Chickamauga National Mililtary Park: A place to remember and forgive
Today is Memorial Day, a day we set aside to remember those who paid the ultimate price serving our country. The holiday often just becomes a day to grill out or get that garden planted, but it's original purpose was to be a day of mourning. It is very easy to forget just how many Americans gave their lives in the service of our country over the years and still put their lives on the line today. But if you have ever visited a National Cemetery or Military Park, the evidence of their sacrifice is sobering.
On a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee last fall, my husband and I visited several Civil War Military Parks and a National Cemetery. At the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Parks we read the accounts of the battles and the numbers of casualties. I must confess, it was difficult to grasp the size and scope of the attacks and the numbers of dead and wounded. The Civil War still remains the most bloody and costly in terms of lives lost in U.S. history. Nearly 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War--more than all other wars from the Revolution through Vietnam combined.
What struck me about the Chickamauga Military Park (just south of Chattanooga, TN, in Georgia) was the spirit of forgive and forget that accompanied the creation of the park.
Just 24 years after the end of the Civil War, veterans from opposing sides of the Battle of Chickamauga held a reunion. They called it the Blue and the Gray Barbecue. Where "hundreds of soldiers and their families visited the sites of the bloody battle...smoking the pipe of peace, healing the wounds, and helping start the Chickamauga National Park, known as the Chickamauga Battlefield." The park was established the following year in 1890 to preserve and commemorate the battlefields and was the first and largest in the U.S.
There are 1,400 monuments and historical markers of granite and bronze in the park--nearly all quite impressive in their artistry. The Kentucky monument was not only beautiful to look at, but also in its sentiment. It reads: "Erected by the State of Kentucky in memory of her sons who fought and fell on this field. 'As we are united in life, and they united in death, let one monument perpetuate their deeds, and one people, forgetful of all asperities [harshness or severity], forever hold in grateful remembrance all the glories of that terrible conflict which made all men free and retained every star on the nation's flag.' " (Kentucky was a border state and had both Confederate and Union soldiers in the war.)
Kentucky Governor Bradley's monument dedication speech in 1899 continued that spirit of forgive and forget: (My emphasis)“Kentucky has evinced [clearly shown] no partiality in the evidence of loving remembrance. It carries with it no heart burning, no jealousy, no invidious [offensive] distinction. It is not an emblem of honor to the victor and and reproach to the vanquished, but an equal tribute to the worth of all. In future, the descendants of chivalrous Confederates may proudly gaze upon it, realizing that the state has honored their ancestors, and although their cause was lost, their heroism is revered and their memories perpetuated. And the sons of the brave men who fought on the other side may look upon it with equal pride, feeling that it fitly commemorates the gallant deeds of their illustrious ancestors , who preserved the Nation from destruction. May it endure forever, standing guard over victor and vanquished, with the statue that surmounts it, in one hand holding the torch of liberty shedding abroad its benign rays, in the other grasping the people, ready and anxious at all times to uphold the integrity of one country, and to drive, wounded and bleeding, from its shores any insolent foe that shall ever dare invade them.”
These people who had suffered and lost so much were indeed doing what President Lincoln urged the nation to do 34 years before in his 2nd Inaugural Address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, 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, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Today the question of States Rights vs. Federal Rights is again being raised. I wonder if we as a nation are capable of that same spirit of forgiveness that the post Civil War veterans exhibited so soon after their great conflict at Chickamauga?
In any event, I am grateful for the men and women of our nation who gave their all to preserve and protect our country. May God bless their families and God bless America.
History of establishment of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Parks
Links: Practically Speaking, Betterbrookfield, RandyMelchert, Jay Weber, Vicki McKenna, The Right View Wisconsin, CNS News, Mark Levin, Breitbart BigGovernment, The Heritage Foundation