I few days ago, while I was in Pennsylvania to speak to a book club about the Allison Parker Mysteries, I took a side trip to see Gettysburg and the large expanse of farmland, now a National Park, where a huge battle was likely the turning point of the War Between the States - the Civil War for those of you above the Mason-Dixon Line . The number of causalities on both sides was horrendous. For Union troops, 3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded and 5,365 missing. For the Confederates, 3,903 dead, 18,735 wounded and 5,425 missing. Given the difficulty in record-keeping during that time, it’s one’s best guess as to how accurate these numbers actually are. There is no doubt, however, that the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place from July 1 to July 3 in 1863 was one of the bloodiest battles of that conflict.
As I listened to a short documentary explaining about the political climate leading up to the war, and then watched the re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge in the Cyclorama display, I wondered what it would have been like if the South had been victorious. How would our lives be different now, some 200 plus years after that first 4th of July when we were a new country, declaring our independence from an overbearing monarchy across the sea? Would there be a 12th of April holiday commemorating the attack on Ft. Sumpter in South Carolina - the shot that started the war that pitted brother against brother?
I have to believe that eventually slavery would have been outlawed in the South, even if secession had been successful. Interestingly, though, according to the documentary at Gettysburg, narrated by Morgan Freeman, the real fight over slavery was whether the new states west of the Mississippi would allow slavery, not whether slavery should be abolished in the states where it already existed. It was only after hostilities commenced, and several years into the war, that President Lincoln decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves residing in the United States. Question: if the issue of slavery in the new states had been resolved, would there have even been a war? Slavery might have continued in the agrarian South for many decades, at least until machines could plant and harvest quicker than people.
Those are questions that can never be answered, and I, for one, am glad of it. True, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner, and proud of my heritage. But I am also, and properly so, proud to be an American. I am blessed to live in the greatest country in the world. Yes, we have problems in this country, serious problems, but those problems are solvable and I would rather be a citizen of this country, for all of her bumps, bruises, and bad behavior than anywhere else. On this 4th of July I will make my Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America, a country that survived a most horrendous civil war, and yet emerged from the ashes of that conflagration a greater and more cohesive nation. Let us today remember the lessons of that war, and not make the same mistake again.