On statues and proper respect for our forerunners

Discussion that seeks to bring about the humble realization and repentance of the evils and sins of the past is different from an iconoclasm that seeks to cut us off from the reality of what our history is and its relation to our current age.

Left: An undated photo of a statue of Christopher Columbus that stood near the gateway to Baltimore's Little Italy; it was toppled by protesters July 4, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Devin Valenti Cherubini via Catholic Review); right: Workers in Baltimore relocate a broken statue of Christopher Columbus after retrieving it from the Inner Harbor July 6, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Santo Grasso via Catholic Review)

On Independence Day Weekend, President Donald Trump made news when he announced the creation of what would be known as the National Garden of American Heroes. In the executive order establishing the garden, he stated the garden would feature statues of “some of the greatest Americans who ever lived.” Its purpose would be

[to] preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten…[and to] call forth gratitude for the accomplishments and sacrifices of our exceptional fellow citizens who, despite their flaws, placed their virtues, their talents, and their lives in the service of our Nation.

This National Garden is being built in the wake of massive protests following the death of George Floyd. Some of these protests have included vandalism and the toppling down or removal of statues of major historical figures such as Presidents George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, Saint Junipero Serra, Juan Ponce de Leon, General Robert E. Lee, and other figures and generals from the Confederacy in the Civil War.

These acts have been met with a variety of reactions, ranging from praise to horror to indifference. These protests and actions in the public square point to two important questions: How do we revere our forerunners while disavowing the evils of their time in history? How do we honor the goodness of their achievements while also acknowledging their shortcomings and and learning from their failures?

Today when we hear the Fourth Commandment—“Honor your father and mother” (cf. Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16)—we often think of those who have immediate temporal authority over us: parents, grandparents, teachers, employers, government officials. The same applies to those who have immediate spiritual authority over us as Catholics in the figures of her priests and bishops as pastors. The Catechism also reminds us that this precept implies that we are to give our ancestors “honor, affection, and gratitude,” both for their wisdom and achievements (cf. CCC 2199-2200).

This honoring of our living elders and superiors, as well as our familial ancestors and forerunners in faith, is spoken of by St. Thomas Aquinas as the virtue of filial piety. He specifically writes of giving our parents and those in authority over us as worship in the sense of reverence, veneration (Greek: dulia), and respect. This of course should not be confused with worship as adoration (Greek: latria) which when given to anyone or anything outside of God is the sin of idolatry. He states “man is a debtor chiefly to his parents and his country, after God. Wherefore just as it belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety, in the second place, to give worship to one’s parents and one’s country.” i

John Paul II speaks of this filial piety or pietas as underlying a religious dimension to the respect and veneration that are due to parents, ancestors, and our spiritual mothers and fathers in faith. In a sense they reflect the image of God the Creator, giving us life and a spiritual patrimony, in which they share in the mystery of creation and “therefore deserve a veneration related to that which we give to God the creator.”ii Aquinas also reminds us that piety and respect towards our ancestors must be rightly ordered in its relationship to God and their own deeds. He suggests “if our parents entice us to sin, and withdraw us from the service of God, we must, as regards to this point abandon and hate them.”iii This admonition can apply to all sinful ideologies and inequalities of history which include slavery, racism, the unjust oppression of the poor and innocent, attacks against marriage and the family, and atheistic-communist influences that seek to destroy Gospel truths and values.iv

But what is this “hate” that Aquinas encourages us to embrace “if our parents entice us to sin”? The love of filial piety calls for the revulsion of evil acts in order to properly will the good of the other in the fullest sense of love.v This process mirrors how metal is placed through a fire that melts away its impurities. This revulsion of evil that Aquinas speaks of leads to authentic reverence and respect for our elders and ancestors, one that is not blinded by hate or by a personal infatuation that distorts past history. It rather acknowledges the evil and sins of our forebearers alongside the virtues and goodness with all their effects, which help to form our own identity here and now. Our identity then calls us to continue the process of conversion and repentance in love and truth from the evils of the past in our own lives as individuals in our current age of history. This reverence of filial piety is the call of responsibility and stewardship that both God and history gives to each human generation for those who will come after them.

