A letter to the president concerning Confederate “heritage”


“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

–Donald Trump, August 17, 2017

Mr. President,

Your sentiment about history and our collective ability to learn from it could be the truest thing you’ve ever said. Since you’ve opened the door to history’s teachable qualities, this former U.S. History teacher from Chicago is delivering a lesson from the past that you need to hear.

In 1860–on November 6, to be exact–a presidential election was held. The victorious candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and he received less than 40% of the popular votes that were cast. Like you, Lincoln did not win a majority of the popular vote but, as you well know, a majority of votes in the Electoral College is what the successful candidate needs to acquire. I’m absolutely certain that you would not quibble with the validity of a presidency based upon an Electoral College majority. Indeed, without that provision of the Constitution nobody would be addressing you as “Mr. President” today.

The Confederacy was born from the unwillingness of many Southern states to accept the 1860 election as legitimate. South Carolina was the first to leave ihe Union in December of 1860, and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas all followed suit, before Lincoln was even sworn in as president. Four more states followed after Lincoln was inagurated in March of 1861.

I’m sure it isn’t lost on you that each of these states (with the exception of Virginia) were also won by you in last November’s election. The script from 1860 was completely flipped on its head in 2016. The reasons why that happened are a discussion for another day. All that matters here is that the states which couldn’t abide the election of Lincoln contributed to your own election, 156 years later.

By advancing the preservation of statues honoring Confederate generals as part of your “heritage” (which makes no sense, given that your home state of New York was instrumental in the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy), you dishonor those who gave their lives fighting to preserve the nation that you are now privileged to lead. But even more than that, you send the message that states should be able to disregard election results they do not agree with.

To put it another way, did California, or New York, or my home state of Illinois secede from the Union following the 2016 election? Of course not. The Civil War settled that issue, once and for all. That “heritage” benefits you, every single day of your presidency.

By siding with those who chose to fight rather than accept the results of a presidential election,  you are undermining the legitimacy of the institution upon which your presidency rests. Can you not see the inherent contradiction in this position? And are you willing to learn from the events of the past, as you stated we all could do just two months ago?

I urge you to take this message to heart, before going any further with your racially coded appeals to Southern “heritage.” The legitimacy of your own claim to the presidency depends upon it.


Time to give a history lesson to Donald Trump


The man seems to be unaware of what the reason for the Civil War was, so here goes:

In 1860, there was a presidential election held. In that election, there were four main candidates: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Bell, and John C. Breckinridge. Here’s a primer on Breckinridge, in case anyone hasn’t heard the name before.

Lincoln got a majority of the electoral votes, so he was declared the winner. I’m certain Trump knows all about that. Lincoln won 59.4 percent of the electoral vote, a landslide in comparison to Trump’s 56.5% in 2016. But 50% plus one is really all a candidate needs, Trump’s braggadocio aside.

Presidential inaugurations didn’t happen until early March in those days, so some Southern states–slaveholders all–decided they were not going to wait around until Lincoln took the oath of office. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington,  seven states had already gone ahead and left the Union. They believed they could do it, and so they did. Election results be damned.

When Lincoln came into office and said that he was not going to interfere with slavery where it already existed, the die had already been cast for those seven states. How Andrew Jackson could have prevented this is unclear, because he had already been dead for over ten years, but Trump isn’t one to give any details, is he?

Lincoln never considered secession to be a legitimate course of action, because there is no mechanism for it spelled out in the Constitution. He always considered South Carolina and the others as part of the Union, even as they had soldiers in arms trying to destroy it.

Virginia and three other states left the Union after the Confederacy opened fire on federal troops at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. Lincoln said there would be no armed conflict without the South being the aggressors, and he was right about that.

Flash forward 156 years, to the election of 2016. Trump got a majority of the electoral college votes, and he took office as president as the result. I really don’t like typing out those words, but that’s what happened. The issue of whether California or New York or my home state of Illinois would be allowed to disregard the election results and just walk away was definitively and forever settled by the 600,000 soldiers who died on the battlefields of the Civil War. States like mine would just have to live with the results.

