|Confederate Monument at Shiloh|
This past weekend, my DH and I and two of our very good friends went to Shiloh National Battlefield and the monument at Salem Cemetery in Jackson, TN. Despite the fact that ever since I was a young teenager I have been fascinated and horrified by the manner that my country tore itself to pieces, destroying the lives of more than 620,000 men I have never been to a single Civil War monument, battlefield, or memorial until this visit. There is a sense of the sacred and hallowed at both of these places, just as I am willing to believe this sense permeates every battlefield of the Civil War.
|View across an open field taken from the Sunken Road near the “Hornet’s Nest”|
Shiloh is a sobering place—viewing the many places where the men of two countries (and no matter how any one wishes to look at it, the Confederacy was a sovereign nation for five short years) advanced on each other in outmoded Napoleonic tactics while armed with what could only be termed modern arms. The American Civil War was fought with those outdated battle tactics using the most efficient killing machines of the time. Men marching across open fields in closed ranks were mown down by cannon fire and rifles firing a heavy, soft lead round at incredibly low velocities.
Shiloh is also as place that is incredibly infuriating for a lot of reasons. The sheer stupidity of the war tactics makes me shudder. The men who were the tacticians were brilliant—for the most part. However, except for the few who practiced guerrilla warfare (Forrest, Mosby, and Morgan to name a few), these brilliant tacticians kept marching men into harm’s way in tight formations. The men who marched across these open fields under withering cannon fire and merciless rifle fire were little more than fodder for the Grim Reaper.
Dotting every field were monuments raised by the Northern states commemorating the honor and sacrifice of their native sons. I can count on one hand the monuments raised to the sons of Dixie. There are two stunningly gorgeous monuments which are truly works of art dedicated to the men who fought under the Stars and Bars. I sincerely doubt the lack of monuments honoring the fallen men who wore the grey was because the states of the Confederacy didn’t want to raise a monument to honor their fallen sons. I’m told at Gettysburg there are as many monuments for the CSA as there are for the Federal troops. Rather, I’m inclined to believe until very recently the lack of Confederate monuments was a deliberate policy, dating back to 1866 with the establishment of the National Cemetery at Shiloh.
|Detail of the center of one of a very few Confederate monuments
The National Cemetery at Shiloh where row upon row of white marble headstones march down the gentle slope to Pittsburg Landing is only for Federal troops or others who had fought in similar engagements. In 1866, when the cemetery was established, Union troops were disinterred from their resting places on the battlefield itself and buried in the new National Cemetery. According to the plaque at the entrance of the cemetery, very shortly after the battle, Federal details buried the dead near where they fell. Of the 3500 men interred at Shiloh National Cemetery, more than two thirds of those men could not be identified and their mortal remains are marked with either a number or just the legend of “U.S. Soldier.” The Federal dead are interred into individual graves. The Confederate dead, on the other hand, were disinterred and placed in mass graves.
|One of five mass graves for the Confederate fallen at Shiloh|
ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME????
These men who wore the grey could not be interred at Shiloh? They could only be interred in mass graves and not within the confines of the National Cemetery? Did not these men fight with as much honor as the Federal troops? The men who rest for all eternity in the arms of their fallen comrades in these mass graves are not even allowed to rest under the flag they fought, bled, and died for. The battle flag of the Army of Tennessee—an incredibly small one at that—waves in the front of the marble marker noting each of the mass graves, and at two of the mass burial sites the Bonnie Blue Flag also graces the front of the markers. One of those mass grave sites requires a hike of two-tenths of a mile to reach it. Other than what appeared to be a handpicked bouquet of withered, faded wildflowers, this particular grave site was untended. This was the fourth of the five mass graves that we stopped at to pay respects and give homage to the fallen and I was the only one in our party who hiked back to the site. This site broke me down to my knees and I knelt at the marker and cried. I cried for the men who left behind families, wives, children and loved ones—families who never knew where their son, brother, father, or husband was buried. I cried because these men were meant to be forgotten, to never be spoken of again, never remembered. Unlike the Federal troops who could not be identified but were interred in an individual grave, this attempt to erase all recollection of these men from the pages of history was a deliberate act.
|Another of the mass graves for the Confederate fallen. This one appears
to be untended, other than the caring soul who left a hand-picked bouquet of wildflowers.
Were the wounds so deep that as a nation we could not fulfill the promise made in Lincoln’s second inaugural address when he said “With malice toward none, with charity for all. . . let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan” and rather we could condemn countless men to be forgotten and leave those widows and orphans to mourn and never know for certain where their loved one was buried? Are the wounds still so deep that we cannot accord these men the honor of allowing them to rest under the flag for which they fought and bled and died? Have we truly reached the point where political correctness trumps history and we will not allow those fallen the same honor to sleep under their nation’s flag as we allow their brothers in blue?