Commemorating What?

It’s a strange feeling to have to write a commemoration talk when the very thing that deserves to be remembered and reinforced has almost entirely been forgotten. Even I failed to acknowledge that December 6 was the anniversary of the passage of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery forever. Few Americans would have conceived of this as a possibility in 1861. The battle of Fredericksburg, which was fought on the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation, is part of this story of a “new birth of freedom” and deserves to be acknowledged in a nation that professes to believe in freedom and equality for all.

I believe the commemoration ceremony this coming Sunday is being held next to the Kirkland Statue. It’s a fitting place to hold the ceremony. We all know the story of Sergeant Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina who gave aid and comfort to wounded Union soldiers at the base of Marye’s Heights. That said, I would much rather be in sight of the soldier’s graves. They force us to ask the difficult questions of what the war means to us as well as what is worth remembering and commemorating. Kirkland’s story is one that all Americans can identify with, and rightly so, but when are we as a nation going to get to a point when emancipation and the end of slavery can be acknowledged as a fitting price for so much death and suffering?

5 thoughts on “Commemorating What?

  1. Bob Pollock

    I fully agree that we should acknowledge the issue of slavery. However, I also think we can become so focused on that issue that we forget just how important the issue of Union was. Would there be a United States of America today if the Confederacy had won? This is not to in any way diminish the importance of emancipation, but it was equally important to prove that a “government of the people, by the people, and for people” could survive.
    Ulysses S. Grant wrote to his slaveholding father-in-law on April 19, 1861, “The times indeed are startling but now is the time, particularly in the border Slave states, for men to show their love of country. I know it is hard for men to apparently work with the Republican party but all party distinctions should be lost sight of and evry true patriot be for maintaining the integrity of the glorious old Stars & Stipes, the Constitution and the Union…In all this I can but see the doom of Slavery.”

    Two days later he wrote to his own father, “Whatever may have been my political sentiments before I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.”

    In November 1861 Grant wrote again to his father, “My inclination is to whip the rebellion into submission, preserving all constitutional rights. If it cannot be whipped in any other way than through a war against slavery, then let it come to that legitimately. If it is necessary that slavery should fall that the Republic may continue its existence, let slavery go.”

    Grant, like most Northerners and some Southerners, recognized that slavery had caused the crisis, but it was the survival of the Union, the survival of the idea of representative democracy, that made them willing to lay down their lives.

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  2. Elizabeth Del Greco

    Slavery was NOT the cause, and how hypocritical to claim so. All 13 original colonies participated in slavery, and the practice was continued by northern slavetraders even as the war was being waged. Yes, Lincoln went before the US Congress TWICE during the war to try to stop the slavers from continuing to sell boatloads of slaves in South America and the Caribbean. The real issue was not slavery, but the Constitution. The States all joined the Union under a known set of rules, in which slavery was legal and protected, and this being in the Constitution, could only be changed by Amendment. The north, instead of abiding by the Constitution, the laws enacted by Congress, and the decisions of the Supreme Court, decided instead to agitate for slave uprisings and murder, and finally to armed invasion to change the law. This is what Southerners objected to, and rightfully so. Rational men do not settle issues with violence. No other country in the world abolished slavery through bloodshed. The lives of 625,000 Americans, plus another 50,000 civilians, along with untold millions in damage, theft and arson, was the price for Lincoln’s immoral and dishonest remaking of the government from that created by the founding fathers, to the over reaching and oppressive monstrosity we have today. The South fought for the original Constitution as created by the founders and the order of law, and against the lawless north and their profit hungry slave traders who were responsible for the institution of slavery in the first place.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Very interesting reasoning, Elizabeth. On the one hand you say “Slavery was NOT the cause” but then go on to say: “The north, instead of abiding by the Constitution, the laws enacted by Congress, and the decisions of the Supreme Court, decided instead to agitate for slave uprisings and murder, and finally to armed invasion to change the law.”

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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    2. Andy Hall

      “The South fought for the original Constitution as created by the founders. . . .”

      Except they added all sorts of protections for the preservation of the institution of slavery into the C.S. constitution, that were never in the U.S. Constitution. Did you miss that, Liz?

      “Rational men do not settle issues with violence.”

      Louis Trezevant Wigfall called to say he demands satisfaction!

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