I have walked on hallowed ground. As I envision the great fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I hope that our nation will never erase the stories of the men who clashed on the bloodiest battlefield of the American Civil War. During the summer of 1863, three of the most decisive days in American history resulted in as many as 51,000 casualties. Whether Union or Confederate, soldiers across both sides gave the last full measure of devotion for the causes that they believed in. A legendary figure of that battle, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain suspected that future generations of his countrymen would always be drawn to Gettysburg “to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them…” Chamberlain was indeed correct. Not just Americans, but also people from around the world continue to flock to Gettysburg. There are few places on this earth like it.
In the wake of this summer’s tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the validity of monuments featuring individuals who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War continued to be highly debated. The push to remove monuments with any association to the Confederate States of America has largely been attributed to a connection with the preservation of slavery. From a political standpoint, the Confederacy was indeed interested in maintaining slavery, but wars are not fought by politicians and from the research that I have done, many Southern soldiers did not take up arms against the Federal government of the United States based solely over the issue of slavery. In the eyes of the average Confederate soldier, they were fighting the second American Revolution.
As media outlets continued to cover the monument debate, I went out on my own to learn more about the men who fought for the South during the Civil War. One of the most enlightening books that I read was Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne. Prominent Confederates such as Stonewall Jackson and even Robert E. Lee had fought for the United States during the Mexican-American War and were greatly troubled by the idea of a civil war, but like most people in the year 1861, the first loyalty of each man was to his home state. In the end, they chose war, but not to protect the institution of slavery. They were compelled by their duty to Virginia. Like so many others who took up the fight for the South, Lee and Jackson aimed to defend the life of the land that was sacred to them.
I remember feeling relief when I read that Gettysburg officials commented that Confederate monuments around the battlefield would not be removed. Gettysburg National Military Park is a place that offers tremendous learning opportunities and it would be a great detriment to future generations of Americans if history were erased. I see lessons about life in the nearly 1,400 statues, sculptures, markers, and tablets around the Gettysburg battlefield. The State of Maryland monument in particular features two wounded Marylanders, one Union and one Confederate, helping each other on the battlefield. More than 3,000 sons of Maryland served among the Union and Confederate ranks at Gettysburg. The monument is a reminder that the Civil War pitted “brother against brother and friend against friend.” After the war, Americans across the North and South learned to be brothers again until the end. We cannot take these lessons away from people and that is why I hope that history will live on forever in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.