In anticipation of Remembrance Day and Dedication Day this week, we have asked our Fellows why and how they commemorate the Civil War. Read Megan’s post below, then check back later in the week for more posts on commemoration and remembrance.
Commemoration of the Civil War has been a hot topic lately, with many discussing why and how it should and shouldn’t be done. As a student of Civil War history, I’m clearly biased in believing that the war I study should be commemorated, but, unlike many, my bias doesn’t come from the fact that I have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. My ancestors came to the United States in the 1880s and 1890s from Scotland and settled in New Jersey and haven’t moved since. So why do I care about the Civil War? Why is it important to me that this country continue to commemorate a war that ended over 150 years ago?
My passion for the Civil War started at a young age. My mother is a Gettysburg College alumna and she has returned to this beautiful campus almost every year since her graduation for college reunions. Before applying to Gettysburg, I had been on campus and in town more times than I could count. When we would come to Gettysburg, my dad and I would go out to the battlefield and explore. Those are memories I cherish. As I got older, it was more difficult for me to come to my mom’s reunions, but my love of the Civil War persisted. I’ll never forget a middle school project in which my class was tasked to pick a battle and give a presentation on it. It almost came to blows when my fellow classmate tried to take Gettysburg from me. My teacher chuckled at my passion, but I was able to spend fifteen minutes talking about a subject I loved. Something about the fighting between Confederate and Union soldiers compelled me to keep learning. I had the desire to figure out what drove these soldiers to war and what drove the Confederate states to betray their fellow countrymen.
Though the questions that drive me to study the Civil War have changed, my passion for the Civil War has not. It seems banal to say that this conflict was a turning point in our history, but it truly was. Our nation came to a breaking point which could have resulted in two countries. Though I’m getting into counterfactual history, I think it is obvious to say that we would be living in a very different country, or countries, if the Confederacy succeeded. Without the soldiers who went off to war and fought for the Union and ultimately emancipation, there could still be slavery in this country. I commemorate the Civil War to thank those who fought and died to help preserve the country to which my ancestors came. Although the nation after the Civil War was was by no means perfect, and is still not perfect, the war was a step in the right direction. Even 150 years later, the turning point our nation faced and the unfinished business of the Civil War are important things for Americans to remember.