We can see the importance of statues in a religious way that parallels the reasons behind the use of statues in the secular sphere. When one goes into a Greek Catholic or an Orthodox Church, one of the primary features that one sees is the iconostasis, a wall of icons of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints. In Latin rite Churches, this same reality is shown also through the statues of Our Lord and the saints. What sacred art shows us in its statuary and iconography is the reality of the Communion of Saints, in that our forefathers with their achievements and flaws live with us in the present moment, to offer us wisdom despite their failures and sins, connecting us to Christ and helping us to enter full union with him in heaven.

This same symbolism is seen in the representation of historic figures and national heroes, whether it be in halls of government or in the National Garden of American Heroes. Secular history outside the eyes of faith parallels the truth of the Communion of Saints when it shows that we do not exist just for ourselves as individuals with preferences and experiences divorced and removed from the past. True filial piety does not live only in the past nor does it seek to destroy its wisdom. It allows us to reverence and learn from history, so that despite our own sins, failures, and limitations, we can contribute to establishing true life and authentic freedom for both ourselves and those who come after us.

The abiding presence of the saints and our forefathers, both through grace and through history, is a reminder that we do not only live in the present moment for ourselves. We live to love and glorify God and to assist both ourselves and all our neighbors—no matter who they may be—to become who we are meant to be in His eyes. To cut ourselves off from the past in order to build a utopian tower of Babel will only lead to our collapse and the loss of our identity both as a society and as Catholics. Authentic filial piety means learning and repenting from mistakes but also accepting the virtue, accomplishments, and sanctity of our forebearers that is often mixed with the evil and sin they struggled against. Robert Cardinal Sarah also notes that this way of reverence “is not a matter of nurturing nostalgia for a bygone past,” but to help instill an awareness of a history that we inherit that is part of who we are. In history we receive from our forefathers “certain certitudes and rules based on experience” that ensure a true, authentic freedom for us to become who we are meant to be in the eyes of God.vi

Discussion and debate that seeks to bring about the humble realization and repentance of the evils and sins of the past is different from an iconoclasm that seeks to cut us off from the reality of what our history is and its relation to our current age. Acknowledging the victims of the grave sins of history and seeking to bring reconciliation and healing is different from a mindset of victimization, hate, and self-entitlement working to overthrow the common good of society and destroy its very soul. Cardinal Sarah again warns us against this self-hating, historical iconoclasm where he remarks that the desire to break with the past and all its traditions has caused situations of latent civil war. “Man no longer loves himself. He no longer loves his neighbor or the land of his ancestors. He detests his culture and the values of the past. Many combat our religious cultural historical heritage and our very roots.”vii Timothy Cardinal Dolan also comments on the dangers of this historical self-hate, making the following observation:

Such rash iconoclasm can lead to an historic amnesia that will eliminate something essential for our necessary common conversation on racism: the memory of flawed human beings who, while sadly and scandalously wrong on burning issues such as slavery and civil rights, were right on so many others, and need to be remembered for both.

Ongoing societal discussion about statues and the virtues and sins of our forebears they honor must be rooted in an authentic awareness of historical truth rather than reactionary vitriol and self-entitlement. It should lead to a greater awareness of the need to leave our comfort zones and seek the face of Christ in not only our great leaders and heroes but also those still carrying wounds from the evils of history so we might to make authentic gestures of reconciliation, understanding, and solidarity. In this way—not through a vitriolic spirit of self-hate for our Christian origins and national origins—we can cooperate with divine grace and be perfected as Our Lord calls us to be (cf. Matt 5:43-48), following His call to love those who have wronged us.

Endnotes:

ii John Paul II, Memory and Identity: Personal Reflections (London, England: Orion Publishing Group, 2005) 73.

vi Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Day is Far Spent, (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2019) 285.

vii Ibid., 284.


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About Fr. Matthew MacDonald 4 Articles
Fr. Matthew MacDonald is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Ordained in 2014, he has an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as a Bachelors in Sacred Theology, Masters in Divinity, and Masters of Arts in Theology from Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He is currently assigned as parochial vicar at Saint Mary’s Church in Washingtonville, New York.

18 Comments

  1. The Confederate statues are unique in that they were almost entirely put up by the udc whose mission was also to censor and write textbooks to indoctrinate lost cause and they even wrote a children’s catechism of the Confederacy. No other statues have such a propagandizing infrastructure behind them.
    If you want to know why Johnny grew up to be a segregationist, the statues in his town square loom large.

