This Memorial Day is an excellent time to reflect on the common soldiers and make sure they are not forgotten. Some combat fallen soldiers or veterans have their names or initials inscribed in stone. Others are only represented by etched or inked numbers. Who are the fallen whose sacrifices are remembered by battlefield markers or monuments? What were their stories.
Captain Alfred M. Edgar of the 27th Virginia Infantry took several pages in his post-war memoirs to commemorate the experiences and sacrifices of the soldier in the Civil War. He challenges his readers to see the individuals, remember their stories, and not see the armies as “machines” of war.
I must say a few words in behalf of the part of the private soldier takes in this tremendous struggle… In the first place, there are such vast numbers of them, all dressed alike, looking alike, and when in ranks, stepping alike, that they almost lost their identify (except when we get a furlough and go home), so that citizens and perhaps some connected with the army, get in the habit of thinking of the soldiers as a great big machine, made for the purpose of marching, fighting, and obeying orders, forgetting that the majority of them are brave, patriotic men, fighting conscientiously for what they believe to be right, willing to face danger and even death for what they believe to be their duty. The soldier reflects and realizes that “it is not all of death to die.” It is often with quivering hearts that they advance steadily and with firm steps in the very mouth of the cannon, or rush unflinchingly to the bayonet charge. None but a good soldier, one who never thinks, can appreciate the every day suffering from the cold and heat, the hunger and thirst, the anxiety and excitement, the watching and weariness on the march and in the camp. We do not complain, dear citizen reader, but we are very human and we want your sympathy and appreciation….
Now as a matter of course, the history of this war will be written up by many able historians. All due renown will be given to the prominent commanders of the army. Their laurels will never wither. Their fame will increase with age, whilst little will be said or written about the private soldier….
It was the private soldier who charged the wall, who counterattacked with or without orders. The generals and officers oversaw the battles, but the common soldier won or lost them for that commander, for their cause.
The trap of arm-chair generaling is to move the red and blue lines across the literal or imaginative map, to become consumed with this flank and that flank. This unit’s retreat, this regiment’s advance. This headquarters, and that pontoon bridge. But every red and blue line on the map, every strength or loss number in the reports represents a living, breathing person who followed orders, acted with initiative, lived another day, or died on or because of the field of battle.
Any day – but especially today – it is fitting to remember their lives, their stories, and their sacrifices.
 Alfred Mallory Edgar, My Reminiscences of the Civil War with the Stonewall Brigade and Immortal 600 (Charleston, 35th Star Publishing, 2011). Pages 67-68.