This Hallowed Ground

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Other soldiers saw, liked the looks of it, got out their own candles, and joined in the parade, until presently the whole camp was astir. Privates were appointed temporary lieutenants, captains, and colonels; whole regiments began to form, spur-of-the-moment brigadiers were commissioned, bands turned out to make music—and by the time full darkness had come the whole army corps was on the parade ground, swinging in and out, nothing visible but thousands upon thousands of candle flames.

Watching from a distance, a reporter for the New York Herald thought the sight beautiful beyond description. No torchlight procession Broadway ever saw, he said, could compare with it. Here there seemed to be infinite room; this army corps had the night itself for its drill field and as the little lights moved in and out it was “as though the gaslights of a great city had suddenly become animated and had taken to dancing.” The parade went on and on; the dancing flames narrowed into endless moving columns, broke out into broad wheeling lines, swung back into columns again, fanned out across the darkness with music floating down the still air.

As they paraded the men began to cheer. They had marched many weary miles in the last four years, into battle and out of battle, through forests and across rivers, uphill and downhill and over the fields, moving always because they had to go where they were told to go. Now they were marching just for the fun of it. It was the last march of all, and when the candles burned out the night would swallow soldiers and music and the great army itself; but while the candles still burned the men cheered.

The night would swallow everything—the war and its echoes, the graves that had been dug and the tears that had been shed because of them, the hatreds that had been raised, the wrongs that had been endured, and the inexpressible hopes that had been kindled—and in the end the last little flame would flicker out, leaving no more than a wisp of gray smoke to curl away unseen. The night would take all of this, as it had already taken so many men and so many idealsLincoln and McPherson, old Stonewall and Pat CIeburne, the chance for a peace made in friendship and understanding, the hour of vision that saw fair dealing for men just released from bondage. But for the moment the lights still twinkled, infinitely fragile, flames that bent to the weight of their own advance, as insubstantial as the dream of a better world in the hearts of men; and they moved to the far-off sound of music and laughter. The final end would not be darkness. Somewhere, far beyond the night, there would be a brighter and a stronger light.

The Army Had Brought Them One Thing … ”

“After the hard work and the dying are clone with, army life can become attractive—in retrospect. When the Civil War ended, the young men who had made up the Union armies were very glad that it was all over. Yet they found that the end of army life somehow left a queer gap in their own existences; they were cut off, now and forever, from everything they had been used to. Still in their teens (for the most part) they had had the most profound experience life could bring. There would never be anything like it again; and as the years went on the old soldiers wistfully looked back at army life and endowed it with a spurious, heart-warming glamour that had not been there when they were actually a part of it.

They had hated the war and the army and they had wanted passionately to be rid of both forever; yet now they began to see that the war anil the army had brought them one thing which it might be hard to find back home—comradeship, the sharing of great things by men set apart from society’s ordinary routine. They had grown used to it. They wanted to go home, they were delighted that they would presently take off their uniforms forever, and yet …

‘None of us’ wrote a survivor, ‘were fond of war; but there had grown up between the boys an attachment for each other they never had nor ever will have for any other body of men.’ And so, to the end of their days, the veterans of the Civil War marched in parades, and met in annual convention, and lived out their lives as members of a closed corporation dedicated to loneliness, to memories, and to thoughts of a titanic experience which could never be understood by anyone who had not himself been a part of it.”