Friday, February 7, 2014

Somebody Forgot to Carry the One

You'll have to forgive me. This post is nearly five weeks overdue. Better late than never? But it relates to time and dates, so I am going to pretend I am writing this one late on purpose. What's the point of remembering the actual date, anyway? What's the big deal? (I know some of you interpreter-types have ideas about that and I love to hear them).

A better question is what is the big deal with magic number anniversaries? I have asked this before and will ask it again... why is "150" more important than "151?" That was a thought I had about 11:45am this past New Year's Eve. On that morning's run on my favorite paths (that *happen* to traverse through battlefield property), I had to stop myself when I saw this:


"It's grass, Elizabeth. So what?"

One hundred and fifty one years ago to that moment thousands of soldiers were fleeing through that very space. The Confederate soldiers would have just snapped the Union forces that had been using the Slaughter Pen as a defense position. The Confederates would have been chasing the fleeing Union soldiers through these fields and surrounding patches of woods. They were running just like me... weeeeell, not just like me. Nobody was chasing me. Nobody was shooting at me. I wasn't bleeding, I had no broken bones, no twisted ankles, I wasn't covered in blood. There was no screaming, no firing, no chaos, no booming. In fact, my moment in almost every possible way contrasted what had happened one hundred and fifty one years prior. It was a cool, quiet, sunny day and nobody was around. I had the path entirely to myself. That was my moment of contemplation and remembrance. My heart could break once more for the countless stories I had read of the soldiers (and the thoughts of the stories that remained there, untold). 

One soldier wrote of the scene:
"No language could picture it, no genius could paint it: No one person could see but a small portion of this magnificent panorama of barbaric warfare, none able to comprehend a tithe of its volume, power and terrible grandeur; but all who did hear it and all who did see it, though every nerve of the body was twice dead, could not help but feel it."[M.B. Butler
I will never fully understand what the soldiers experienced. I have been accused of caring too much about historical characters, about making the past too personal. That's just what I do. I can't be a purveyor to the past, I can't make the past "come alive," without making these stories personal. So I took that moment and I pondered. I used my human desire to create meaning by connecting to moments. And even though somebody forgot to carry that one, likely because there is no fancy word equivalent to "sesquicentennial" for "one hundred and fifty one years," the idea of connecting to the place at the time fueled more meaning to my remembering. 

Besides, when you visit a place on the 151st anniversary, you don't have to deal with as many crowds.


  1. People love even numbered anniversaries. Also, I think I have like 400 pictures of that grass. Crap, I haven't been back in like 8 months! Life got busy. In good ways.

  2. I was speaking with someone today about the love affair of using "firsts" to mark historical importance. Just because something came first does it make it more important than if it came second or in a questionable tie? I feel like there is some connection here to the magic anniversary numbers you speak of. I guess it is just natural as humans to want to quantify our experiences to compare them to the world around us.