What does one sloppy skirmish have to do with a global war eight decades later? More importantly, why should we care?
Thanks to the heroic exploits of Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, and others, Maine enjoys one of the proudest traditions of the Civil War.
Still, up here in New England – where revolutionary unrest and fervor spawned our secession from the Crown less than a century before the Civil War – it’s a conflict which lives on mostly through the annual summer paeans to Chamberlain when Gettysburg is remembered, and the many now-decaying monuments to the fraternal conflict which cost us 620,000 lives, between combat, disease, etc.
On the ground, all of that kicked off one sultry July day in Manassas, Va. over a stream known as Bull Run.
While not as grandly strategic an affair as many of the battles following, the First Battle of Bull Run was the germination of our nation’s end of innocence, and opened the Pandora’s box of modern warfare, which was not to be seen in fuller development until the Franco-Prussian War, less than a decade afterward.
I explain the significance of Bull Run past its Civil War boundaries, both in its initial naivete, and what it led to, in my weekly Portland Sun column, “Cocktails and consequences at Bull Run”
None of this is by any means definitive, or original. But it’s also not spoken of much in the cottage industry booming around the Civil War’s mystique. Which is also about as much as the general American public knows about the war – if not far less.
This fall, we’ll wrap up the celebrations of the anniversary of that bloody war’s end – 150 years.
We will hear of slavery, state’s rights, Grant, Lee, Lincoln, and all the rhetoric that goes along with it.
What we won’t hear is how all this helped lead to the greater devastation of World Wars I and II.
These are the connections that make history relevant – not the obvious ones, but the nuances that affect later generations: the ripple effects of war which linger for centuries.
We owe it to ourselves, and our grandchildren, at least know know of them. Grasping their impact and how to avoid repeat is quite another matter.
And, like more peace among our world’s many warring factions, probably asking for too much.
Telly Halkias is a national-award winning newspaper columnist.
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