The fact that this country is still united today, in the face of such overwhelming opposition to the policies of Donald Trump, is a testament to the finality of the Civil War’s outcome. But how many of those seven states who didn’t even give Lincoln a chance to take office first did Trump win in 2016? All seven. And how many of the other four states that seceded did Trump win? All except Virginia. Maybe it’s no accident that the man who won 92% of the old Confedercy’s electoral votes is ignorant about why the Civil War broke out.

The electoral college–the sole reason why Trump holds office today–was Lincoln’s key to the White House in 1860. The rash and impulsive decision by eleven Southern states to withdraw from the Union–absent any Constitutional authority for doing so–was the reason for the war’s outbreak, not any failing by Lincoln or anyone on the Northern side of the conflict. The backhanded suggestion that Lincoln should have tried to negotiate away an election that he won fair and square is outrageous, and needs to be labeled as such.

Elections have consequences, as Trump supporters are quick to remind us. If the Southern states had acted upon this conviction back in 1860, perhaps the war could have been avoided. But the Southern states are the ones that started the war, and any responsibility for the conflict and the suffering it caused lies squarely on their shoulders. Or, to put it another way, with the states that form his 21st century base.

Here endeth the lesson.


A Lincoln gallery


One hundred and fifty-three years ago today, Abraham Lincoln began the process of righting America’s greatest wrong. Slavery had existed for centuries, sanctioned by law and practiced by many of the men who spoke of human liberty when they applied it to white folks, but were more than willing to deny it to those who did not look like them. Hypocrisy at it worst, it appears to me.

But Lincoln upset that apple cart. He said that slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. He was elected president, and the slaveholding states (most of them, anyway) decided to leave the Union before they accepted him as their leader.

Lincoln held firm to his position that secession was not allowed for in the Constitution, and was therefore not a legitimate course of action. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and the rest did not leave the Union, because they could not leave the Union.

The first year-and-a-half of the Civil War was a fight about preserving the Union. But in the fall of 1862, Lincoln gave the abolitionists what they wanted. It’s true that not one slave was freed as a result of this action. It’s also true that slaves in Missouri and the other border states were not affected by Lincoln’s action. But the die had been cast, all the same. Slavery became the war’s defining issue, from that moment forward.

We can never do enough to honor what Abraham Lincoln did. I have tried many times to explain what Lincoln means in this space, and here’s a sampling of them on this day.


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I’ve said many times that Lincoln is with us still, so long as we want to see and acknowledge him and the new America that he brought about. May we never lose sight of this.

Remembering the fallen


Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of the heaviest fighting at the battle of Spotsylvania in the Civil War. A century and a half ago, the Civil War was grinding on and on, with no end in sight. A presidential election was coming up in the fall, and the staggering losses were dimming Lincoln’s reelection chances. We know how it turned out now, but the spring of 1864 must have been a very tense and heartwrenching time for the Union side.

Although Lincoln himself is never too far away here in Chicago, the lack of a battlefield from that conflict can make the war seem remote sometimes. The Confederate mound is on the South side, and I’ve written about it here before, but it seems like a well-kept secret sometimes. And thousands of dead Confederates evidenced the war’s human toll for me, but they were also fighting to preserve a government that was built upon human bondage. It was hard to feel any love for them.

I wanted to take a moment to honor the fallen, not necessarily from Spotsyvania itself, but from the totality of the war that shaped this nation that my family calls home. So I drove to Rosehill cemetery, which I’ve also written about before, and stood among the rows of fallen Union soldiers.

There were hundreds of them in all, and they represented untold numbers of widows, parents, children, brothers and sisters, cousins and nephews who had to carry on with their lives after they fell. The lives that were lost were in evidence, but the lives that were forever altered as a result could only be surmised.

I read the names and the dates and the company designations, and wondered how many of these fallen soldiers had someone come to pay their respects. Two men named Stewart from separate companies in Vermont, for example, found their earthly rest a very long way from home. Perhaps they were biologically related, and perhaps they were not. But there they are, 150 years later, lying not too far from each other in a Chicago cemetery. And there I was, wondering about what their stories were, and paying my respects to them and all of their comrades in arms.