    • A number of statues commemorating local fallen Confederate soldiers were put up by their widows, daughters, sisters, and mothers. It took months to years for them to scrape up enough money to do that.
      The generic Confederate statues you see in southern cemeteries are an example of that effort.
      They’re not great art but the best that families devastated by a war could do to remember their dead.
      Way over half a million Americans perished during the War Between the States. Something that terrible should never be erased from our memory.

  2. This is a healing article, giving us pause in the face of aggressive amnesia. But might we take pause—TWICE—over the surely accurate comment that “[To] cut ourselves off from the past in order to build a utopian tower of Babel will only lead to our collapse and the loss of our identity both as a society and as Catholics.”

    What if it’s not about only “utopia” on the one hand or “racism” on the other? Might we also pause to marvel at our, what, desperate fastidiousness? Are we appalled at anarchists who topple statues of past figures from their pedestals, while as an entire culture we have ALREADY demolished our most basic human foundations across the board?

    Lest we lose focus—-our frog-in-the-pot CULTURE, from the street level and from the very top (U.S. Supreme Court fatwas): (1) routinely aborts its young, (2) routinely euthanizes its old, (3) defends to the death (!) infanticide of abortion survivors on the flatform/pedestal of a major political party (“sacred ground” no less), (4) replaces physical/binary sexuality with disjointed/ nurtured “sexual-(dis)orientation,” (5) enshrines/imposes the anti-historical/anti-human oxymoron of gay “marriage,” (6) prosecutes any recovery therapies for emotionally-toppled transgenders, and (7) systemically abuses/grooms an entire generation, beginning with in kindergarten and “Heather has Two Mommies” and tax-supported library drag shows, and ending with universities as the largest day-car center cabal in human history….All of this, too, is graffiti!

    University campuses paralyzed by bedpan Leftism find their NEW NORMAL in “safe spaces” for their anthill clients. Within the Educational/Banking Industry complex, Brown University set the standard for safe-distancing its student-loan aphids against any questioning of the Zeitgeist. The model safe-space at the center of it all was/is (?) a room offering “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh [not Plato], calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies” [New York Times, 2016]).

    So, pausing twice at the symbolic—and SYMPTOMATIC—decapitation of statuary from their pedestals: “When the FOUNDATIONS are being destroyed, what can the righteous do (Psalm 11:3)?”

  3. Of course the destructive movement has spread now to the UK but until recently it was refreshing to see British statues and memorials everywhere to the good, the bad, and the ugly alike. It gave a wider sense of history.

    Britain lost so much of its cultural heritage during Henry VIII’s time. It appears they’re being afflicted with another puritanical assault. As we see in the States also.

    • England during the Civil War suffered its own destruction as many of the things that had survived Henry VIII’s assault on the monasteries were attacked by the Puritans – stained glass, statues, tombs, all manner of things destroyed.

      At Winchester Cathedral they broke open the tombs of the Saxon kings and threw their bones against the stained glass windows to shatter them, among other horrors. But the chantry chapel of Our Lady, which holds the tomb of William of Wykeham, the founder of Winchester College survived. It survived because one of the Parliamentarians who had been a student there stood on the step of the tomb with drawn sword, guarding it.

  4. In post-war Germany, concentration camps were turned into museums to honor the victims of the holocaust. In America, traitors who fought for the right to victimize African-Americans as slaves are honored with statues, and priests like Fr. MacDonald and politicians like Trump misuse arguments about preserving “heritage” and honoring “tradition” to justify it. I speak as a lover of the Latin Mass, a Republican, and a naturalized American citizen of African descent, who until now, has chosen not to engage the issue of race in the 34 years she has lived in America.

    • MNC,
      Virtually every culture in history has had some part in slavery including and particularly Africa.
      I admire George Washington but he faced the same sort of difficult decision that Robert E.Lee did. I wouldn’t consider either one a traitor nor men who fought for slavery but the opposing side surely did. Traitors can be heroes depending on what side of the battle you view things from.
      I’d rather consider what people accomplished in spite of their era and how they occasionally rose above the status quo.

