With copyedit work for I Will Give Them One More Shot fairly well behind me, I’ve been taking the opportunity to re-read some of the books in my Civil War library. I just finished Reminiscences of the Civil War by General John B. Gordon of Georgia, and the final paragraphs got me to thinking about the upcoming Sesquicentennial.
Gordon’s book was published in 1903. In it, he makes no bones about his unabashed love and admiration for General Robert E. Lee. While he exhibits no great respect for several officers (in particular General Philip Sheridan), Gordon praises General Ulysses S. Grant for his magnanimity when at Appomattox he allows the officers to retain their side-arms and the soldiers to keep their horses. One would think that Gordon, who was wounded several times during the war and rose from a company captain to become one of Lee’s corps commanders, would be as entitled as any in the South to be bitter over its defeat. Instead, Gordon went on to serve his state and united country, becoming governor of Georgia and serving in the United States Senate.
In his book’s last paragraph, Gordon wrote what could be a guiding principle in Sesquicentennial observances:
Scarcely less prominent in American annals than the record of these two lives [Lee and Grant], should stand a catalogue of the thrilling incidents which illustrate the nobler phase of soldier life so inadequately described in these reminiscences. The unseemly things which occurred in the great conflict between the States should be forgotten, or at least forgiven, and no longer permitted to disturb complete harmony between North and South. American youth in all sections should be taught to hold in perpetual remembrance all that was great and good on both sides; to comprehend the inherited convictions for which saintly women suffered and patriotic men died; to recognize the unparalleled carnage as proof of unrivalled courage; to appreciate the singular absence of personal animosity and the frequent manifestation between those brave antagonists of a good-fellowship such as had never before been witnessed between hostile armies. It will be a glorious day for our country when all the children within its borders shall learn that the four years of fratricidal war between the North and the South was waged by neither with criminal or unworthy intent, but by both to protect what they conceived to be threatened rights and imperiled liberty; that the issues which divided the sections were born when the Republic was born, and were forever buried in an ocean of fraternal blood. We shall then see that, under God’s providence, every sheet of flame from the blazing rifles of the contending armies, every whizzing shell that tore through the forests at Shiloh and Chancellorsville, every cannon-shot that shook Chickamauga’s hills or thundered around the heights of Gettysburg, and all the blood and the tears that were shed are yet to become contributions for the upbuilding of American manhood and for the future defence of American freedom. The Christian Church received its baptism of Pentecostal power as it emerged from the shadows of Calvary, and went forth to its world-wide work with greater unity and a diviner purpose. So the Republic, rising from its baptism of blood with a national life more robust, a national union more complete, and a national influence ever widening, shall go forever forward in its benign mission to humanity.