1861, 2021: The Sound of Conflict, The Voice of Birds

Screenshot of the moments when the birds were heard.

It is about 5:10pm on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, as I’m writing this. I’m listening to and watching a live-stream from a WUSA9 team, which is positioned on the north side of the capital building. Law enforcement officers—I’m not sure exactly who—have started pushing back the crowd around those doors of the capitol building and have moved them to the stairs.

Something has happened to the sound in the newsfeed. The shouting, the voices from the bull-horns has  dropped off. Faded. The wind has taken over the microphone, but somehow, the tiny voice of a bird remains. The other sounds have been relegated to the background, probably through a technical error.

In this moment, I think of a journal entry by LeRoy Wiley Gresham, a young teen battling illness and from his home watching regiments form in Georgia:

Sunday, March 31, 1861:

There is no service in our church on account of the absence of Mr. Wills. My leg don’t get any better or any worse; neither does my cough. It is clear and bright and the Mocking birds are singing in the trees…

Monday April 1st 1861:

…5 or 600 troops came on the [rail] cars here today: 1st regiment.

Tuesday April 2 1861:

There is 1000 troops in town today and will leave in a few days for Montgomery, [Ala]…. (Emphasis added)

LeRoy Gresham

The birds were singing. In the midst of the rush—then and now.

The sound comes back on the modern news feed. Sirens. Shouts. A shrill fife and drum playing a tune from the 1770s, then something from the 1860s.

I shiver. I can’t time travel. I will not make predictions about the future or draw comparisons in this moment. But as I sit here, listening and alone, I think I have something in common with young LeRoy across the decades. In the midst of a rush and in a violent moment, we both heard birds singing. LeRoy didn’t say how it made him feel. I think he was just noting signs of spring, but he noticed.

War through a window. Serious unrest viewed through a computer screen 160 years later. And yet—thank God—there are still birds that sing, reminding those who will listen that there is a better way than violence.



LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865 (El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie, 2018), 18.

9 Responses to 1861, 2021: The Sound of Conflict, The Voice of Birds

  1. Terrorists attacked the Capitol, and tried to disrupt our Democracy. Not since. the War of 1812, was our Citadel of Liberty and Freedom, desecrated..

  2. Funny. I’ve seen actual terrorists burning and looting for months. Yet they were called peaceful protesters

    1. I don’t recall any protesters attacking the seat of our Government and trying to disrupt the Congress.

      I did see peaceful protestors attacked by Federal officers and tear-gased Yesterday though, there were no police present.

      . In fact, since the is a history forum, we all know that the last time the Capitol was ransacked was in 1814 when the British burned the Capitol.

      Pesky thing, those pesky facts.

      1. Peaceful protests? Strange, I saw a mob forcibly occupy and then storm the US Capitol Building, assault police officers with all sorts of weapons, loot congressional offices and the House/Senate floor, and generally vandalize everything they came across. Go back to your basement and your conspiracy theories.

      2. Evidently you forgot about the peaceful protesters tear-gassed by Federal police, accompanied by a US Army General, so that Trump could have a photo-op holding a Bible.

        Yesterday, those were terrorists who stormed the US Capitol..

  3. Why can’t anyone agree that there are stupid people on both sides of this fence. The vast majority of people who protest , protest peacefully it is the small groups that seem to infiltrate these protests that take advantage of peoples emotions and turn that passion into MOB mentality and then the violence begins. So lets identify the real problems in our country. The real problem is that NO one on either side trusts the government to do what is supposed to do for the American people. From racial inequality to election fraud, it all comes back to government doing there jobs and media reporting FACTS not opinions. NO ONE gets everything they want but the ability to comprise has been lost due to MEDIA bias and failure to be objective journalists and only report FACTS. People are smarter than this, and should have the ability to communicate even when the conversations are EXTREMELY difficult. If more people would stop talking and giving their so called expert advise and start LISTENING then maybe we could start to move forward and correct the issues that exist on both sides. SO PLEASE WAKE UP AMERICA, and lets start working at hearing each other and figure out how to move forward while respecting opposing opinions. GOD SAVE AMERICA!!!!!!!

  4. Women bring a unique perspective to military history. No matter how many red or blue lines we move, women rarely forget the people those lines represent or the places upon which they actually moved. ECW has welcomed women from the beginning. Sarah is a particularly talented person and we are so lucky to have her.

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