Over the years I've done a lot of traveling through the South.
I've been to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Texas. I've always enjoyed the South. I've marveled at the slower pace of living and the some of the history, values and tradition that are imbedded in that part of the country.
And, since I've always been a great fan of small towns and small town life, I've visited many small southern towns. Traveling through these hamlets I've invariably noticed that in practically every town square, space was set aside for a statue of a Confederate soldier and/or a memorial for those who fought for the South in the Civil War. Yes, Johnny Reb stands tall in countless towns throughout the South.
How did this happen and why is this so?
Well, it's important to remember that the South is the only area of the country ever to be invaded and destroyed -- on a massive, unparalleled scale -- by its own countrymen. The South was ravaged. Southerners were more than humiliated -- they were nearly wiped off the face of the earth. In fact, it's been estimated that the South suffered nearly a half million casualties during the Civil War. This should not be surprising as the Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict ever. Understand this -- we lost more of our own in a battle after battle against one another (a mortal "family feud," if you will) than we did in any other conflict, including World War II.
The South was the primary battlefield of the war and suffered most of all with $10 billion in property damage and two-fifths of its livestock destroyed. Whole areas of the South were leveled -- in many cases simply left as scorched earth. Union soldiers raided farms and plantations, stealing and slaughtering cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep and hogs and taking as much other food–especially bread and potatoes–as they could carry. (These groups of foraging soldiers were nicknamed “bummers,” and yes, they burned whatever they could not carry.)
To recognize this is no to embrace the cause of the Confederacy. It's simply a fact.
And yes, the Civil War was a great, great tragedy for our whole country -- no question about it. But for the South it became a kind of living hell. And, once vanquished, the South was impoverished in more ways than can be imagined.
So, the South had to struggle to find any morsel of pride. To move forward, it had to remember and honor those who fought. And the South had to honor the fallen with respect so that it could retain a bit of dignity and self worth. That was truly one of the first steps that had to be taken to close wounds and turn the corner. It was not easy.
The North took note of all this and, by law, accepted Confederate soldiers as American veterans. Indeed, Confederate soldiers were granted the same protections as Union soldiers because of an act of Congress called Public Law 810 and other federal laws. They were also granted the same benefits as Union soldiers and were given the right to be buried in national military cemeteries with taxpayer-funded headstones, just like Union soldiers.
The Civil War really did pit brother against brother and sister against sister. It demonstrated again that the most bitter and destructive and tragic battles are the ones that occur within the same national family.
To this day (one would hope) the Civil War reminds us that, no matter what, we must never let this happen again. We must bind ourselves together as our founding fathers admonished us: e pluribus unum, out of many, one.
Any time I pass any Civil War monument, be it a memorial to Union or Confederate soldiers, I shed a tear. I shed a tear for our nation, too -- for what we did to one another.
So, as far as I can tell, that's the real purpose of those monuments -- that they should remind us of the cost of hate and violence and war, in the hope that we might never let this happen ever again!