this week, the American Civil War started.
I was raised in a small town that saw a lot of action in the war, and so have been a Civil War buff all my life. Not the military part of it, but the social aspects, how it affected the women and children who watched their loved ones go off to war, never knowing if they'd come home. It's always been a question I ask myself: would I have let my husband, father, or son go off to war, stoically holding back the tears, or would I have cried and begged him not to go? It changes from day to day, year to year. My great-great-grandfather was a veteran of the war; when we visit Gettysburg, fairly often because it's not that far from here, I am always reminded that I walk the same fields he walked, only his walk and his fear (he had to be slightly afraid, even if you got shot and lived through the initial hit, the doctoring could kill you) bought my right to walk freely. And, on those quiet June evenings, which is my favorite time to drive through Gettysburg, when the sun is setting and the horizon is lit up pink and purple and there is a peace and stillness, and all feels right with the world, that that peace was bought with blood.
There's a line in Traveler, Richard Adams' great book of the war, told by Lee's horse. I have to paraphrase it, but the idea stuck with me. He says the soldiers talked about going to War with such excitement, and he thought it would be a great party, and everyone laughing, plenty to eat, but he never knew what happened, because they never got to a party.
So I wanted to take a minute to remember the men who left their homes and families to fight, on both sides, and never came home; they still find skeletal remains on battlefields, and I often wonder who mourned them, and what difference could they have made in the world, given the chance to live? And the men who left, and came home, wizened by their experiences; my great great grand married that winter, and fought his Mennonite church for their anger at his acceptance of a military pension. They weren't there when he earned it, he said, they wouldn't tell him how to spend it. And the women, children, and families who let their men go to war, suffered for "the cause", and learned to go on when the man they let go, didn't come back.