Another piece for the 1st Minnesota newsletter. I have returned to the matter of “What do Civil War veterans think of us?” elsewhere (see #13), but reached a different conclusion. At this early date, however, I didn’t want to seem critical. – Jonah
Miscellaneous Ramblings – August 1985
Just before the final battle at Sayler's Creek, while we were waiting in the rain to march out, one of our comrades from Company A turned to me and asked: "What do you think the Civil War Veterans think of all this?" I answered with some flippant reply but in the intervening time I've actually given this question some thought. I've come up with the conclusion that the men of the nineteenth century probably don't understand us any better than we understand them.
Gazing down from some Celestial Encampment it would seem that the Civil War Veterans are confused, amused and probably flattered. With all of the leisure options the twentieth century affords us, it probably I puzzles them to no end that a few of us would want to spend our weekends with the rain, bugs, mud, and weariness that are required for an "authentic" event. (I say "authentic" because the main elements of disease, bad food and death are missing.) They're probably also amused by our twentieth century contrivances: unloading the gear from the pick-up, having Sunday morning breakfast at the nearby Hardee's, starting the campfires with newspaper and road flares, Ziplock bags, etc. I would imagine (and hope) that they're also touched and flattered by our interest in their lives, times, and sacrifices. I'm sure they realized that what they were experiencing was going to be the most exciting thing ever to happen to them, and the fact that we try to recreate it probably verifies this notion for them.
So much for their trying to figure us out -- now, do we really understand them? Well, I don't pretend to. First of all, I've never even met a real Civil War Veteran, much less gotten to know one! The sad fact of being in the "45 and under" age bracket is that we're the first generation without personal contact with one of them. The last one died in 1959 (Walter Williams, aged 117, one of Hood's Texans); I was too young to realize it and for the present-day 45 year-olds, there were too few to socialize with.
Secondly, I just can't figure out the Army of the Potomac's devotion for General George B. McClellan, "Mister here's your Mule", crinoline hoop skirts, or (no offense, 5th New York), Zouaves. The world of nineteenth century Victorian society is hard for me to understand, and as far as I'm concerned, the generation that fought the Civil War is a glorious and unfathomable mystery.