Simple—forgiveness and reconciliation. Of course, it is not simple. Things that matter, seldom are. If they are worthwhile, the concepts may very well be simple, but the processes needed to bring them to reality never are. And this idea of forgiveness is monumental in its importance and in its difficulty.
Some time ago, I wrote in another medium that our country has forgiven every enemy combatant except one. We have forgiven the British (twice), the Germans (twice in two world wars), the Russians, the Italians, the Mexicans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Iraqis, and the Afghans, et al. And we might yet forgive the Taliban. The French must be in there somewhere! Interestingly all of these foes are now our allies.
But there remains one foe not yet fully forgiven? The South.
Interesting isn’t it. I wonder why it is still so?
Slavery? That would be the apparent reason—and a good one. It should take a lot to forgive the owning of one human by another. Isn’t 150 years long enough?
I know it is easy at this point to declare that I am a far-right redneck racist. I am not, nor have I ever been. Business and Government were racist before the Civil War and have remained so the 150 years since. Count me among those who declare that institutionalized racism is a disease that must be erased.
I do not personally ask for or require forgiveness because I am a white Southerner, but the South’s dead Confederate ancestors, do.
I was going to title this, Confederate Dead Matter, too. However, I do want folks to continue reading my blogs, so I strategically placed it in the middle of this piece! I do believe that it is time to forgive the Confederate Dead. As in every war, there were Confederate fighters who dishonored the designation of officers and soldiers during and after the conflict. But, oh my, so many of the officers and the men they commanded fought honorably. Did you know that Robert E. Lee disobeyed Jefferson Davis to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox Court House? Is that not honor?
With this sense of honor and reconciliation, Gettysburg National Military Park was established to honor all who fought honorably and fell there in those rolling hills—Union and Confederate. As the Confederate Army withdrew from Gettysburg, numbers of Southern doctors surrendered to the Union Army to treat the hundreds and hundreds wounded of both armies. Is that not honor?
There is no more appropriate symbol than Gettysburg for our country as we move toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and recognition of every human’s divine personhood. At Gettysburg, I felt a kind of reverence that is difficult to define. It was much like the feeling I had at the Lincoln Memorial, and at Appomattox Court House.
Appomattox and Gettysburg are full of honor and reconciliation as they should be. When General Lee agreed to surrender sent by written letter to General Grant, General Grant allowed General Lee to choose the place of their meeting. Isn’t that honor?
Before the surrender document was signed, these two former comrades talked for thirty minutes, reminiscing about a time when they had fought together against Mexico. After the surrender document was signed, General Lee asked General Grant for two things not in the conditions of the surrender: that his officers be able to keep their horses because the men had supplied their own mounts and would need them to plow their fields. And, he asked General Grant for rations because his men had been eating roasted seed corn for two weeks. General Grant ordered 20,000 rations to be sent, and he told Lee if he needed more, he needed but ask. Is that not honor?
General Grant could have imprisoned the entire Army of Northern Virginia after they surrendered, but he did not. Instead, he sent them home to their families and farms, and when his Union soldiers began to jeer at the defeated Rebels as they marched away, Grant put a stop to it by declaring that, as of this day, they were now all Americans. Is that not reconciliation? Is that not honor?
The monuments all around Gettysburg honor soldiers who fell from both armies. The memorial to Alabama’s sons is no less significant than the monument to fallen from the 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. They are equal in death and in remembering the sacrifices they gave there on three days in July. Is that not honor and reconciliation?
The Confederate Dead were not evil men beyond redemption because they fought for an evil cause. They were flawed humans who made tragic mistakes that linger unforgiven 150 years later.
Those flawed men and women deserve forgiveness if today’s collective national redemption is to take root and grow.
Now—this day–we must forgive. All of us must patch up old wounds and harmonize with grace and forgiveness.
Is that not honor?