Jewish World Review July 12, 2013/ 5 Menachem-Av, 5773
Gettysburg at 150: The show's over, the ghosts remain
By Paul Greenberg
Muffle the drums, furl the flags. The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the great battle is concluded, this year's faux battle lost and won, the hurly-burly done. The crowds and tumult are gone, and once again the grass is allowed to grow in peace. I am the grass; I cover all ... Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work. This place is outside a small town in southern
Here the rock from which we are hewn -- The War that made us what we are, north and south -- came to its climax. The
And here the Old South died, with its old grace and its old pretensions and its old curse that the Founders dared not even name in their -- and still our -- Constitution, as if even calling slavery what it was would also call down the old curse on the whole American venture. Their circumspection in framing the new republic's fundamental law was an unspoken recognition of how shameful the
Slaves would be referred to only obliquely in that founding document -- as "other persons" or persons "held to Service or Labour." Everyone understood, though not everyone dared admit, that the slaves' thralldom was at the root of this great conflict. It was their existence by the millions that was the ultimate reason why these two great armies would converge on this quiet, wooded terrain on a summer's day and turn it into a field of blood.
Now that hallowed place can fade back into the past again, its peace disturbed only by the tinny sounds of historical re-enactments and whatever detritus the tourists leave behind.
Now the grass returns, covering all. And the ghosts who never go away, though they may be obscured for a few days every July in the glare of artificial lights and an artificial battle, return to roam the places where they fought and died and made history -- Seminary and
What draws us to such places? The same thing that attracts pilgrims to a shrine -- this place was holy even if those who met here in mortal combat knew it not. Today we approach it warily, reverentially, unaware that the holy is everywhere, deep within us always, wherever we go, waiting only to be summoned up. And now, 150 years later, it is summoned at the mention of a single name:
Little has changed here, and too much. At least and at last we are learning not to try and prettify the place. There are to be no more manicured lawns to go with the elaborate state memorials that dot the old scenes of carnage; the National Parks Service says it will try to restore the old fields as they were in July of 1863.
A visitor from the East, the real East, the Orient, must resist the urge to slip off his shoes when he follows Pickett's Charge up the ridge -- as far as it got. For this is holy ground. When he pauses in his pilgrimage and falls still, he can still hear the Rebel Yells faintly echoing, and then they stop. Like the Old South itself. For here it, too, fell. Now all we can do is stand in awe. We cannot dedicate -- 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.
How strange that the decisive battle of The War should be fought at an obscure crossroads away from the two rival capitals at stake,
Looking down from
It is emblematic of the mythic status of one man that 150 years after his and his country's decisive defeat, Lee should still be at the center of the wonderment
Who besides Civil War buffs can remember the name of the mediocrity who commanded the
But what if Lee had heeded Longstreet's counsel and retired to a defensive position, despite his every instinct, and lay in wait? If only Jackson had still been at his side intuiting his every command even before Lee thought of it. ... If only
In the unending recital of if-onlys and what-ifs that generations of Southern schoolboys would grow up debating, there is no sure answer for what happened at
A hundred and fifty years after he delivered his immortal address at
After a century and a half, Major General
But now it is time once again to muffle the drums and furl the flags -- till the next great anniversary -- and leave the ghosts in peace. And the grass to do its work.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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