2014 Essay Contest Second Place, Senior Division
Cassandra, 12th grade
Teacher: Beth Faunce
School: Mifflinburg High School | Pennsylvania
Preserving 150 Years of History: Life at War
“I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies...it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated...that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation”(American Civil War Stories). Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman penned these powerful words following the U.S. Civil War. While time can soften the harsh realities of war, Sherman’s words remind us of the importance of preserving the records of our nation’s past; without an awareness of our history we run a greater risk of repeating the horrors of war experienced in the 1860’s.
When the war began in April 1861, neither side expected it to last four long years. Soldiers of both sides were outfitted with uniforms, weapons, and supplies. Food was abundant, and morale was high. However, it did not take long for the stark realities of war to be made known. Over time, soldiers shed extra clothing and supplies so they could keep up on the long marches required. They often went months wearing the same unwashed clothes. Some marched without shoes through all types of weather. Food stores quickly ran out and men were forced to forage for food in the wilderness or beg for food from civilians until they had the good fortune of receiving a fresh supply of flour, meat, coffee, and sometimes vegetables. For the Confederates it was common to go three days, and sometimes up to a week, without food. Even fresh water became a luxury as marching soldiers hoped to stumble upon a well or stream to quench their thirst. Many soldiers had only the use of a blanket and oilcloth to protect them from both the winter’s cold as well as the beating rains of chilly springs.
Men exhausted from malnourishment, lack of sleep, and continuous marching were called upon to take up arms against the enemy. The enemy sometimes proved to be a neighbor or relative who chose to fight for the opposite side. It was possible that two men who played together as children, attended the same school, or worshipped in the same church had to fight one another for their lives. While we cannot fully understand the emotional turmoil experienced by soldiers during the Civil War, no one can dismiss the physical, spiritual, and mental anguish that had to be experienced by those who took a life, saw lives taken, or lost their own.
The events of the U.S. Civil War cannot be erased. For the wellbeing of all, we must spread the word and preserve the truth about war. As each generation passes it is crucial for the history of the U.S to be passed down so that war is not romanticized. General Sherman also said, “War is hell.” It is our responsibility not to go there again.
Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
"William Tecumseh Sherman Quotes." American Civil War Stories. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
"How The Civil War Soldiers Lived." How The Civil War Soldiers Lived. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.