In July my husband and I took a side trip to Philadelphia and Gettysburg before meeting my family in North Carolina for our biennial reunion. He has enjoyed reading about the Civil War, so we were excited to have the chance to stay in Gettysburg itself (right next to the house where Abraham Lincoln polished his famous address!). We hired a personal guide who took us chronologically through the fields and ridges of those three fateful days.
It was sobering, of course. The next morning I penned a couple of poems about my thoughts.
On a tour of the battlefield
the chess moves of Meade and Lee
were described, the relentless
volley of bullets and mortar
faintly sounding, letting up
in periods of advance and retreat.
The thud of our sons’ shattered bodies
meeting the soil of planted acres
assaults any noble thought of
war’s elusive aspirations.
The ends cannot justify any means.
They are one and the same.
Ends of lives and hope,
after the smoke clears.
It is hard to justify what is no longer there.
There is endless analysis
of the strategies and circumstances
of a battle waged on ordinary hills.
What I will remember is
our guide explaining such simple factors
with enormous consequences:
the assumption that guns were loaded
when they weren’t, the lighting of
cannon fuses that were defective,
the failure to send a message.
Mostly the refusal of a handful of leaders to quit.