“Us,” “them,” and “we” in Civil War memory

Posted on November 7, 2008 by


Just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post, and considering a comment made, I like to think back to something an old friend once said. It seems rather appropriate considering it was two years ago this month that this old friend, John L. Heatwole, passed away. The author of “The Burning,” John was often perplexed over the use of the word “them” as a point of reference for the “enemy” (aka, the “Yankees”/Federal soldiers of 1861-65). In regard to the identification of Union soldiers as “the enemy,” he would say, “there is no longer a ‘them,'” and would then follow-up with a statement that exhibited a greater belief in an “us” and a “we” as a united people; a united people with an even longer track record as Americans who accomplished great things both before and after the four years of the Civil War. Even though he brought to light the many tragedies that fell upon the Shenandoah Valley during “the Burning,” and he himself was a descendant of Confederate soldiers, John had the ability to reflect on the past and convey emotion in his storytelling while avoiding being consumed by presumptions; presumptions that often dominate people today, in their need for “absolutisms” in defining and understanding the motivations of people of the past. John understood the complexities of people in history as well as the inability in many today to grasp those complexities. I didn’t always agree with what he said and he didn’t always agree with me (especially considering some discussions we had near the end of my own era of “Confederate-consumed remembrance”), but, he had a lot of sage wisdom to share… and it was always welcomed. Remembering John’s passion for the Valley and the mountains, I’m quite sure he made it to the top of “his mountain.”