We marked President’s Day with a visit this weekend to Chancellorsville, one of the great battlefields of the American Civil War. Nearly 200,000 men fought there for a week in the spring of 1863, 133,000 for the Union and 60,000 for the Confederate Army.
General Robert E. Lee, who Lincoln had tried to appoint as head of his army before the start of the war, led the Southern troops to their greatest victory. But Lee lost nearly 13,000 men (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, 2,018 missing), including his finest general, Stonewall Jackson. On the Union side there were about 17,000 casualties (1,606 killed, 9,672 wounded, 5,919 missing), with three generals among those killed.
A modern day U.S. Marine told us he’d walked the battlefield a half dozen years ago with his class from officer training school, to learn how General Lee used terrain and tactics to create his brilliant victory.
But our thoughts were about time, about how recent it all seemed. On a hunch, we checked with Wikipedia and confirmed that a few Civil War veterans were still alive when we were born in the 1950s. More surprising, three or four Revolutionary War veterans were living when the American Civil War ended in 1865.
There it was. People of my generation may have rubbed shoulders with Civil War veterans, who may have rubbed shoulders with those who fought beside General George Washington in America’s war for independence.
The entire history of the Republic could fit into just three overlapping generations. No wonder the scene in Chancellorsville felt so fresh. It happened only yesterday.