Last week included Jerry’s birthday and he determined that the most desirable present would be an overnight visit and guided tour of the Gettysburg battlefield.
Naturally I would have gone along with whatever Jerry wanted to do on his day, but for myself I had no particular desire to see a battlefield. I am so unmartial that I didn’t want to learn to play chess once I perceived how like a combat it was. I stopped being a natural athlete when I saw that one runner had to win while all the others lost.
I considered that men had this atavistic need to play or replay wars, probably explained sociobiologically, and I had no such need.
Besides all that, I knew that a battlefield is not a stage. It tends to be spread out, which makes it hard to grasp the choreography of moves and counter-moves.
It was only when we drew up alongside the sloping, green fields that I realized where we were. A cloud of suffering still wafts up from the terrain. You can sense the concert and collision of wills, the carnage, the chaos, the mental blueprints for the fight being blown about in the chances of fate or providence. It is dense around these fields.
It is still there, the Passion of these United States.
Our guide was an avid student of the history. He gave us a fair idea of the stakes, for Lee and for Meade, why this hub of roads and commerce turned into the hub of the Civil War, which actor is remembered justly by posterity and who deserves better – or worse – from the historians.
It is not over. People still quarrel over the main actors and their decisions. Should Lee have fought on that ground or pulled back? Did Pickett’s Charge have any chance at success or was it a futile exercise in vainglory?
Out of ammunition at Little Round Top, Joshua Chamberlain’s
will echo and re-echo, but there were other men, who helped to hold that hill, whose names should also be remembered.
How could the bronze faces on that Monument of the State of North Carolina, dedicated 66 years after the battle, show such fresh and desperate determination – when the original soldiers were gone or very old?
What a boundless slaughter it was! When Lincoln said his words over the white grave markers, the most dramatic fact was that it was the Gettysburg address! It helped to close this gaping wound in the American soil.
Is this a matter for men only?
If men behave nobly,
with manly honesty, fortitude, prudence and courage, that is surely
a matter of the utmost consequence for women.