“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”George Orwell
In town squares dotted all over Upstate New York stand monuments to the sacrifices made by young men who fought and died in the Civil War — to end slavery. Yes, there. I said it. Despite what modern students think or were taught, the boys and men knew exactly what they were fighting for even if some warmed hotter over the Union and some the abolition of slavery. But everyone knew that slavery was at the core of the regional conflict. It had been brewing for decades.
It’s strange to me that the same people who try to say that the Union soldiers buried in unmarked graves and those who came home with life changing injuries and lingering disease “were all a bunch of racists anyway.” In a funny way they are aligning themselves with the Southern notion of the glorious Lost Cause. Both want to blot out the very real and tragic consequences of violence and mob rule. More importantly they blot out the courage and the sorrow inflicted on states like New York that sent more men to war than any other.
“The real war will never get in the books.”Walt Whitman
Read the enlistment flyers, learn about the WIDE AWAKES who marched through tiny villages with torches and hearts full for a man from Illinois who had spoken against slavery. Even the Southerners understood that Lincoln was a threat, but we pretend he wasn’t all these years later! It seems ridiculous that it even comes up for debate.
I actually understand why a thoroughly trounced army would seek solace in the mythologizing of their past. I understand why the women folk would nurse their men’s starved egos and why they would paint the Union cause in a way that most allowed for their own manhood to survive.
The modern “rebels” on the other hand, in upscale college towns, have something of the cult about them. Little have they been taught of the country they were raised in. It’s not their fault really. I was a teacher for a while. I won’t say more. But at some point, you have to escape the groupthink.
When I was at New York University it was already becoming fashionable to align with a victim group. My friends and I got kicked out of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for unfurling a pro-Irish Republican Army banner and chanting violent slogans. I’d read a few books on the Irish Famine and the “evil” Brits, while selectively ignoring the bombs the IRA planted that killed horses. My main focus that day was finding a good-looking boyfriend and standing out in the crowd. If something I “stood for” got others killed across the pond, well, so be it. The ends justified the means, my socialist professor had said again and again, while smugly making his living saddling young people with debt and stupidity.
Modern college students from Skidmore who knocked down and destroyed the Civil War soldier standing watch over Congress Park in Saratoga Springs may not have been thinking about hook-ups while trashing history. Maybe they were truly certain that the noble boys their age, who were killed, maimed and left for days on battlefields to suffer and die horrible deaths as they fought against slavery, were somehow also totally responsible for slavery.
One of my illiterate grandfathers escaped the Irish famine only to join the Union Army and fight at Gettysburg. He survived the war and returned home to be a blacksmith. There is nothing in the records that hints he thought life unfair. He may have been prejudiced. I have no idea, but whenever you have groups of people vying for a leg up in society, they act tribal. It’s the way of the world. I saw this even when I taught school. There were boys who were Caribbean descendants of slaves and boys who were African American. These two groups were not unified under the banner of victimhood. More often than not, they stood aloof from each other — especially the parents.
But back to the tearing down of statues symbolizing the very cause you say you stand for … when the Saratoga statue was wrecked it hit home for me because I know the stories of some of the men and boys whose names appear on the monuments. I’ve read the letters sent home by lieutenants delivering the sad news of a son’s burial out back of a bloody field hospital. So much is left unwritten. “My condolences … his friends will miss him.” Is that all?
Every one of those names forgotten by most Americans.
Teachers and professors who rob our students of the pride and gratitude they could feel for the people who came before them are sick indeed.
There is an animating fire when you tap into rebellion and violence. You cross a line that feels so exhilarating and powerful, yet you fool yourself. Your power is destructive and pointless and blinds you to your own inadequacies and insecurities. You never get to the roots of your own problems! This deprives you of the compassion and love you could feel for others and the return of that love back to you.
I was so happy when we went to Congress Park this weekend to see that the statue that means so much to me personally (because an orphaned character in my BOOK SERIES sees this statue as her only connection to her father who had served in the Union Army) had been repaired.
So many of the Civil War monuments depict the soldiers as almost middle aged. I wonder if it’s a statement about how quickly war ages a man or how the returned soldier was a symbol of the country’s new maturity.
I’ve only found one monument with a youthful soldier gazing off to some faraway memory, but it’s haunting. I’m writing a fictionalized account of a young cousin of mine who didn’t come home, and I prayed during the violence for the protection of that statue looking out over my cousin’s neck of the woods. It’s only a statue, some heartless people say, but it’s so much more.
4 responses to “Restoration of a Monument”
This is some beautiful writing. I often read of men getting off the boat from Ireland and immediately being sent to fight. So sad.
From what I’ve heard about my 3x great grandfather he was probably itching to fight! Lol.
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I’m not able to post a comment on your site (having trouble with this iPad, even just trying to write to you!) but want to thank you for such a heartfelt article about honoring the young men who fought in the Civil War, and remembering their family’s sorrow when they didn’t return. And though I believe the South was completely wrong in its determination to maintain their Southern mores, aka slavery, they also suffered heartbreak at the loss of those they loved.
Generations later, people want to color history with contemporary memes. They weren’t WOKE (no, they weren’t) Black Lives Matter (Black slaves built much of our nation’s capital) I can’t breathe (none of us can if any one of us can’t.) We’d do better to understand what really happened 400 to 160 to 70 years ago. So we can fix the current racist slog and move forward with somber comprehension of what we might avoid in the future.
Took courage to write this, good for you.
Hope all is well on your home front, what else can I say?
Be well, Shari
The education system is broken, or at least off kilter. I personally put the blame on the ideologies that seek to divide us. Young children should not be pumped with self-hatred they have no way of emotionally dealing with.
The complexities of history are far more interesting and inspiring than just painting certain groups bad and others noble. It’s a dark fantasy. And for so many people it’s an easy way to find acceptance when you have no idea who you are (but have been told you are a parasite on the earth for eating meat or being related to a certain genetic line).
To me history should be told as a hero’s journey. The hero has flaws, and the hero is every one of us, be he’s also capable of being heroic.
I had to take a small break from the adoption stories because it gets too dark.
Hope you are well in sunny Cali.