Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pickett's Charge 150 - Aftermath

Originally published on on July 7, 2013.


The "Confederate Flag", a rectangula...

The walk across the field from the Virginia Monument to the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge with 15,000 others was not at all exhausting.  It was kind of exhilarating actually.  Besides the crowds of people on Cemetery Ridge, there were numerous vehicles.  Ambulances and television trucks were among them.  Someone on a Red Cross truck handled me a bottle of a water.  A lot of preparation had gone into the event and it came off very well.  I wandered around trying to find out if there was a crowd estimate.  A couple of rangers had given me eyeball estimates of 6,000 to 7,000. The official estimate ended up being 15,000.  I don't know, maybe you can count them.

My covivant who had been watching the mass coming across the field at the Angle thought the crowd was overwhelming and intimidating when she imagined them carrying guns and wanting to kill her.  She was most impressed, though, by all the random interactions of the people milling around after the charge was done.  A Confederate standing near her broke into a song she did not recognize which was followed by Amazing Grace, with everyone singing along.

The Confederate Flag

During the election I had the good fortune to interview Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  One of the things that I gave her a pretty hard time about was her party having a plank in its platform against display of the Confederate Flag

You have to stick your head in the historiographical sand in order to not think that the Confederate Flag stood for slavery for at least a few years.  Of course, Lost Cause historians have been piling up mountains of sand in the last century and a half, so there are plenty of places to stick your head.  Also, by the same standard, the flag of the United States of America stood for slavery for over eighty years.  Flags are symbols and symbols have meanings that vary.  

I think progressives who spend time being offended by Confederate flags are wasting that time.  Think about what the symbol means to the person displaying it.  When I see somebody displaying the Confederate flag my working assumption is that to them it stands for honor, courage and virtue.  That may be combined with an aversion to engaging with pre-1862 primary source material, but, frankly, very few people seemed inclined to do that.

We Get Ready To Go

I wandered around proving to myself what a lousy reporter I am and realized that I should get serious about finding CV.  This being 2013 and all, we both had cell phones.  Imagine how a couple of them would have changed the outcome 150 years ago.  She told me she was by the Angle.  CV has not exactly turned into a Civil War scholar since May 1st, when we first went to Chancellorsville, but she now knows considerably more than she ever intended to learn.

There had been a large number of tents set up by the cathedral-like Pennsylvania monument.  On Saturday there had only been one up labeled as a hospital tent.  I interviewed Bob Tycenski, a Verizon power technician, who impersonates a Civil War surgeon attached to the 14th Brooklyn.  CV and I kept meaning to get over to those tents and interact with the other interpreters, but there was always something more pressing.

As we walked by most of the tents were already struck.  I walked over to one of the few remaining tents.  It was close to where the hospital tent had been.  It was labeled "Embalmer".  The fellow in period costume told me more than I wanted to know or care to share about what was involved in preserving bodies for shipment.  The embalmers were free-lance and it was a service that only went to those who could afford it.  He said that his research indicated that the going rate was about 100 bucks for an officer and somewhat less for enlisted men.  CV wisely skipped that discussion finding a nice shady tree to sit under.

As we walked to our car I asked CV what her overall impression was.  She said that she was strongly reaffirmed in her belief that war is stupid, irresponsible, obscene and a waste of human life.  She thinks there is a better way to resolve conflict than sending your children to be slaughtered. (She had been really impressed by the comment by one of the interpreters that over 100,000 Civil War soldiers were under fifteen, some as young as nine.) She thinks that if we were to spend as much money on learning skillful conflict resolution as we do on war and preparations for war, we would be a world at peace.  She thinks we associate war with honor, duty and integrity, but it is really about slaughtering your children.

Just a couple of weeks ago CV and I had been wandering the streets of Northampton (which is a bit like Greenwich Village North) and noticed that Buffy Saint-Marie was playing at the Iron Horse.  CV said she kept thinking about the Universal Soldier

I wonder if any other of my 15,000 comrades had somebody who had actually been at Woodstock waiting for them on the other side of the wall ?

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

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