    • You are looking back and saying “It must have been obvious to the Confederates that slavery was wrong because it it obvious to me.”

      As for the statues: the Civil War is one of the topics that interest me; I have read a great deal about it. One of the points made by many of the books is that, unlike conflicts in many other areas of the world, this one ended when it ended and did not drag on into endless guerilla warfare and centuries of hate because the victors were for the most part gracious in victory and the losers were for the most part gracious in defeat. Yes, I know there were some southerners who refused to be reconstructed; yes, I know about Jim Crow laws and the cruel treatment of many blacks after the war. I even know about carpetbaggers.

      But I also know what Ulysses S. Grant wrote: “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us.”

      And I know what Robert E. Lee wrote: “it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony.”

      And I know how former Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston died. “Johnston, like Lee, never forgot the magnanimity of the man to whom he surrendered. He would not allow criticism of Sherman in his presence. Sherman and Johnston corresponded frequently, and they met for friendly dinners in Washington whenever Johnston traveled there. When Sherman died, Johnston served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral. During the procession in New York City on February 19, 1891, he kept his hat off as a sign of respect, although the weather was cold and rainy. Someone concerned for his health asked him to put on his hat, to which Johnston replied, “If I were in his place, and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” He did catch a cold that day, which developed into pneumonia and Johnston died 10 days later in Washington, D.C.”

      And I know about the reunions of the veterans of Gettysburg, in 1913 and in 1938; where fifty and seventy-five years previously they had been trying to kill each other they met in brotherhood. In 1913 Pickett’s Charge was reenacted; the Union veterans came from behind the stone wall and embraced the former Confederate soldiers. The statues and memorials to the Confederates did not bother the Union veterans who had slogged through hell to win the war, and I think their opinions matter far more than those of cowardly rioters whose main concern manifestly has nothing to do with civil rights but has everything to do with attempting to destroy this country.

      “a naturalized American citizen of African descent, who until now, has chosen not to engage the issue of race in the 34 years she has lived in America.”

      Presumably “the issue of race” can’t be so overwhelmingly horrifying, since you chose to come here and chose to become a citizen.

      • Leslie,
        Thank you so much for sharing that lovely story about General Johnston. Sherman has always been a bit problematic to me but I’ve read that he finally converted to Catholicism after many years of resistance. His son became a Catholic priest and is buried next to a close relative of the Vice President of the Confederacy in the Jesuit cemetery in Grand Coteau, LA.
        Our Christian faith at its heart is about redemption,reconciliation and forgiveness.

  5. In our adult Catholic family our founding fathers accept the brilliance of The US Constitution speaks volumes. Then as we pass through the centuries since Columbus, our picture of our historical “heroes” has suffered the shock of past misdeeds. We are in a political and moral crisis. Who could trash the monuments of Columbus, Washington, Lincoln and Martin Luther King? It was a mystery until we dig deeper.

    I read much about Columbus and his brother Bartholomew who sailed to the new world under the auspices of Spain. One of their initial stops was what he called Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic. There they and their Conquistadors were greeted and welcomed by the kind and unwitting indigenous people, the Taino Indians. Sailing under the Spanish flag of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand who funded the excursion their effort was rewarded. Columbus’ order was to bring back gold and slaves. Although he nor his brother participated, he unleashed his Conquistadors to plunder, rape and literally overwhelm the population into submission. On the return voyage the slaves were horribly housed in the filthy hold of the ships in which many died. This dilemma strains the morals of dedicated peoples from all walks of life. Much like current day politics where evil can be compartmentalized and sold to the minds of the faithful. How we proceed will take leadership and courage. As much as we pray for Divine intervention the fight to have the statues remain with a caveat of reality should help return to sanity.

  6. What forerunners? The term employed here is too broad. Is this a ploy to include the racist, rebellious Confederates in our honor of elders. They don’t deserve honor. There is no monument of Hitler in Germany though he is part and a forerunner of their history. Because of deep historical sense on the part of the Germans Hitler is not honored as elder. Historical sense is needed to break the rationalization for racism to include the Confederate statues among statues of saints and heroes that we certainly need to honor and respect. The confederates were anti-heroes who simply wanted to preserve the institution of slavery. They don’t deserve our memory and their statues need to be canceled.