I wouldn’t know how to behave in the presence of a slave, or a person who considered himself worthy of owning another human as his property. I want to believe that I would comfort the slave and afflict the slaveholder in any way that I could, but the law would be on the slaveholder’s side, and not mine.

Whether the men who lie buried in Rosehill cemetery opposed slavery or not–and I have no illusions that all of them did oppose it–their sacrifice spared all of us from having to witness the debasing nature of slavery.

Confederates had their principles too, I suppose, but I cannot–and will not–honor their sacrifices. If Davis and Lee and the other Confederates had prevailed, the world today would be so ugly that I can hardly imagine it. It’s a great and glorious thing that what some consider the “lost cause” was, indeed, lost.

The surrender at Appomattox is the symbolic end of the Civil War, but in many ways the war still continues today. Those who had their families torn apart, or who spent the rest of their lives carrying the physical and mental scars from the fighting, have all left us now. Their sacrifices are often lost, amid the sacrifices made in more recent American wars. Those wounds are still fresh, after all. But appreciating the Civil War, with its permanent reordering of American society–both North and South–must also be done.

This piece was written with love and gratitude for the sacrifices they made.

Here’s why the Civil War began


With the attention being paid to the battle at Gettysburg–the Civil War’s pivotal moment–it bears repeating why the war started in the first place. It’s really not that complicated, but it cannot be brushed aside, either.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were running for a seat in the U.S. senate. They agreed to a series of debates in the summer and fall of that year, even if the people attending those debates could not vote for either Lincoln or Douglas. They voted for their state legislators, who in turn elected the senator, as the Constitution directed back then.It wasn’t like it is today with the direct election of senators by the people. But that’s getting away from my point.

In the first debate, held at Ottawa on August 21, 1858, candidate Lincoln said the following:

“There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence–the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects–certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal, and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man.”

We might think that such sentiments were commonly held back in the 1850s, but they were not. The United States–North and South–had tolerated, and even depended upon slavery for centuries. Lincoln’s words were accepted by a small group of Abolitionists, and no one else. In the place and time he lived in, Lincoln’s philosophy was nothing less than revolutionary.

So when the man who proclaimed the equality of a group that had been customarily enslaved and denied their rights was elected as President two years later, the states that did not, and could not, accept Lincoln’s views left the Union. They did not wait for him to be sworn in, and to hear his conciliatory inaugural address, which was specifically directed to them. No, the South simply could not abide having a president who thought as Lincoln did. And any suggestion to the contrary is disingenuous and should be ignored.

Gettysburg and Lovejoy


There’s an ad campaign for Walgreens pharmacy on the radio that goes something like “at the corner of happy and healthy.” But if that were really the case, they wouldn’t sell cigarettes behind the counter the way that they do. It makes smokers happy, I’m sure, but it’s nowhere near healthy, either.

I mention this because the nation is now celebrating the 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg. The importance of the battle in breaking the Confederate army and their hope of winning the war is well-known. Anyplace with a “Gettysburg” anything–be it a street, or a park, or anything else, is bound to be found in the union states, rather than in the old Confederacy. And that’s as it should be, I suppose.

So the reason why Gettysburg Street is located on the Northwest side of Chicago, instead of in Charleston, South Carolina or anyplace else in the Southern states is easy to understand. But Chicago, whether intentionally or not, ups the ante in its Northern/Union street naming by having a “Lovejoy” Street which intersects with Gettysburg Street.

There were two notable Lovejoys that the street could be named after. Elijah Lovejoy was an abolitionist editor of the Alton Observer, a newspaper that published Abolitionist ideas in an area of Southern Illinois that was sympathetic to slavery. Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, defending the printing press that he used to strike out against slavery. His brother, Owen Lovejoy, witnessed the murder, and he too became committed to the Abolitionist cause. He was a conductor on the Underground railroad, and he helped to recruit Abraham Lincoln into the Republican party. He’s certainly worthy of having his name attached to a street, but only in places where Confederate sympathizers are nowhere in sight.

