Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. It was the turning point for the war as Robert E. Lee gambled and lost, sounding the death knell for the Confederacy though the war itself wouldn't end until April of 1865.
I've stood on Little Round Top where Joshua Chamberlain and his Maine soldiers defended and held a key point against the Rebels against incredible odds. The site echoes the ghosts of the battle, and it was a hot day in July and they were wearing those wool uniforms (or if they were wearing lighter material, I'm sure it still itched!). And don't let anyone tell you a place is just a place and means nothing. You can feel what happened there, even as the sun shines and the birds sing. Pickett's Charge was the last gasp and the South never truly recovered.
Gettysburg itself had many dead (men and horses) to bury in the withering heat of July. People wore handkerchiefs over their faces as they went about their grim business.
And, finally, in November of that year, President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address at the cemetery.
It's a shame there isn't more acknowledgment of these events. There is a re-enactment going on in Gettysburg but people don't know or talk much about the seminal event in American history anymore: the Civil War itself. When the anniversaries were 100 years old, not 150, people cared. I remember reading an old Peanuts book from the early '60s and the kids went around in kepi hats and played Civil War soldiers as well as cowboys and Indians. Shows like The Twilight Zone featured several Civil War episodes. Lincoln, always popular in the American mind, was even more written and talked about during the Civil War Centennial.
Why should we care about a war long gone? Because it changed everything in this country and its effects are still being felt today.
In 1913, the survivors of Gettysburg got together for a reunion. Old men by then, the old silent films show them camping on the battlefield, Union and Confederate alike. Funny how wars like World War II and Korea are now getting as old and distant as the Civil War, trapped in their black-and-white images and the veterans are either old or dead.
Wars are terrible, but they are part of history and move events. It doesn't hurt to be more cognizant of history beyond last week.