Memorial Day this year is Monday, May 26th. While we’re reflecting on our American soldiers and their sacrifices, it’s hard not to have mixed feelings over the enormous number of young men killed and maimed during our terrible Civil War, which was fought on American soil.
Was taking up arms against our federal government a treasonous act? Why couldn’t the North let the South leave in peace and avoid the four years of ghastly blood letting?
Those two questions probably lie at the core of a watershed event where our country finally became a nation. Before the Civil War the phrase was “the United States are; after the war it became “the United States is!”
It’s was the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts, and, really, it is all a matter of perspective. The South preferred to fight rather than stay, and the North preferred to use its overwhelming power to keep the Union intact. The North won and the arguments became moot.
May was a very active month during the Civil War years. Here’s an interesting sampling of important events:
- May 24, 1861
Who is widely recognized as one of the first prominent military casualties of the Civil War? Answer: Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, 24, of the 11th New York Infantry. A Confederate partisan shot and mortally wounded Ellsworth as the Union Officer attempted to remove a Confederate flag from the roof of an Alexandria, Va., Court House.
Ellsworth’s death affected President and Mrs. Lincoln deeply. Wrote Lincoln: “He was a cheerful, honest, fine-looking fellow – had accompanied us from Springfield, where he’d once worked in my law office…” Ellsworth was a dear friend of the family and Lincoln’s boys adored the young officer “like a big brother.”
- May 31, 1862
A hesitantly led Union Army in front of Richmond loses the Battle of Seven Pines. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston is badly wounded and is replaced the next day by Robert E. Lee, who gives the Yankees fits for three more years.
Union General George McClellan withdraws after repeated claims that Confederate defenders outnumbered his troops.
- May 1-4, 1863
Union General Hooker has his butt handed to him by the aforementioned Lee and Chancellorsville. Unfortunately for the Confederate cause, Lee’s loyal and effective subordinate, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, is shot down by his own nervous troops while reconnoitering the battlefield.
- May 22, 1863
A jealous husband murders Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. A notorious womanizer, artist and writer of poetry, his career as a Confederate leader was mostly noted for his defeats at the Battles of Pea Ridge and Corinth.
- May 4, 1864
The Union Army under newly appointed General Ulysses S. Grant begins a costly, yearlong campaign. By this time, the Confederate Army was worn down to a force of just about 60,000 against Grant’s 120,000. Grant could count on replacements and the enormous industrial capacity of the North. It was only a matter of time.
- May 4, 1865
The assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the most prominent casualty of our Civil War, is laid to rest at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Ill.
Civil War Stats
|Deaths from Wounds||110,070||94,000|
|Deaths from Disease||249,458||164,000|
|Death Rate||23 percent||24 percent|
With the above in mind, I’ll leave you with this quote from Abraham Lincoln about the civil war that can eerily apply to today.
“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”
― Abraham Lincoln
At *your* service,
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