ECW welcomes back guest author (and photographer!) Michael Aubrecht
Battlefields are peculiar places. When you visit any hallowed grounds, everything is perfect. The grass is neatly trimmed and the marble markers are polished. The freshly painted cannons are all lined up neatly, and the landmark buildings are restored to their original appearances. Depending on the time of year, there can be rows of flags or luminaries in the cemeteries, and you can often find tour guides and re-enactors walking about.
With all of these wonderful and historical sites surrounding us, it is very easy to forget the awful hardships and carnage that took place there. These peaceful places of quiet contemplation make it far too easy to neglect the events that made the ground cherished in the first place. We forget that the fields, roads, and downtown areas were absolutely devastated. It must have been both terrifying and nauseating as the horrible sounds and stench of battle permeated the air. Not at all like it is today.
In other words touring Civil War battlefields means walking among the dead. Is it even possible to take a step without trampling on the spot where someone fell? After all, we are standing in the shadow of death. That is why we must consciously remind ourselves that the beauty that surrounds us is a façade and that the men that fought and died on these fields of battle baptized the soil in their blood. We must also try to remember that the local population experienced horrors that we cannot even begin to imagine and that the suffering of both sides of the conflict must never be forgotten. These are the parts of Civil War memory that must not be taken for granted.