“Won’t It Be Grand to Meet the Men From All the States”

[Photo: Mike Thieler, Reuters]

On this 1-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. I can’t help but reflect on a short passage from a letter Robert Gould Shaw wrote to his mother on April 18, 1861. Shaw and the rest of the Seventh New York Militia were set to travel from New York City to the nation’s capital on the very next day. His parents were returning to their home on Staten Island and Rob understood that he would not be able to say goodbye in person. Still, he felt a strong need to explain his sudden departure.

The letter includes the following:

Won’t it be grand to meet the men from all the States, East and West, down there, ready to fight for the country, as the old fellows did in the Revolution?

Some of you will recognize this quote from the opening scene of the movie, GLORY.

For many of the men in the first wave of recruits this was their first visit to Washington, D.C. Regiments camped in federal buildings, including inside the capitol building and its unfinished dome. They had volunteered to defend the Constitution and the rule of law and help to put down an illegal insurrection.

The sight of the federal buildings and monuments scattered throughout what was still a city coming into its own, along with the interaction with volunteers from around the country, must have helped to reinforce what it was they were fighting for. The volunteers could now visualize their nation. It was no longer a cause understood in the abstract.

Our nation’s capital has always had a certain hold on me and I suspect for many of you as well. I  feel connected to something larger than myself when walking by the Lincoln Memorial and the capital building. I absolutely love walking among people from around the country and beyond. It’s a city that can bring out the best of us, such as the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and as we saw last year on this day it can bring out the worst in us as Americans.

Others have said it in much more eloquent terms than I, but if we do lose our democracy, it will happen because we chose to abandon it.

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4 comments… add one
  • Walter Kamphoefner Jan 8, 2022 @ 19:33

    “Won’t it be grand to meet the men from all the States, East and West, down there, ready to fight for the country, as the old fellows did in the Revolution?”
    Indeed, despite myths of a “Solid South,” every state but one of the would-be Confederacy produced at least one white Union regiment. The exception, of course, was South Carolina, “too small for a republic and too big for a lunatic asylum,” in the words of a rare SC Unionist, Judge Petigru.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2022 @ 3:15

      True, but Shaw was certainly not aware of Southern Unionist support when he penned this to his mother in 1861.

  • Suzanne Crockett Jan 6, 2022 @ 5:54

    Heartbreaking day. Picture at the start of this article of off-duty Virginia National Guard resting in Capital. https://www.rollcall.com/2021/01/13/troops-are-sleeping-in-the-capitol-its-been-a-rare-sight-since-the-civil-war/

    • Kevin Levin Jan 6, 2022 @ 5:59

      Thanks for sharing.

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