I have always been a history buff, especially interested in the foundation of the country. My first interest was piqued when my folks took me to Fort Ligonier. I remember the day because I had a plaid sport coat on with a bow tie when we visited because we came right from church. In those days, you got dressed up for church and when I got to the famous French and Indian War fort, my dad bought me a tri- cornered hat and I was so proud wearing it around. I learned about the conflict and saw many relics of the period which made history come alive for me as a young lad.
Fast forward, my grandparents knowing my interest, took me to Gettysburg to get another take on local history. Again, I was enthralled with the Civil War conflict and again I got a hat- a Union officer’s hat- which again, I wore everywhere. I vividly remember the tour we took and the views from Little Roundtop, and Big Roundtop and the strategy of the Union and Confederate forces was explained in great detail. Much of it was lost on me until many later visits to the battlefield and an increased understanding of the conflict and the importance of the Gettysburg Address and the resultant emancipation proclamation.
In an effort to pass this on to my son Jack, my wife and I made it a point to take him not only to Gettysburg and Ft. Ligonier, but also to Williamsburg and eventually Washington DC. As a young kid, he complained a little about the mid summer heat in Williamsburg, as I explained to him the significance of the House of Burgess and the freedom speeches of Patrick Henry. It was a little lost on him but I continued during his formative years to explain what the wars were and why they were significant. You see, where we live in Western Pennsylvania, history is alive everywhere you look. From the blockhouse at Ft. Pitt at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, to Forts Ligonier and Necessity just east of us and further east- the famous battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil War. We visited all of them and history came alive for Jack and also my wife who was forced into learning about American history because of her marriage to me. LOL!! I can remember the guide putting them to sleep after a 3 hour tour in Gettysburg driving my car, and also me putting them to sleep on visits to significant sites rambling on to them about the particulars of the places we were about to visit.
The final visit with Jack and Janet before he was off and on his way in life, was during a college tour in Lynchburg, Virginia. I took them to Appomattox Courthouse where the armistice was signed by U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee ending the Civil War. We toured the quiet little farm house where the two famous generals met to effectively end the war on paper. Quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, the park is remarkably well preserved. I made it a point to venture out back to the slaves quarters to specifically show Jack the difference in living between the main house and the stark quarters where black slaves were housed to serve the owners of the farm at the time. When you read about the history of slavery on those walls, you get an understanding of the sadness that prevailed in those quarters and the atrocity of treating people differently because of the color of their skin. This was not lost on Jack because he was old enough to appreciate it. I explained to Jack and to Janet that Robert E. Lee went on to found Washington and Lee University whose founding precepts were to foster unity among the divided country. Lee was a reluctant warrior as a West Point graduate , and had no choice but to side with his home state of Virginia. But in later years, he did a lot to foster unity which he is not credited for in many accounts. Grant was the executor of Lincoln’s emancipation and, as President, he was intimately involved in crushing any further insurrection in the south and stopped continuing atrocities on the recently emancipated black citizens by the Ku Klux Klan. U.S. Grant is a hero to the black cause in America not only as a general in the Civil War but as President. Again, not always given the credit he deserves. Why the vandals tore his statue down recently in San Francisco is a mystery to me other than writing it off to random violence or people who don’t know the history of the man.
I think history is important. And it can’t be whitewashed. We have to teach our young people the good and the bad of American history so that we can learn of our mistakes and not repeat them. I can see the argument for not memorializing certain combatants in unrelated places but the battle fields and museums must be preserved to be a teaching vehicle for generations to come. Erasing history in those venues does a disservice to understanding where we have been so that we can know where we are going. The Jewish nation is a good example by their preservation of the concentration camps of World War II. When you visit Dachau, or Auschwitz, you understand the inhumane treatment of German and Polish Jews, and see first hand the evil of the Third Reich. That history should never be repeated and the preservation of those sites is essential to an understanding not only of Jewish culture but German history as well- good or bad.
I read a lot about history and am happy that I was able to at least pass some of that interest on to my wife as well as to my son. This is a good book by the way for anyone interested. I am hoping he will take the baton from me and perhaps make history come alive for his children someday. I would be happy to tag along. Maybe with a tri-cornered hat much to the horror of my prospective grandchildren in the future. LOL. Thanks for reading.