Both Sides Now: Civil Discourse on the Civil War


National Parks in the east preserve many sites related to the Civil War, and have to tread that narrow line of preserving history and telling heroic stories, without dishonoring the vanquished.

Our trip through the Southeast included Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (74), Richmond National Battlefield Park (76), Fort Moultrie (84), Fort Sumter NM (85), Fort Pulaski NM (86), and Fort Washington in Maryland (91). In September, we also visited Gettysburg National Military Park (92).

On the 150th Anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox, John Daniel Davidson explained why it is appropriate to continue to remember and honor the Confederacy.

“To mark Appomattox, or honor the Confederate dead, or preserve Confederate monuments, is not ‘spitshining the Confederacy,’ as Beutler insists, but keeping alive the memory of our ancestors, good and bad, in hopes of understanding what they went through, and why, and what it means for us today.”

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Each of these parks has found their own way to remember the contributions and sacrifices of both sides. This young volunteer at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP demonstrated his love of history through telling us of the battle and the hero who took water out to the wounded of both sides as they lay crying in the dark.

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This park ranger at Fort Pulaski NM told us of the slave who was a river pilot, and helped strengthen the fort’s defenses for the Confederates. After the battle, he was given his freedom and served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. And, yes, the fort is named after Count Casimir Pulaski, the Polish hero of the American Revolution, who also has a skyway in New Jersey named after him.

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The Richmond NBP tells the story of hospitals and medical care at the site of one of the largest military hospitals of its day. Over 76,000 Confederate sick and wounded were treated, and about 20% died. That was pretty good for the nineteenth century. The science of war had advanced well beyond the science of medicine.

Advances in weapons and defense were part of the story at many Civil War sites. Several forts were considered the finest of the times, or even impregnable. But rifled cannons and larger cannons were also being developed and put to use.Fort Sumter, considered the site of the battle that started of the war, includes exhibits of cannons and damage from cannons.

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The strategic location of forts does not change with time. Many of these sites were continued in use until World War II. Fort Moultrie is on the north shore of the harbor, looking out to Fort Sumter. It retains evidence from late 19th and early 20th century defenses.

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It also has signaling flags and lights from its service as the Command Post for the defense of Charleston harbor in WW II.

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Fort Washington was the site of the only defenses for our nation’s capital during the War of 1812. You can see its strategic location within site of the I-95 Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

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Gettysburg is the most famous Civil War park. While the battle here was a significant turning point in the war, I don’t think that is the reason that it is the most visited battlefield. This site was preserved soon after the war as a place for monuments and memorials to the men and boys who fought here and the women who served here. Only four months after the war, President Lincoln dedicated a National Cemetery to remember their sacrifices. “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.”

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In addition to all the information, education, and preservation that takes place at Civil War National Parks, one important message of these monuments is the reminder of the blessings of peace.

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The Southern tour included 18 parks, bringing the total to 91. Thanks to Carol for accompanying me on this trip (it was her idea). Thanks also to Elisabeth, Dan and Michael for joining us on the Gettysburg trip.

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