So as the Gettysburg anniversary celebration continues this week, let’s also remember Lovejoy and his fellow agitators who forced an issue that, in hindsight, needed all the forcing it could get. The intersection of Gettysburg and Lovejoy–metaphorically– is a place where slavery and the Confederate cause went to die a bloody death. But die it did, and America is so much better for it.

No Love for Cooter


When I was a kid, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I loved The Dukes of Hazzard. It was probably the TV show that I looked forward to the most, because it made the exploits if the Duke family seem cool, at least to a 12 year-old who had no idea about the South or even the Civil War. But I could sing that theme song about the good ol’ boys, that’s for sure.

But times have changed since the early 80s, and the Confederate flag painted on top of the General Lee doesn’t seem so cool anymore. That flag has become a symbol of “Southern heritage” for some, and slavery, racism and–let’s be honest about this–armed insurrection against the United States to many others.

I come down on the side of the latter, and I regret that slavery was so deeply ingrained in American culture that 600,000 or more had to lose their lives over it. But I’m glad that it happened, and I have no patience for anyone who romanticizes the Confederacy. Such people just don’t know their history, unfortunately.

So when Ed Markey, a congressman running to fill a senate seat in Massachusetts, decided to disinvite his friend, and fellow Congressman, Ben Jones from a fundraiser that he was planning to have, I cheered this move. Massachusetts, like every other state in the Union, sacrificed thousands of its sons and husbands, fathers and brothers during the 1860s. Those men who died, or had their lives forever altered by an amputated limb, did so because the cause of secession was–and will forever remain–wrong.

But Ben Jones and many, many others can’t see that. They rail against “political correctness” whenever the rebel flag is challenged, but are apparently unaware, or unconcerned, about the sacrifices that the Southern cause once extracted from the United States. Massachusetts paid that price, and now someone who wants to represent that state in the U.S. senate has the right–and almost the obligation–to tell an avowed Confederate sympathizer to take a walk.

Well done, Representative Markey, for honoring those who paid the highest price to put down secession and end slavery. The racial underpinnings that created the Confederacy are just as wrong today as they were in 1861. May more people wise up to that fact some day.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing

In 1860, there was a four-way presidential election held in America, the likes of which had never been seen before, and will likely never be seen again. The winning candidate–Abraham Lincoln of Illinois–prevailed by getting a majority of the votes in the electoral college. That’s what the Constitution requires, and that’s what he did. But a handful of states couldn’t abide by those rules, so they decided to leave the game and start their own one.

Lincoln had a choice to make, upon taking the oath of office in 1861. He could recognize the doctrine of secession, and let the states go on their way, or he could ignore it and act as though nothing had happened. Lincoln chose the latter course, and in so doing committed the federal government to preserving the Union. The Civil War began, soon after that decision had been made.

The war was waged long and hard, and all states suffered terrible losses before it was over. But it ended with the understanding that states could not decide to leave the Union. The nation we live in today, all 50 states of it, are bound to follow federal laws, including accepting the outcome of presidential elections, whether their candidate wins the election or not.

I’ve lived in Illinois–the Land of Lincoln–all my life, and this has pretty much insulated me from expressions of sympathy for the Confederate cause. I watched the Dukes of Hazzard as a kid, unaware of the meaning of that flag that was painted on top of the General Lee. I’ve seen Confederate flags at flea markets in Wisconsin, which made no sense to me because Wisconsin fought on the Union side during the Civil War. And I’ve seen the flag on items in gift shops in other states.  But Lincoln lost his life preserving the Union, and his martyrdom, I thought, protected his home state against any overt Confederate sympathies.

But this afternoon, in a large shopping mall near the Wisconsin border, these illusions were brought to an end. A store in the mall had a Confederate flag on display, presumably for the purposes of selling it. Although I was stunned at the sight, I was able to snap a picture of it, and it is posted above.

