Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Real War

Over the past few weeks, I have invested several late evenings re-editing those of my web site pictures which seemed less than inspiring ( Obsessing over the minutia of the site becomes an increasingly common activity during the months when the lack of foliage deadens my enthusiasm for picture taking. Although re-editing occasionally proves a frustrating endeavor, each minor success brought with it the corresponding happy reminiscences of the brief but blissful moments exploring the now peaceful battlefields. Considering the impact I hoped each picture might have, I tested combinations of color, contrast, and tone, hoping to create a realistic window into the bloody fields of our past. As much as I enjoyed the work, an uneasy presence knocked at the edges of my contentment. The question grew. By expressing my admiration for the men who fought and love of the fields upon which our nation grew, have I contributed to an overly-romanticized, sanitized image of war?

Walt Whitman’s words came to mind. In his seminal work "Specimen Days", the great American poet said of the war through which he had just lived, "Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors, (not the official surface courteousness of the Generals, not the few great battles) of the Secession war; and it is best they should not—the real war will never get in the books." Still, he offered more than a small glimpse as he spoke of the dead.

"The Million Dead, Too, Summ’d Up

THE DEAD in this war—there they lie, strewing the fields and woods and valleys and battle-fields of the south—Virginia, the Peninsula—Malvern hill and Fair Oaks—the banks of the Chickahominy—the terraces of Fredericksburgh—Antietam bridge—the grisly ravines of Manassas—the bloody promenade of the Wilderness—the varieties of the strayed dead, (the estimate of the War department is 25,000 national soldiers kill’d in battle and never buried at all, 5,000 drown’d—15,000 inhumed by strangers, or on the march in haste, in hitherto unfound localities—2,000 graves cover’d by sand and mud by Mississippi freshets, 3,000 carried away by caving-in of banks, &c.,)—Gettysburgh, the West, Southwest—Vicksburgh—Chattanooga—the trenches of Petersburgh—the numberless battles, camps, hospitals everywhere—the crop reap’d by the mighty reapers, typhoid, dysentery, inflammations—and blackest and loathesomest of all, the dead and living burial-pits, the prison-pens of Andersonville, Salisbury, Belle-Isle, &c., (not Dante’s pictured hell and all its woes, its degradations, filthy torments, excell’d those prisons)—the dead, the dead, the dead—our dead—or South or North, ours all, (all, all, all, finally dear to me)—or East or West—Atlantic coast or Mississippi valley—somewhere they crawl’d to die, alone, in bushes, low gullies, or on the sides of hills—(there, in secluded spots, their skeletons, bleach’d bones, tufts of hair, buttons, fragments of clothing, are occasionally found yet)—our young men once so handsome and so joyous, taken from us—the son from the mother, the husband from the wife, the dear friend from the dear friend—the clusters of camp graves, in Georgia, the Carolinas, and in Tennessee—the single graves left in the woods or by the road-side, (hundreds, thousands, obliterated)—the corpses floated down the rivers, and caught and lodged, (dozens, scores, floated down the upper Potomac, after the cavalry engagements, the pursuit of Lee, following Gettysburgh)—some lie at the bottom of the sea—the general million, and the special cemeteries in almost all the States—the infinite dead—(the land entire saturated, perfumed with their impalpable ashes’ exhalation in Nature’s chemistry distill’d, and shall be so forever, in every future grain of wheat and ear of corn, and every flower that grows, and every breath we draw)—not only Northern dead leavening Southern soil—thousands, aye tens of thousands, of Southerners, crumble to-day in Northern earth.

And everywhere among these countless graves—everywhere in the many soldier Cemeteries of the Nation, (there are now, I believe, over seventy of them)—as at the time in the vast trenches, the depositories of slain, Northern and Southern, after the great battles—not only where the scathing trail passed those years, but radiating since in all the peaceful quarters of the land—we see, and ages yet may see, on monuments and gravestones, singly or in masses, to thousands or tens of thousands, the significant word Unknown."

I have to wonder if perhaps Mr. Whitman’s small glimpse is a bit more realistic than that which I have offered. Perhaps moving away from romanticization and underscoring the raw brutality of war more fittingly honors those men and women who sacrificed tremendously that we might enjoy all we have today.



Please visit my primary site at

All original material Copyright © 2006. All Rights Reserved


References for this article: Prose Works

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Triumph of the 74th Pennsylvania

The 74th PA Monument
The restored 74th Pennsylvania Monument

On Friday November 14, 2003, a driver winding down Howard Avenue lost control of their SUV and slammed into the beautiful 74th Pennsylvania Monument. The crushing force shattered the monument soldiers had dedicated to friends and comrades who fell during the Battle of Gettysburg. Now as broken as the bodies of those it so proudly honored, many feared for the future of this uniquely somber monument.

The 115 year old monument, erected by the surviving members of the 74th PA, had faithfully watched over these fields north of Gettysburg since 1888. As the years progressed, the fallen color bearer held vigil while the wars wounds healed. North and South reconciled, twelve more states entered the Union, cars replaced horses, power lines spread along ever expanding roadways, radio then television brought the world closer, and technology exploded. Through countless unforgiving winters and sweltering summers, the monument endured. Now, the fragments of this memorial to deeds past, never before asking for sanctuary, needed the help of others simply to survive and continue its mission.

74th PA Monument damage
74th Pennsylvania Monument after the accident

The National Park Service removed most of the pieces from Gettysburg's sacred grounds and began the work of restoration. Visitors drove by the roped-off semi-vacant space, gazing in sadness at the fractured base of the once proud memorial. Time passed. Worried enthusiasts contacted Park Service staff for updates. Pensive anxiety grew as time lapsed. Weeks, then months, passed by. For the first time since Grover Cleveland's presidency, the seasons changed on these fields without the watchful eye of the 74th Pennsylvania.

Then in November of 2004, the majestic monument reappeared, once again resuming its post on the fields so faithfully guarded. The reparations proved a resounding glorious success. The restored monument once again cast its shadow on the fields where so many comrades had given their lives. The spirits of these men smiled as the monument, their monument, would endure so that we all could remember and ponder what they did here.



Please visit my primary site at

All original material Copyright © 2006. All Rights Reserved