The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – Thoughts on an atrocity

Unidentified African American soldier in Union infantry sergeant's uniform and black mourning ribbon with bayonet in front of painted backdrop, between 1863 and 1865.  (Library of Congress)

Unidentified African American soldier in Union infantry sergeant’s uniform and black mourning ribbon with bayonet in front of painted backdrop, between 1863 and 1865. (Library of Congress)

Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War 150 years ago this week. Some of it was ugly.

From their headquarters in Mississippi and Tennessee this week, Federal and Confederate commanders were exchanging letters over what probably had been an atrocity at Brice’s Cross-Roads. You can check those letters out here.

Interestingly, General S. D. Lee was also associated with the affair at Jackson, Louisiana, in August 1863 that CS General Joe Johnston investigated – the one where US General Grant accepted Johnston’s word that it hadn’t happened.

It’s so sad. Up at the top you have the visionaries – Lincoln, for instance, who said, “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at once.”

Then you have the middle managers – the generals and colonels and other officers.

Way down at the bottom are those who bear the burden and do the business of war – and their vision, of necessity, is limited to that the face on the other side of that “small, deadly space,” as General Armistead called it in Gettysburg. Only the real sadness about the Civil War is not that former friends now were mortal enemies. The real tragedy is the flawed, very human nature – face to face – down where the fight was that made all those visionary words up above sometimes seem like just talk.

Much has been said about the blood shed as a result of Civil War generals using traditional military strategies with soldiers armed with modern weapons.

Well, I learned today that a Nazi officer once said, “You fight by rules to keep your humanity.” In the Civil War, they had lots of rules of war. Check out those letters mentioned above – there are many references to such rules. It was traditional.

Thing was, an ultramodern idea – black people are human beings, not property – was now present on the battlefield. It was inevitable, of course, but still: A lot of extra blood was being shed as a result, because nobody really knew how to deal with it.

Well, I’ve focused on this more than expected, and still have to do the actual timeline for this week. Monday (I’m writing this Sunday evening) I will have to do some other writing projects, but I will get this timeline done as soon as possible this week.

Categories: American Civil War, American history

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