There is a Naval station not terribly far from the mall, and some of the other items offered for sale in the store had Naval terms on them. Apparently, a store catering to military families sees a market for the emblem of a failed attempt to bring the United States down. And that’s just what would have happened, had the Civil War ended with a different result. But thanks to Lincoln’s leadership, the Union was preserved instead.

A person who buys a Confederate flag from this gift shop in a mall in Northern Illinois–or anywhere else where this emblem might be sold–is offering their support for what? The idea that presidential elections can be disregarded by states that don’t like the results? Or the idea that America is a collection of independent states, who can decide for themselves when they’re free to leave the Union? Those ideas have already been tried and, fortunately enough for us all, defeated.

This is a symbol that belongs in the history books, instead of on the sales floor. And yet, America being what it is, it can’t be–and shouldn’t be–just legislated away. That change can only take place in the hearts and minds of Americans who appreciate, and ultimately reject, what the flag really stood for. And until that day comes, the Civil War is still with us in some sense.

Go forward without fear

Fear can be a debilitating thing. It can tie you up in knots, and make you afraid of whatever is coming next. And it’s no way to live.

I had an example of this after watching “Stand By Me” on DVD (and yes, that is an annoying rhyme. Sorry about that). I hadn’t seen the movie in 25 years, and maybe even more than that, but I sat down with my daughters and their cousin to watch it last night. They got to expand their vocabulary in a few new ways, but beyond that they enjoyed the movie quite a lot.

There were four young kids, maybe about 12 or so, who set off to find the body of another kid who was hit by a train. There’s a memorable scene at the end of the movie where Ace, played by Kiefer Sutherland, and his boys show up to claim the dead kid’s body, and the attention it will bring them, for themselves. But the storyteller, Gordie, and his friend Chris stand up to Ace, with the help of a gun and a willingness to use it. Gordie and Chris have to stare down Ace without the benefit of their friends, Teddy (the kid with the glasses whose father “stormed the beach at Normandy”) and Vern (the pudgy kid who was afraid of everything and reminded me of a miniature Curly Howard). But they acted without fear, and in the end Ace gave up.

When the movie was over, I took my dog and another dog out for a walk. At the end of the driveway, which was fairly well lit by lights from the cabin we’re staying in, there was a long stretch of darkness. There are no streetlights here, and getting to the road would have involved walking through pitch blackness for about 100 yards. Then, once I got to something resembling a road, I could go one way up a  hill in the darkness, or another way down the hill in the darkness. Either way, there was darkness ahead of me.

I could have played it safe and stayed on the lighted driveway. But this would be the result of my fear of what might have been in the dark. But I pressed on into the darkness, first to the street and then up the hill for about 50 yards or so. I couldn’t see a thing, but I pressed on anyway.

Knowing that the black bear who was roaming Cape Cod a few weeks ago had already been captured and relocated to someplace else may have allowed me to do this, but I don’t think that was the case. There aren’t any predators beyond foxes that I know of in these parts, and the approach of something dangerous would have probably set the dogs off. So I wasn’t really vulnerable, in any sense of the word.

But had I let the fear win out, I wouldn’t have made it to the top, where I saw a most beautiful moon shining through the clouds. I admired the view, knowing that a moon like that wouldn’t be the same once I got back home, a few days from now.

I took the title for this post from a message to Congress that Abraham Lincoln delivered after the Civil War had began. Lincoln was not afraid, even though there real threats to the fabric of the country. The two kids in the movie were not afraid, even though a teenager with a switchblade was threatening them. And I was not afraid, in a remote, dark area with two dogs who needed to “do their thing” before being locked up in the cabin for the night.

My point is that fear can’t be allowed to win out. Whatever happens is going to happen, unless fear manages to get in the way first. I was glad that this didn’t happen to me last night. And if a glimpse at the moon and a movie about kids is what it takes to remind me of this, I could certainly do a lot worse than that.

Honoring Soldiers, Schuylers, and the the guy who made our piano

On Memorial Day, I made good on a promise that I made in an earlier post in this space. In the early morning, while most of the people in the house were still asleep, I took my little one with me and we went to Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. It was a beautiful day, and the Stars and Stripes were in abundance. There will be other summer activites ahead, but it felt right to be doing what we did.

