Some questions about ‘fuzzy’ history

As usual Mr. Garlock’s column was well-written and interesting. However I’m still trying to figure out the point of the whole exercise.

Was his point that Lincoln wasn’t such a good guy? Is he indignant at the treatment of the Confederate dead? Is the Gettysburg address fatally flawed because it does not honor the worthy enemy? Should we seek to embarrass the guides at the Gettysburg battlefield? Should Lincoln have recognized the “right to secede ... right to be left alone.”

Quite frankly, it is a daunting task for anyone to compress into a column any type of historical perspective, so a great deal must be presumed. However, context in any action is the great determinant for trying to get into the mind of someone from another age.

Mr. Garlock does mention Lincoln’s unpopularity at the time. He was unpopular because the people of the North couldn’t see an end. All they could see was the tremendous cost.

Tactically, Gettysburg was a draw. Politically, for Lincoln, it was a huge victory, arriving on the same day as the fall of Vicksburg. Lincoln faced reelection the next year and seemed so unpopular no earnest observer gave him much of a chance of reelection.

So the context of the speech was one given by a savvy Western politician seeking to define the reason for the struggle to a wavering Northern population. Is Mr. Garlock suggesting such a politician spend his precious goodwill honoring the soldiers of the cause which lead to that struggle?

As for the treatment of the dead, I agree that in our terms the failure to categorize and “sepulture” the Confederate dead brought no glory to the Union.

On the other hand, when battles were fought in the South, it was not uncommon for the Union dead to be treated similarly.

It wasn’t a conscious effort on most people’s part. In that day and age there did not exist a modern mortuary affairs detail to take care of such things.

After the war ended, it was the work of a select few Union men traveling the battlefields of the South and locating Union bodies hastily buried, often where they fell, to actually get the government to take an interest and reinter those bodies in national cemeteries.

If Lincoln hadn’t the time or capital to invest in the decent treatment of the Confederate dead, it should come as no surprise.

Is Mr. Garlock a fan of the Confederacy and does he believe they should have been “just left alone?” I do get the feeling that he does, but in many ways it just doesn’t matter. The question of secession from this union was settled on the battlefield because it couldn’t be settled by mutual agreement.

Only Mr. Garlock can tell us if he is being somewhat disingenuous when he writes: “Like many Americans, for a long time I assumed the solemn occasion and Lincoln’s insightful words were for the 8,900 dead ...”

Quite frankly I don’t think you have to memorize the Gettysburg Address to understand Lincoln was not there to honor secession or secessionists. “...[F]or those who here gave their lives that that nation might live” really can’t be reinterpreted to “for all those who showed up to fight for what they believe.”

If you’re going to get all teary-eyed about the great Lost Cause, well, you simply haven’t put much value on the real cause of the war.

The institution of slavery and the right of that institution to exist in new states of the union was the proximate and the great cause of the war. Most Southerners didn’t own slaves and would have denied they were fighting for that purpose. Most Northerners were not fighting to end slavery.

Interestingly, my great-great-grandfather fought at Gettysburg. His name was Faulkner and he was a child of the famine in Ireland. He probably would have preferred to fight the English. Undoubtedly he didn’t fight to destroy slavery. The effect was the same. It doesn’t take a great deal to get a man to fight.

I don’t know if the title was Mr. Garlock’s, but the lens of history isn’t always so fuzzy. It depends on where you put your focus.

So if you add a little context, Mr. Garlock, to your fluid style, perhaps your wrong-headedness will disappear on its own. And yes, I will make a point to go to the cemetery in Richmond to honor the brave dead ... but not their cause.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” — Abraham Lincoln at his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.

Too bad he did not live to oversee that binding of the nation’s wounds.

Timothy J. Parker
Peachtree City, Ga.