It is this beautiful house that is surrounded by one of the most serene and peaceful parks in our city where we run, take the dogs to swim, ride bikes, and pic-nic on this consecrated field that almost 10,000 men lost their lives on in a darker part of our history.
The traditions and gentility of the South are the virtues that I have loved and appreciated my entire life. I love that hospitality and relationships still take precedence over prosperity and progress (well for most of us anyway). I love that I pass by a dozen churches of several different denominations on my 7 minute drive to school each day. And I love that I live in a place where heritage and history are still a vital part of every day life.
The blood of several thousand men drenched the fields where my children play, the lot that my house was built on, and the land that our local Kroger and Target currently sit upon. Every place we travel in this town is marked in one way or another by the scars of that bloody battle.
This is the country's largest private military cemetery. Carrie McGavock, the lady of the Carnton Plantation, meticulously recorded in her Book of the Dead the name and/or serial number of every soldier that lay dead in her yard in an effort to get these men home either in body or in spirit. Hundreds whose bodies were never claimed were put to rest in her family's cemetery.
Oddly, and I guess rightfully so, our children love to be in this graveyard. So, their excitement at getting to see a reenactment of the battle that gave birth to the cemetery was more than they could stand.
So we watched as these men fought the Union troops unsuccessfully, and then we walked around the grounds to hear the demonstrations and learn about the life of a Confederate Soldier.
And the life of a slave in the Antebellum South. I KNOW. I was appalled too. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was talking to this man who was relishing his role as Jim the Happy Slave. He told the kids what his day would have been like during the 1860's. He told us that he was one of about 44 slaves on the Carnton Plantation. He had the kids beat rugs with large sticks while he told them how up to a dozen of them would sleep in a single bed together to keep warm in the winter, and finally, he talked about how he longed for freedom...
It seems that the longing for freedom is the one universal struggle that every man regardless of race, gender, religion, or social class shares. And if you don't take anything away from a thorough reading of the Bible, you should take this- we have an uncanny ability to enslave ourselves over and over again. And when it's voluntary, we relish in our bondage.
And while Jim was involuntarily enslaved physically, and certainly didn't deserve his lot in life; I have always been inspired by the stories of bravery and perserverance of the slaves during a horrific time in the history.
So when we listened to Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address as passionately as if he were actually on the field at Gettysburg, it started to make sense. Talking about my love and appreciation of the men who fought the battles on these southern fields seemed to be so politically incorrect that I finally decided that no good could have ever come from this war that so decisively split our young nation.
But maybe I was wrong. Because as Abe Lincoln said, "we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
And just as God ordained, a new birth of freedom under God is always a good thing irregardless of the situation that it springs from.
And as the great Southern General Robert E. Lee said, "The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He can not only forgive; he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which imparts sufficient strength to let the past be put the past."
So may God and man both forgive the South for its transgressions against our fellow man, and may we never forget the brave soldiers who have fought and are fighting to preserve freedom for the entire brotherhood of man.