Monday, March 7, 2011


My husband and I didn't spend all of our time in Memphis; we drove through miles of undeveloped countryside to Central Tennessee to visit Shiloh, one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. We visit places like this to try to better understand a different time and place where two armies, equally willful, fought each other to the death in April of 1862 because of their beliefs in something greater than themselves. We went to Shiloh (Hebrew for 'Place of Peace') Church where the battle began. We visited the peach orchard, which was in full bloom on that terrible day, where peach blossom petals fell on the faces of the wounded and dead. We walked along the same sunken roads where great generals made decisions that would alter how Americans would feel about a war that was supposed to be short, and cost few lives. Later, great historians such as Ed Bearrs and Shelby Foote would look out over the fields, imagining events of the past as they unfolded. And we went to the bloody pond where hundreds of wounded soldiers went to take their last drink of water.

These places always make me stop and reflect about what our country was, and because of the Civil War, what it has become. Some say that we could have resolved our differences, reunite the country and emancipate the slaves, without the loss of over 600,000 lives. I make no pretences of being up to the task of answering that question. Who were these young men? When I look at their pictures and read their letters (some of them were barely literate), I get only clues. Perhaps it's enough to simply be grateful for their sacrifices.

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