Growing up in rural South Carolina, I discovered "The Fourth" on a July 4th evening in the late 1940s in Toms River, New Jersey. Grandmother Louise had taken me on the train to Philadelphia where we were met by Uncle Keith's family who were living in Lakehurst where Keith was stationed in the Navy. During our stay we travelled to Toms River to see the Fourth of July fireworks, a new and amazing experience. When I returned home I asked Thomas about The Fourth and the fireworks and he replied that it was a "Yankee" holiday that fell the day after the anniversary of the defeat at Gettysburg in the "War Between the States" and so was mourned in the South rather than celebrated.
Our nation is presently observing the 150th anniversaries of the events of this war but when I was born it was little more than 77 years since the defeat at Gettysburg. In my childhood The War was not much mentioned, and if then it was referred to as the "recent unpleasantness" or the "War Between the States" but never as "The Civil War". The few war stories I heard in my childhood all had to do with the Tatum family experiences with Sherman's troops or the McMichael Treasure hidden from Sherman and apparently everyone else. In early adolescence I discovered the stories of the "recent unpleasantness" in sources external to my family including the writings of Burke Davis that were published in the 1950s. And I learned to glorify the war along with my schoolmates and cousins.
Twenty-five years after Toms River I visited friends in Camden, South Carolina; which has a long history as a winter destination for "Yankees" with horses, and with golf and bird hunting on their mind. Camden had been bypassed by General Sherman in his "March to the Sea" - and there on the Fourth of July I witnessed my second major fireworks display associated with The Fourth.
Twenty-five years later I was passing through and took the occasion to walk the battlefield at Gettysburg one day, and then I walked the battlefield at Sharpsburg, Maryland (also known as the Battle of Antietam Creek) the next morning. Gettysburg was a three day battle fought on the first three days of July in 1863. It is considered to be the bloodiest battle in American history with 51,000 American casualties. Sharpsburg was fought Wednesday September 17, 1862, on an area of farmland outside town about the size of a family farm. It is considered to be the bloodiest day in American history with 23,000 American casualties. The horror was palpable, those two days, but particularly so while standing in the sunken road at Sharpsburg. Recent estimates are that 750,000 American men died as a result of "the recent unpleasantness". I vowed that day to "study war no more".
This year two publications have caused me hope that others are beginning to agree that there was no right, or righteousness, to justify the fighting of this war, no excuse, period - and that we fought it is "our nation's greatest failure". See The Atlantic Magazine of June 19, 2013: 150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War by Tony Horwitz. And; H. V. Traywick, Jr., in his new book Empire of the Owls, tells of the war completely through the "editing of contemporary diaries, letters, essays, newspaper editorials, memoirs, histories and official records, and the collation of them into a narrative form". Traywick's 10 page introduction is an excellent digest of the cause, the course, and the consequence of the war.
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