Deconciliation: Destruction Of Arlington's Confederate Memorial—And The Post-Civil-War National Reunion
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Earlier: ROAD TO REUNION: Forgotten Pulitzer Prize Winner On Reconstruction Failed To Hate The South

A great historic challenge for the American republic was reconciliation between the North and South following the Civil War. The country remained deeply divided in the late 19th century.

For example, baseball had become the “national pastime” in the North during the Civil War as soldiers killed time playing baseball in Union army camps. Up through the first half of the 19th century, there were countless localized versions of sports. For example, New York and Boston had quite different rules for playing ball and bat games. Since teams didn’t travel cross-country before railroads became ubiquitous, that was fine. But when huge numbers of men from across the North got together in army camps during the Civil War, standardization of rules arose. Apparently, Midwesterners preferred the New York rules over the Boston rules, so the New York rules became the main template for baseball as we now know it.

But baseball was not played much in the South in the generation after the Civil War. It was the damn Yankee’s game. But at some point, Southern boys finally started playing baseball in large numbers. When Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, arrived in the majors in 1905, there began in an inundation of great Southern players, which continued after desegregation with great Southern black players like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 proved a milestone in national reconciliation. Nobody had much of a clue whether Southerners would volunteer to fight for the Union. But they did.

After the war was quickly won, President McKinley emphasized national reconciliation in his “Peace Jubilee”:

in the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers…. Sectional feeling no longer holds back the love we feel for each other. The old flag again waves over us in peace with new glories.

Four days after the end of the Spanish-American war, Congress voted to allow Confederates to be buried at the Arlington Cemetery. The Daughters of the American Confederacy hired a gay Jew, Moses Jacob Ezekiel (longtime companion of the illegitimate grandson of the King of Prussia, first Jewish cadet at Virginia Military Institute, wounded fighting for the South at the Battle of New Market, and lifelong die-hard Confederacy advocate), to build a Confederate monument in Arlington cemetery that was dedicated in 1914.

Now it’s being taken down, because reconciliation is passé.

It wasn’t always this way. As recently as 1990, the emotional climax of Ken Burns’ once famous 1990 Civil War documentary comes at 54:42 of the last of the nine episodes, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”: the 1913 re-enactment on the 50th anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg by surviving veterans:

The great reenactment of Pickett’s charge ... Out of the woods came the Southerners, just as before— well, in some ways just as before. They came out more slowly this time ... We could see, not rifles and bayonets, but canes and crutches. We soon could distinguish the more agile ones aiding those less able to maintain their places in the ranks.

Nearer they came, until finally they raised their frightening falsetto scream. As the Rebel yell broke out after half a century of silence, a moan, a gigantic sigh, a gasp of unbelief, rose from the onlookers. So “Pickett’s men” came on, getting close at last, throwing that defiant yell up at the stone wall and the clump of trees and the ghosts of the past.

It was then that the Yankees, unable to restrain themselves longer, burst from behind the stone wall, and flung themselves upon their former enemies. The emotion of the moment was so contagious that there was scarcely a dry eye in the huge throng. Now they fell upon each other—not in mortal combat, but reunited in brotherly love and affection.

The Civil War was over.

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