    • Yes, the Confederate statues are uniquely problematic. Read the cornerstone speech of the Confederacy to see how permanent a slave gulag regime the Confederacy was to be. The Confederacy denied the Declaration on principle.

    • As the author of this article, I wish to offer the following clarification: I think that is was evil the way Confederate statues were used in some to most cases to instill a racist culture and ideologies in the south. I am in no way defending that course of action of using these statues to promote racism within history in this article. I think that such actions are evil and despicable and like Aquinas says, which I cite in the article, “if our parents entice us to sin, and withdraw us from the service of God, we must, as regards to this point abandon and hate them.” (ST IIa-IIae, q. 101, a 4, reply obj 1) In this aspect regarding the Confederacy and its statues promoting, there is plenty of room of debate to question whether these statues should be torn down, which I would support. If I led people to think otherwise and if I was unclear in my language this was not my intent. But there is the larger issue at hand. Even though the Confederacy and racism is a big part of this issue that is debated that cannot be ignored, it is not the only part of this issue nor of this debate nor the only reason I wrote this article. There are people in this country and in the world who are trying to hijack the legitimate discussions over the evils of racism in history to create and promote a revolution to destroy, attack and undermine the Church and the Christian foundations of our civilization in the name of cultural marxism. We only have to see that other statues have been threatened – such as St Louis IX – and toppled, destroyed, or vandalized – such as St Junipero Serra, as well as statues of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the Saints in acts of violent Church vandalism in New York, Florida, and other states across this country and in Europe. These groups use anti-Catholic Alinskyite Tactics and are influenced by cultural marxism, such as many involved Black Lives Matter (BLM) and activists like Shaun King who calls for the destruction of Churches who depict Jesus as white for example. Such actions and comments are not of God, not of authentic faith hope, and charity, and are contrary to our Catholic faith. Some of these groups have in their mission statement ideas such as the promotion of gender ideology and the destruction of marriage and the family which are contrary to the faith and have been ideologies that have been condemned by the magisterium, and the popes including both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. These groups are fueled by self-hating, cultural marxism and are gaining influence fast within our country and These ideologues are different from those who may be more progressive in their beliefs and have also been victims of racism and are legitimately trying to fight injustice. Often these people will use the shadow of legitimate discussion and debate to hijack any constructive ends and promote a sinister agenda that perverts truth and legitimate discussion in a way that is contrary to the faith and the dignity of the Church and the human person. Such people and groups do this in order to ferment division as well as cultural and ecclesial revolutions that seek to destroy and dominate rather than build up and bring true healing and reconciliation. These groups and others who are like them are the ones whom Cardinal Sarah warns against and condemns in his interview in The Day is Far Spent and that is why I quoted him in the article. As a priest, a Catholic, a student of history, of theology, of people, and a disciple of Jesus, I am all for exploring the hurt that racism has caused people, learning from their pain, and working for forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is one of the reasons that God called me to be a priest and I embrace it with all my heart. This can be a hard road and I am willing to walk it, to come out of my comfort zone, and to have difficult conversations to build mutual understanding, reconciliation, and healing. Also as a priest, I have a responsibility to defend my bride the Church, the people of God, from wolves that seek to devour and destroy her and her members – from those who are openly malicious to those who are misguided by erroneous ways of thinking. I do not pretend to be the savior for there is only one and he died and rose for us and our salvation. I do not claim to be without sin nor to have all the answers. I want to learn and to understand but I will also defend and protect the Church, her patrimony, and the salvation and flourishing of souls. Just as it is important, to be honest, humble, and not tone deaf, it is also important – and I say this to myself as well -that we do not let our comfort zones of personal preference, cultural experiences, and age we live within history blind us from sin and evil nor the goodness, truth, and beauty that God conveys to us in each age of history whether it be salvation history, the history of the Church, Western civilization, or history despite the greatness of their accomplishments or failures. I hope this provides clarification.

