Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and Memorial Day


Yesterday, was an amazing day in American history and that is likely an understatement as millions gather in DC to witness the inauguration of Barak Obama as the 44th president. The ceremony took place against the backdrop of the Martin Luther King holiday the day before.
Obama's inaugural address was one of the best. The new Commander-in-Chief touched on many noteworthy and important issues and values But what caught my attention was his emphasis on the sacrifices of our veterans throughout our history. It was their dedication which has given us the freedoms we enjoy and our way of life.
I couldn't help but to think about our horrific Civil War; over 620,000 soldiers died in that bloody event, blood which made January 20th, 2009 possible. There were even more atrocities, many of them unknown, during that era and huge tracts of land were laid to waste.
One of the worst massacres during the war happened on April 12th, 1864 at Fort Pillow in Tennessee on the Mississippi River. The Union fort, defended by 262 black troops and 295 white troops was attacked by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest with some 2,300 troops.
The Confederate troops stormed the fort and in cold blood executed all but 62 black troops who were serving in the Union Army to defend the status of the Union. It's not a pretty picture, nor was Forrest's future. He eventually became the Grand Wizard of the white terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan.
A second image during Obama's speech that I recalled was one of the first Memorial Day ceremonies shortly after the war in Charleston, South Carolina. An old horse racing tack was converted into a prison for Union soldiers. Hundreds died or were executed and thrown into a mass grave.
On May 1, 1865, after formal hostilities ended, thousands of freed slaves, honored the Union troops digging up the mass graves and giving them a more dignified burial. It was a solemn event, which included the children of the freed slaves who were enrolled in the new free schools, who carried armfuls of flowers and sang the song “John Brown's Body”. The free schools and one of the organizers of the first Memorial was James Redpath, a northern abolitionist and ardent supporter of John Brown who owned a tannery and farm near Meadville, PA in a place called New Richmond. (There is a really good museum today at the former Brown farm – fascinating place).
So, perhaps, Obama's speech will give a new meaning to Memorial Day this year. We live in a nation soaked in the blood of our fellow countrymen and all of our veterans from all the wars regardless of racial origins. There are events we should never forget. There's a lot of people who died so we could live in the greatest nation on earth.
The photo is from a cemetery near Canadohta Lake and is the lonely graves of a civil war veteran whose name was faded and could not be read.