What We Can Learn from the End of the American Civil War

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Many mark this surrender as the unofficial end of the Civil War, although the war actually ended on June 2, 1865 in Galveston, Texas. While I do have a degree in History and American Studies, I do not mean for this to be a history lesson. It is a post about healing wounds, forgiveness, and brotherhood.

What We Can Learn from the End of the Civil War

What other country has been able to end a civil war by stacking arms and walking away? That’s exactly what happened. In fact, General Ulysses S. Grant allowed the Confederate officers to keep their side arms, horses, and personal effects. All soldiers returned to their homes. They were not charged with war crimes or harassed by the Union Army.

Union soldiers in front of the McLean house, Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia

Union soldiers in front of the McLean house, Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia

The war resulted in the end of slavery and the preservation of the Union.

It was a war where in many circumstances, brother fought brother. Officers who went to West Point together were now leading brigades, divisions, and armies against each other. Men who spoke the same language and worshiped the same God went to battle.

I think that’s what helped us heal. Because, in the long run, the sides really weren’t that different after all.

There have been no wars between the North and the South since. Some people have not let the war die. There have been arguments over the continued use of the “stars and bars” of the Confederate flag. But, we have not, as governments, taken up arms against each other.

Seventy-five years after the Battle of Gettysburg, Union and Confederate soldiers shook hands across the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge. These men were literally trying to kill each other at that wall 75 years before the reunion.

Isn’t that how we should live our own lives? We may not forget. We may not even forgive. But, we move on. We heal. We live to shake the hand of the person who hurt us, even if we can’t fully forgive or forget.

Kind of makes our grudges seem petty, doesn’t it? Is that person with whom you’ve been “at war” really that different from you? They probably speak the same language and worship the same God. That person may be your brother or your cousin. He or she may be your school mate.

Consider moving on and healing. Silence the guns. Don’t stoke the flames. I’m not asking you to necessarily forgive or forget the past. Some damage is irreconcilable. Just try to make peace. Seventy-five years from now, maybe you’ll shake hands.



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