The Best of 2011 (Caity Stuart)

For her favorite Civil War-related memory, Caity Stuart shares a story from early May:

The Dutch gave me chills.

I had a talk with them today, on the battlefield. I had a tour of about 20 of them, ranging in ages from 40-65. Some were tall, others short, one lady so blind that she used a pair of binoculars to look at me when she was 4 ft away (no joke), and still others looking very, well, European. It was a very welcomed change of pace.

As the group was gathering outside of the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center (the VC I was in charge of), I took the liberty to ask a few questions to those who had already finished their bathroom duties. Curious as to why a such a large group of people from the Netherlands was at our park, I started to pry into their itinerary to get the real dirt.

Apparently, this trip was to study the American Civil War. Go figure.

They had been to Antietam and Manassas. They had traveled to Appomattox and were preparing for a trip to DC. Still befuddled as to why a group of Europeans would spend so much money to see our battlefields, I asked, “What is something that you have found fascinating about these Civil War sites that you have so far visited?”

After a few moments of pondering silence, the older gentlemen in the front row with a classy grey blazer and some very European looking glasses poignantly lifted his head and locked his eyes with mine and simply answered, “The amount of enmity.”

I nodded my head as if I truly understood his answer, but I prodded him to explain.

He said he was amazed at how quickly the United States became, well, united after the war. Here were two sides that were perfectly fine with brutally maiming each other for four years and then all of a sudden, unified itself.

Yes. That was indeed a huge feat. Let us not for a moment belittle that. I replied to this answer, however, by reminding him that 1) it was only the white men, not the black, who went through a “restoration” (if you can even call it that), and 2) that reconstruction and reunification is still something to this day that we deal with.

One of the gentlemen in the back row piped up and said that he was here to learn why he did not speak German. Thankfully, he quickly followed with an explanation. “If it were not for the fact that the United States had ‘unified’ so quickly after the war, we could have very well been taken over by Hitler,” he said. “And for that, we will be forever grateful to the United States.”

Many others began to chime in at this point. One in particular mentioned that many in their country, as well as surrounding countries (and many in the US, too), tend to give flack to the United States for all of its meddling in the business of other countries.

Realizing that every situation that the US has “meddled” has been somewhat different from the next, and that we all have our opinions on this weighted topic, they wanted to take this opportunity to point out that in this case—in the case of 1944, in the case of their parents, of their childhood, of their very lives—they were thankful for what the US did.

And that’s why they came to the battlefields.

To learn about how one nation did come together after a brutal war. How one nation attempted some form of unification, albeit mangled and still healing. How one nation saved another.

I had chills for the rest of the day.

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