  7. Elpidio,
    I greatly admire Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Have you ever read about their lives? They were sincerely Christian men and neither fought solely for slavery nor were they enamored of slavery. Jackson ran a Sunday school for black children and taught them to read, which was illegal in his day. He also spoke fluent Spanish and had enquired about the Catholic faith during his time in Mexico. An historic black church in South West Virginia has a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of Stonewall Jackson.
    You know, our American Revolution was really our first civil war. American colonials who were loyal to their king saw Washington and his supporters as treasonous rebels and at least back home by some in Britain, as racists also. Britain freed at least one of Washington’s slaves and evacuated many other American slaves to Nova Scotia and freedom.
    I think every war we’ve fought was occasionally necessary but always tragic. Good men found themselves forced to make terrible decisions.
    One point I think some folks are missing is that the South was invaded and occupied. The greater majority of people didn’t have much of a choice but to defend their homes. Wars are almost always about power, money, and people in high places making decisions but eventually it comes down to each person defending their family from an invading army.
    If you want to look at cultures in the western hemisphere that had slavery more recently consider Brazil and Cuba. Or Haiti which still practices a form of child slavery or indenture today.
    Slavery is simply a part of global human history and some societies took longer to figure out better ways to find sources of labor. Some cultures like Haiti are still in that process.
    God bless!

    • Mrs. Cracker,

      It’s rather ironic that over in the comments on the article about Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have people telling us severely that the US insistence on “unconditional surrender” is what caused so much of the devastation of World War II and therefore it’s all our fault for not leaving the Germans and the Japanese with their dignity and with their system still in place; and presumably free to build statues to the people who had led or committed, say, the Rape of Nanking, or the Holocaust.

      But when we come to the Civil War, in which the US followed the course that President Lincoln recommended as he visited the captured Richmond and the home of Jefferson Davis – “Let ’em up easy” – we get what amounts to an insistence that the Union should have ground the southerners’ faces in the dirt.

      I’m not wildly fond of Lee or of Jackson, but I can respect and admire their generalship and their characters. They weren’t perfect. Nor are most people. Dr. King was a plagiarist and an adulterer; but he is righfully admired for the good that he did and for his courage, and I would be as outraged by, for example, a bunch of “Me Too” women deciding that he was a misogynist and therefore his statue should be torn down as I am about these other statues.

      The statues, and the forts named after Confederate generals, acknowledge our history and they acknowledge their courage and generalship. And by doing that the nation was able to reunite.

      Do you know the story of Joseph Wheeler, the very youthful Confederate general? During the Spanish-American War he became a general in the US army, and commanded the cavalry division which included Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. At one point in a battle Wheeler yelled, “Come on, boys, we’ve got those damn Ynkees on the run again!” I would rather live in a country that finds that hilarious than in a country that refused to acknowledge any good in the former Confederates.

      • Thank you Leslie for the story about General Wheeler. It sounds sort of familiar but I have a bad habit of mixing up battles and Generals. My sons can rattle off every battle and skirmish and name the combatants properly but I mix things up- as apparently Gen. Wheeler did in the Spanish American War.
        It’s a great story and helps me to remember the humanity behind our history. Many thanks again!

        • Mrs. Cracker, the trend for quite a while – and it may still be going on – was to write “social history,” where the writer talked about trends, and groups and so on. That is useful in some respects but if individuals and their stories are ignored one ends up with looking at people only as a member of a group (or “the average person,” who doesn’t actually exist). Sort of like the way things are going now – don’t look at people as individuals, just look at, say, the uniform they wear or their skin color and immediately jump to conclusions.

          The Civil War has so many stories. There was one place where the Union and Confederate lines were fairly close and the men on either side were trading things (coffee for tobacco, for example). The Union soldiers got up some sort of party or dance, and invited a few of their enemies over to take part, promising they would let them go back safely. An officer showed up, saw what was going on, and ordered the arrest of the Confederates. His men begged him, practically in tears, to let them go, because they had given their words. The officer (who I can just imagine rolling his eyes) let them go, before telling his men that they really couldn’t *do* things like that.

          It’s one of the reasons I love Bruce Catton’s books.

          • Leslie,
            Thank you for sharing that story also. I tend to remember stories about individuals more than stories about battles. They reveal our common humanity and the tragedy of war, especially civil war.
            There’s an annual reenactment in St Francisville, LA of a burial conducted by Confederates for a Yankee ship’s Captain who was a fellow Mason. It’s called “The Day the War Stopped” or something like that. I understand Masonry is problematic for Catholics but it was seen by many Americans as a fraternal and charitable organization. And apparently one that superceded opposing armies or political factions.

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