I told you I read about Colonel Edmund Baxter–the real-life version of my character–slodging around the Civil War losing most of his men to illness. And, obviously, I’ve been thinking about David Ramsom, Juliette Phillips’s husband, dying at Bridgeport, Alabama of smallpox. All the rest of the Civil War veteran relatives I know lived through the war. The closest we come to a “glorious” battle death is that Philemon Baldwin was in love with my Great-Great-Grandpa Siddall’s sister and she didn’t return the sentiment, apparently. Not that she hated him. But you know how it is.
Anyway, my dad wants to go see Colonel Baldwin’s grave, which will be difficult, since his body was never recovered.
Then I read this terribly interesting stuff on the Battle of Nashville, how all the people who were left in town came out and stood on the hills and rooftops to watch the battle in this dreadful silence. I didn’t realize how many Colored Regiments were here.
But that got me thinking about this “brother fighting against brother” nonsense. It serves the purpose scholars have well-covered. This rhetoric comes along right at a time when the white South and the white North are looking for ways to work together again. It recast the Civil War as a family tragedy, one that the family of white people could heal from.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has already done years of explanation of how this just erases black people from the Civil War, especially as active participants in their own liberation, and makes the Civil War more about siblings fighting over the same toys. I’m not going to cover ground he’s covered so much better.
But I also can’t help but wonder if there’s another thread to this yarn, if the “brother fighting against brother” myth was also about recasting a massive man-made public health crisis into a war. I mean, most people who died in the Civil War died like ole David did–they traveled far from home, did some stuff, got really scared and bored and dodged some bullets and then died of some illness.
You could take out all of the battle deaths and still have this strange terrible moment in U.S. history where hundreds of thousands of men walked to other parts of the country in order to get sick and die.
We can say that any death of a young person is a tragedy. But let’s be honest. In our culture, it is a glorious tragedy to die fighting for a cause you believe in. It is not a glorious tragedy to travel so far from home that your mom can’t be there to comfort you when you are ill to die among strangers.
That is some fucked up shit.
And I just can’t help but wonder if we don’t kind of unknow that most people died of illness intentionally. I think we recast those deaths as Civil War (Battle) deaths because it means their deaths were not in vain.
I don’t know. Just some thoughts.