My little one was initially unwilling to go. I did my best to convince her it’s an important thing, and she grudgingly agreed to go. On the way over there (it was a short drive to the cemetery) we discussed the Civil War, and she amazed me with her knowledge of the conflict. She reminded me there were other wars too, and she’s right about that, but Rosehill has a number of Civil War graves that we were going to have a look at.

We collected an American flag at the gate, drove inside, and parked the car. We walked past a Leonard Volk monument to the fallen, and then walked to row after row of Civil War casualties. They had names, company identifying information, and the date of their deaths. We read the names, my daughter told me the state abbreviations (most were from Illinois, but there were Iowa and Vermont and Connecticut and others in the mix) and we tried to figure out one grave that was simply marked “Humphrey.” I could see my daughter was getting into it, and she even figured out the pattern of how the soldiers were buried in one section. I’m always proud of her, but the way she took to this is something I’ll always remember.

As we were walking around, we ventured outside of the soldiers’ graves, and found a family plot of a family named Schuyler (pronounced SKY-ler). That’s a name that figures prominently in our family (but I won’t say exactly how) and so we honored them, too. We were there for the soldiers, but we remembered some non-soldiers, too.

When we got in the car to come back home, I drove past the gravesite of Philip A. Starck, who founded a piano company in Chicago a century ago. His name is on the piano in our house, and so we also had a chance to thank him for the music that sometimes fills the air. It was an hour that was very well-spent.

My daughter and I drove home, satisfied that we had identified and remembered people–none of whom we actually knew–who gave something to us, or had a connection to us in some way. And spending time among the dead added to our appreciation of our own lives.

It’s time for Chicago’s Civil War

Baseball and Chicago are just meant for each other. People sometimes say this is a Bears town, but in reality, there are just eight Bears games played in Chicago every year (ten if we’re really lucky). The Cubs and the White Sox, however, play that many games in a little over a week. And while 162 home games are played in this city each year, the six most important ones are the interleague ones. With apologies to the rest of MLB, these games are the ones that matter most.

The Civil War is an apt metaphor here, in the sense of North vs. South or even brother against brother. The battle lines are drawn, and anyone who claims they like both teams isn’t really a fan of either one. That’s just how it is in this city.

The White Sox hold the lead in the interleague games, and as long as they have a World Series trophy and the Cubs don’t, they have the last laugh. The weather will cooperate, and Wrigley Field will be packed with partisans on both side of the chasm that divides this city.

Only baseball forces Chicagoans into separate camps this way, but we accept these assignments willingly. We love the game, and we’ll keep coming back to it, whatever may happen on the field.  So bring it on!

A baseball tradition that you’ve never heard about

Today’s story is a bit ribald. Some people would probably rather not have it told, but that rarely stops me from doing anything. So read on if you’re intrigued, and go find something else to do if you’re easily offended.

On Belmont Avenue in Chicago, just west of Lake Shore Drive, there’s a statue of Civil War general Philip Sheridan. It was scuplted by Gutzon Borglum, nearly 20 years before he began working on Mount Rushmore. It’s located near the beginning of Sheridan Road, which runs along the shores of Lake Michigan northward to Wisconsin. If you live on Chicago’s North Side or on the North Shore, you know about Sheridan Road.

Sheridan essentially cornered Lee’s army in 1865, which forced the surrender to Grant at Appomattox. He was praised by General Grant, and had a long and distinguished career in the military after the war ended. So it’s only fitting that he should be honored by statues and roads being named for him.

So where does the ribaldry come in? Just stay with me for a few more paragraphs.

General Sheridan and his horse are located roughly a mile away from Wrigley Field. If you were coming to Wrigley from downtown, and taking Lake Shore Drive northbound, you would get off at Belmont, which would take you right past the General’s likeness. So somebody riding on a team bus must have had an inspiration one day, and thus was born one of the stranger baseball traditions you’ll ever hear about.

