It's important to remember lessons of the Civil War

July 08, 2011|By Art Callaham

I am writing this column on America's birthday while on vacation in Texas. So to you the readers who read this on July 10, and to all Americans, happy belated birthday America!  

Right up there with being called a veteran, I cherish the moniker American along with Christian, husband and father.  Although I've been called many things in my life, some not repeatable in this column, these names that speak to God, family and country ring most important in my life.

This time of the summer also reminds me to contemplate the beginnings of the great American Civil War. That war has many names: "War Between the States," "War of Northern Aggression" and my favorite, possibly spoken by my great, great, grandmother, "that recent unpleasantness."

From the names above, historians will certainly see my bias for the South; I just can't help it.  

The statue in the square in Hinton, W.Va., (the town where I grew up) was dedicated to the Confederate States, and other than my personal distaste and hatred of the abhorrent institution known as slavery, I still remain an avowed "states righter."

In my opinion, our great nation would be in a better condition today if the central government would allow the various states and the people to exercise the rights guaranteed to them by our Constitution and reemphasized in the 9th and 10th Amendments.  More on that in a later column, as my thesis today revolves around the Civil War.

Although the beginning of the Civil War, in terms of actual combat is rightly specified as the bombarding of Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the first major engagement between large armies occurred on July 21, 1861 near Manassas, Va. Manassas, a railroad center, lay along a lazy creek known as Bull Run. Therefore, the location gives us the two names for this initial battle:  First Manassas, or First Bull Run. Just a little over a year later a second significant battle was fought in the same area accounting for the numbering, first and second, of the battles.

I won't go into a long recounting of the engagement; almost all historians agree that the result was a stunning victory for the Confederacy.  Probably equally as important, from an historical perspective, was Mr. Lincoln's perception of a 90 day effort to "crush the rebels" was debunked and nearly four bloody years of warfare awaited Americans both Northern and Southern.

As of the year 2009, Americans, including some locally, began commemorating the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Civil War.  Commemoration activities in various locations will continue through April and May of 2015.  Your question may be: why?  Why all the commotion, why all the effort?

Although shared by others, my personal opinion and answer to the "why" questions are simply "so we don't forget." In this day and age when whackos debunk the 9/11 event and even landing on the moon as "staged." When some consider the "holocaust" and Pol Pot's "killing fields" purge in Cambodia as "myths," most sane people understand the need to remember — even the hurtful and painful events — so as not to repeat them in the future.

How often, in the history of the world, have various peoples forgotten their past and made mistakes that led to an end? Recall the Romans and their turning over of absolute power to an emperor from a senate that was acting as a representative of the people.  Add moral debauchery to the mix and arguably the world's greatest empire faded into history.

Who are we to believe that given enough time America's whackos will not press to make America more of a "government state" (like an emperor allowing government to run every aspect of our lives) and less of a democracy? Civil rights are usually the first to be oppressed. That oppression often starts with singling out groups and later individuals for special attention.

Special attention often means marking, denial of basic human rights, ostracizing, subjugation and ultimately elimination.  

Africans brought to America during the 1700s and the early to middle 1800s are prime examples of the special attention afforded to slaves in America. Could this happen again? The simple answer is yes. It took four bloody years of fighting, fighting among Americans to begin to eliminate that "peculiar institution" — slavery; some would argue that the process continues today.

Happy birthday America. I look forward to our commemorations of the great American Civil War. It is my prayer that we never forget that war's lessons.   

Art Callaham is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. 

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