Thursday, April 15, 2010

Addressing Gettysburg

Sometimes current events have a way of dovetailing with personal experiences.

Case in point: After a weekend in the nation’s capital visiting my brother and his family, and also spending time with our in-laws celebrating Jim’s retirement from ExxonMobil and the birth of his two grandsons (one of which—Finley—we share), Gilda arranged a two-hour guided car tour of Gettysburg. Over the last half dozen years or more, we’ve often driven by the turning point battlefield of the Civil War, but never took the initiative to stop and contemplate how different our country would be had the South emerged victorious in this decisive engagement.

King Richard III of England was said to have lost the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 “for want of a nail,” the full text of unknown authorship being:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

As described by our able guide, Ray, the Army of Northern Virginia might well have carried the day on the climactic third day of battle (July 3, 1863) if not for some inopportune occurrences during the fog of war. I won’t tip you off as to what they were. I’ll let you read about it elsewhere, or better yet, you can visit Gettysburg on your own. But I do want to point out the coincidence that our time in Gettysburg earlier this week overlapped the dust-up over Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proclamation of April as Confederate History Month. His original pronouncement excluded any mention of slavery as a cause of the Civil War.

I’m not going to pile on my distaste for McDonnell’s reasoning and the evident bigotry of his thinking and the apologists who have rushed to turn the Civil War into a states rights issue and not a human rights issue. Instead, I commend to you an essay by Grace Elizabeth Hale (and reader reaction) from the web site: