It seems a week for anniversaries. I suppose every week brings them and what really happens is that I notice some of them some of the time. The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Stones River this week caught my attention.
As 2012 draws to a close, I find myself reading a biography of George Thomas. Born in Virginia, educated at West Point, Thomas chose to stay with the Union as Civil War convulsed the United States. He served in the Western Theater of the war where he earned the nickname, “The Rock of Chickamauga” for a defensive stand his troops made during that battle.
Earlier, the men under his command fought at Stones River, Tennessee. From December 31, 1862 through January 2, 1863, forces under the command of Gen. Bragg (CSA) and Gen. Rosecrans (USA) clashed along Stones River. Men in blue and men in gray fought and died in cotton fields and among cedar timbers and in places now remembered as The Slaughter Pen and Hell’s Half Acre. 3,000 men died; the number of men killed, wounded, and missing totaled over 23,000.
In January of 2010, I visited Stones River National Battlefield and Stones River National Cemetery. I experienced mixed emotions: horror, sorrow, pain, pride and more intermingled. The place seems hallowed in ways I can never describe. Walking alone on the boundary trail, every rustling leaf and every squirrel moving on the ground made me feel surrounded by ghosts.
In the end, the cemetery made the greatest impression on me. I thought of those who died in that battle – and in all battles – in all wars. And I ask myself – Why? And I ask myself – How long? And I ask myself – Can the human race not do better?