Perhaps more than any any event in American history, the Civil War elicited divided emotions and passions. In some quarters, sectional rivalries and bitterness lingered far into the 20th Century, and there are pockets of regionalism even today that stem from antebellum roots. Nearly 150 years after the final shots of the war, some wounds remain festering, although America has made significant strides in many areas. Slavery is gone, but racism is not. Secession is gone, but individual states rights remain in play over issues such as gay marriage and others. The shooting is over, but the war to protect, preserve, and interpret the sacred ground remains constant.
Why did men (and boys) so eagerly go off to war in the early 1860s? Reasons varied, of course. A number of my ancestors were on the Union side. On my mom’s side, James Fauley, her paternal great-grandfather, was a member of the 5th U.S. Infantry, a Federal regiment in the Regular Army. For him, military life was a profession, a means of making a living. By contrast, her maternal great-grandfather, John D. Sisson of Dover, Ohio, was a drummer the 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. War for him was an olbigation imposed by the government. My great uncles on my dad’s side of the family, the Chambers boys, enlisted in the 7th [West] Virginia to preserve the Union. Their part of the Old Dominion State wanted nothing to do with the upstart Confederacy which had split the mountain region from the rest of Virginia in terms of loyalty and emotions.
Different reasons to serve their state and country, yet these men followed their passions, as did hundreds of thousands of other men, North and South. Others served for adventure, for fame or glory, for an escape from their antebellum personal lives, for money, or for other reasons. Many paid “that last full measure of devotion.”
I will be in Gettysburg later today for a book signing. I will pause by the 7th WV monument on East Cemetery Hill to remember and honor the Chambers boys, and to reflect on my other ancestors and their military heritage. We can never allow the sacrifice of the previous generations to be forgotten, nor can we ignore today’s call to serve our country and fellow mankind.