The past several early mornings on the elliptical were made tolerable by catching up on some C-Span HistoryTV recordings, most recently this: March to the Sea The year is the 150th anniversary of the capture of Atlanta -- next month -- and the later campaign to Savannah by the great Western armies of the Union.
Then, today's news reports include a story from, of all places, Fort Lee, in Virginia, with the first paragraph in the Freep story this: "A soldier has died after barricading herself in an office and shooting herself inside a major command’s headquarters in Virginia."
The soldier, according to news accounts, was a 14-year veteran, and a veteran of service in Iraq in 2007.
Juxtaposing these two experiences, a salient observation is immediate. We in civilian life -- and we in the history community, including well-meaning academics -- really have no concept of what it is like if we have never been in combat, in a war zone, under stress from our life, our safety, being at grave risk. When we observe Sherman and his troops marching through the South, wreaking havoc on the Confederacy's supporting infrastructure in order to deprive its armies of sustenance, it ought to give anyone pause who attempts to analyze and render judgment on such military matters that, indeed, this was a military campaign in the fourth year of a bloody war. The trail of killed and wounded comrades stretching all the way back to Fort Henry, the numerous graves marked as well as those lost to posterity, the agonies in countless homes from a family, community, social member never returning, must have been extraordinarily heavy on the minds and hearts of these men. They were forced out of their circumstances into service to save the Union they loved, to defeat an attempt to end our democratic way of life, and then to eliminate the evil of human slavery. Most of them civilians, their mental framework underwent pressures for which they no had adequate preparation. Being in battle was like nothing in their previous experience. Being subjected to capture and imprisonment at camps where, like the nearby Andersonville, living was a matter of basic daily survival ...
You get the point. Sherman did. One of the famous quotes attributed to him is: "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell."
Let all take extreme care in assessing the past, being sure always to factor in the human side of the equation. May we temper our critiques with a liberal dose of understanding, perhaps even of compassion.
Let all refrain from judgment on a soldier who we do not know, have never met, have no idea what really was going through her mind. She likely had a family, friends, associates, loved ones who today are themselves wounded and having to deal with their own grievous loss. Compassion here? Undoubtedly.
May we "care for him who shall have borne the battle", if alive in every way possible as a grateful people of a grateful nation, and, if not, then revering their lives in our memories.