emancipation!
As long as I spent laboring over these books, I'm glad I invested the time in reading them again. I'm particularly glad that I was able to complete them before Memorial Day. When you read about how very close our nation was to genuine separation (and possible annihilation), it puts a profound appreciation in your heart for the very phrase "these United States of America." I get all emotional now when I see an American flag flapping in the breeze.
A couple of Union soldiers found some off-time to pose
Since we are caught up today in a controversial war in the Middle East, I thought it would be interesting to share a staggering paragraph from this last Catton book. While not minimizing or trivializing what is happening in Iraq, these statistics put the specifics of our current military losses (and those of the entire 20th century, for that matter) into an interesting perspective.
"The war was in its fourth year, death and agony were familiar shapes, casualty lists were reaching out to every city and village in the land, day after heartbreaking day, all spring and all summer, and it was hard to see that victory was any nearer now than it had been in the spring. . .Grant and Sherman between them had lost more than 90,000 men in less than four months. Never before had the North had to bear anything like this, and when in the middle of July the President signed a call for 500,000 more men it looked as if it might go on and on forever."
Ninety thousand men--just in the North alone. In four months alone! The Confederate losses were nearly as mind-boggling. Many more thousands would die before Lee Surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in April of 1865.
A typical soldiers' campground at roll call
And why were these slaughter-house battles raging? Was it really "states rights" as many like to paint it? Was is the fear of economic impact from the loss of slavery?
Here's another sobering quote found in Catton. (He's actually quoting a Northern congressman who opposed the long-term implications of the Emancipation of slaves.)
"The people of the south have not been aroused against the people of the North by the love of slavery. I am to
the manner born and know whereof I speak--
it is Negro equality, not slavery, that they are fighting about."
Another observation Catton makes:
"The dread of equality was one of the things that had destroyed unity in the first place. When the President proclaimed the emancipation of slaves he had made it impossible for the Southern leadership to accept reunion, and he had disturbed many people in the North as well. The proclamation was a commitment to the future, of almost unlimited scope. In the war that had called it forth the past was breaking up, and a thing done to win the war had to be at the same time a thing done to help shape the future."
So maybe now you can see why I find these books so fascinating. The fact that we are at the threshhold of nominating and possibly electing a black president is significant beyond exaggeration. Especially seen through the prism of these three books. Without this horrible time of our history, this unprecedented possibility would never have seen the light of day. That which was begun on January 1, 1863, has truly "shaped the future."
A gathering of artillery in Virginia
A field hospital. Would make M*A*S*H* seem like the Mayo Clinic!
(An effective anesthesia hadn't yet been discovered!)