In researching this piece, I went to the statue this afternoon and discovered that the horse is, should we say, anatomically correct. Which makes sense, given the next part of this post. Teams that visit Chicago sometimes leave their mark on the North side by painting their team’s colors onto General Sheridan’s horse. And not the entire horse, just the parts that a gelding has removed. They probably have a ball doing it, too. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

I’ve heard that it’s a rookie hazing thing, and that makes sense. The veterans may not want to get involved with defacing public property, and the eager-to-please rookies are probably put up to doing it instead. After all, nothing says “I’m in the majors now” like climbing up to a horse statue’s manly parts.

The one time that I’ve most noticed this–and if it’s done right, it can be seen from Lake Shore Drive–was with the bright yellow color of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The color I saw today (and yes, I did look) was a darker shade of red. For some reason I thought of the Phillies, instead of the Cardinals or the Reds or even the Diamondbacks. But any of them could have been the culprits. I doubt that an American League team would get in on this, since they only play one series in Wrigley every few years. This is more of a National League thing, I would think.

I’m not sure how often this sort of thing transpires, and I no longer live close enough to the statue to keep tabs on it, but I have to imagine that the General’s horse is due for a fresh coat or two once the season begins.

Going to Rosehill

A year ago, I was immersed in a project pertaining to the Civil War. As a history major, and a Lincoln buff, the project was a dream come true for me, and I threw myself into it like nothing I had ever worked on before. The project came to a successful completion, and since then I have found myself involved with projects that are far less appealing. But there was a loose end to be tied up, and today I had an opportunity to take care of this.

Living in Chicago means having no everyday attachment to the Civil War. No battles were fought nearby, but there was a Confederate prisoner of war camp on the South side, where Stephen Douglas lived. But for Civil War-minded persons like myself, there are some statues of Abraham Lincoln, one of U.S. Grant, and another of General Philip Sheridan. But the best way to get a feel for the war and its impact is to go to a cemetery where its casualties are buried. And such a cemetery–Rosehill Cemetery–is just a few blocks away from where I live.

The cemetery opened in 1859, and it was in place to receive the remains of fallen soldiers during the war, as well as veterans who returned to Chicago after the conflict had ended. I had first visited these graves last year, at the height of my project, to remind myself of the terrible costs of the war, and to be grateful for the sacrifices that were made. The United States is still united today, as a direct result of thousands and thousands of men, who are buried at Rosehill and in other places around the country.

There are rows of simple gravestones, with the name of the soldier and the unit he was with. Most came from Illinois, but others were from Michigan, Ohio, Maine, and the other states that remained loyal to the Union. A soldier from Maine–who lies buried a thousand miles away from his home state–may not have received any visitors to his grave site in Chicago. On the other hand, his family might have preferred for his remains to be buried in Maine, but for some reason it didn’t happen that way. Every gravestone has a story behind it, and the people who could tell these stories are all dead themselves. All we can do now is appreciate their sacrifice in the war.

After I got into my car, and drove through a neighborhood that was mostly farmland back in the 1860s, I wondered how many people are even aware of the Civil War, and the consequences that it had on the country, both then and now. Whatever the United States may have looked like if the Confederacy had prevailed, I’m quite certain it wouldn’t be any place where I would want to live.

The 600,000 deaths that occurred in battles, and the countless veterans who lived out their lives with physical and psychological reminders of the conflict, would be a terrible human cost to bear in our world today. Considering, however, that the nation was much smaller then–both in terms of size and total population–only makes the price seem more devastating. And yet, many people today have only a vague idea that there even was a war, or what the stakes of its outcome were.

There is a Memorial Day holiday every year, designed to honor those who died in America’s wars. But if you were to go to the beach on Memorial Day, it’s probably far more crowded than a cemetery with military graves. Death and suffering and sacrifice are things that we generally don’t like to think about, and perhaps that’s part of the problem with this country. When Memorial Day comes around this year, I think I’ll start the day with another visit to Rosehill. The soldiers buried there deserve at least that much.