Essay Contest 2011 Third Place, Senior Entry
Jaclyn Horn, 12th Grade
Teacher: Mr. Foster
School: Waynesfield-Goshen Schools, Waynesfield, OH
Preserving 150 Years of History: Secession and the War's Beginnings
“Abraham Lincoln had once called it [slavery] ‘the great Behemoth of danger’ and now it was forcing men into war. Yet for a long time men would refuse to admit that this was the dreadful inevitable beneath all of their differences. They would look instead at symbols; at swaggering Border Ruffians, at gaunt John Brown or at something else. And in April 1861 Fort Sumter itself had suddenly become the most compelling of these symbols” (Catton 15).
The plains of Bleeding Kansas, the shores of Harpers’ Ferry, and the shelling of Fort Sumter: these events were some of the symbolic sparks that would eventually light the fuse of the American Civil War. With the growing differences between the North and South, slave states began pulling out of the Union, following South Carolina’s example. With these successions came the claiming of government facilities. Military stations were being seized by the states, and Northern militias were being run out of forts in the South, but one commander refused to give up. Major Robert Anderson and his men held Fort Sumter for little more than a month, until General P.T. Beauregard ordered the shelling of the island garrison. Thus the bloodiest war in the history of our country was set in motion at the site of this “most compelling symbol.”
These symbols need to be protected. Accounts of these monumental events, while still important, are but shallow reflections of the glories that occurred there. What should matter most is the tangible proof of these defining moments - the actual grounds on which they happened. These “Hallowed Grounds” must be preserved to honor the memories of the great men which turned these places into icons of American history. Another of these great men, Col. Joshua Chamberlain, once said ‘on great fields something stays.’ (Brotherswar) We must act to keep these ‘great fields’ so the history retains its setting. When three centuries stand between us and the start of this Great War, what will be left? Will it be merely stories of what happened on the land beneath a Wal-Mart Super-Center, or will there be rolling hills and earthworks “to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls.” (Ibid.) History shapes the future of this country, let it not be merely stories, but let it be seen and experienced.
Catton, Bruce. 1956. This Hallowed Ground: The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War.
Brotherswar. “Civil War Quotes.” April 11, 2010; www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4e.htm. December 8, 2010. Chamberlin speaking at the dedication of the monument to the 20th Maine October 3, 1889, at Gettysburg, PA.