My son and I went to Gettysburg, and walked the fields of Pickett’s Charge.
I had done this once before, in 1993 when Brad was six and I was researching Gunfire at Gettysburg, one of my Choose Your Own Adventure books. Walking then the long, broad, gentle slope of farmland where 12,000 Confederates made the final failed assault on the Union line that finished the battle on its third awful day, I was thinking about a story. This time I was thinking about us. All of us.
Back then, the divisions between us that could not be reconciled without violence led to war that cost 70,000 dead and wounded, just on those three days. Now again hatred, violence and division are a rising tide. Tuesday’s elections can turn us on a pivot toward a new birth of freedom, in the phrase Lincoln gave us after the battle. Or they can keep us on the course to cataclysm.
As we came down the long field, we were reversing the path of the terrible charge. Brad got angry that the great statue of Robert E. Lee stood mounted on Traveler at the bottom, where Lee said “This has all been my fault” to those of his soldiers who survived the slaughter. Brad said of the statue, It’s a monument to white supremacy. It should come down.
I walked along the low wooded ridge, reading stone monuments to the units stationed that were stationed there that afternoon, each marker headed “C.S.A.” When I turned around, Brad was taking photos for an interracial group of Virginians who stood on the steps of Lee’s statue. They had handed my son their cameras. Now a man wearing a rebel uniform, carrying the stars-and-bars battle flag, walked down the path, tracing the terrible retreat.
This is where we are. I wonder which way we will go.