Memorial day started after the nation’s national nightmare, the Civil War (or The War Between the States for those south of the Mason-Dixon line) was over. The amount of blood spilled was beyond what the country had seen before, or has seen since. The toll on the South was especially horrendous, Sherman’s march to the sea was scorched earth warfare, horrific enough to be called a war crime if done today. Many a returning soldier came home to find his his farm to be little more than a smoldering heap. His family, for their part, were lucky to have him back, for hundreds of thousands no such reunion would take place.
It was against this backdrop of carnage and sorrow that Memorial Day came to be. Not a celebration of victor over vanquished, but a solemn remembrance of those on both sides that gave all. As Lincoln had declared, the end of the war was a time to stitch the country back together, and heal wounds struck deep. In the spirit of of “malice towards none,” one of the first Memorial day events saw the ladies of Columbus, Mississippi decorating the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. In fact, memorials cast in the image of heroes whose gallantry in battle spurred on men of both sides were erected throughout the land.
Today, the wounds are being laid bare once again. In what could be a described as vengeance, civil war monuments are being taken down across the south. With the words and admonitions of Lincoln long forgotten, the left is tearing asunder what they see as not politically correct. There justification is the monuments are tributes to slave owners, therefore paramount to glorifying slavery, balderdash!
While slavery is inextricably linked to the Civil War, it was not the only factor. The truth was, even without the slavery issue the North and the South were always of different temperament. The economic policies enacted to benefit northern industrialist often harmed southern interest. Yankees were seen as back stabbing types by Southerners, and many in the North felt similar contempt for those in the South; the two sides were separated by language, custom, and culture. If slavery would of been the sole issue, their might of been some willingness to find a compromise. The truth was, mistrust, fed by economic betrayal, led to a power struggle that negated any chance of a peaceful resolution. Slavery became a linchpin, a concrete symbol of Southern independence that the South would not be bullies out of. The truth is, most of those who fought and died for the confederacy did not own slaves. Connecting themselves to the Revolution, they fought for independence from, as they saw it, an overbearing government that did not represent them.
In the end, the war settled the slavery issue, as it did the succession effort by the southern states. Yet, the soldiers of both sides understood the need to remember those who fought, no matter the side. For years afterward, there were gatherings of Civil War soldiers, men with worn blue and gray uniforms commiserating and remembering together those lost. No one asked about the slave holding status of the men who fought, or those who died, they knew it did not matter. All were soldiers who answered the call, and fought the battles they were asked to fight.
Old Foes Shaking Hands, Similar in Spirit to Like Meetings Between Japanese and American World War II Vets, But with Deeper Meaning
Maybe it is the years that have past, but civil war soldiers are dying again it seems, this time in America’s memory. Those that recall seeing them marching in memorial day parades are becoming few. Then, if anyone dared disrespect those old relics of another time, a fight would of ensued regardless of which side they fought.
The real healing that made this possible came from President Lincoln and General Robert E. Lee. President Lincoln admonished the Nation to move on with “malice towards none, and charity for all.” Lee spoke of once being a Virginian, but after the war becoming an American. On the slave issue, he famously took communion with a black man when others seemed to shudder at the thought. The truth is, in deed Lee lived Lincoln’s admonition more than anyone from either side.
Today, if any old confederates were still around to celebrate the day, they would have to do so under police escort. The words of Lincoln and actions of Lee have been forgotten. Ignorant fools with scarcely more historical knowledge than that of an Amazon tribesmen rule the day now. Lost in their rush to dismantle that which they do not comprehend, is the message of brotherhood the first memorial days brought with them. While many soldiers have died since, and the day has morphed into a day to remember them as well, Americans should not forget the holidays origins; at a time when wounds were still fresh, a people divided decided to wipe away the tears in order to become whole once again.
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(Related Post: The cultural Cleansing of America’s Southern Heritage)