In the city of Petersburg, there is a battlefield. It is a National Park, complete with acres upon acres of beautiful forest and trails. Inside it’s sacred ground are Civil War signs and plaques as well as a road tour and a visitor center. I’ve been visiting The Battlefield a lot lately. It is a very quiet place to get away and go for a run, or just reflect.
Today, however, it was not quiet at all. Today was a reenactment of the Battle of the Crater. I have heard about the crater from everyone, and indeed there’s a pretty major street named after it, but this was the first time I actually saw it and soaked up it’s significance.
In the midst of The Battlefield is this crater, with beautifully mowed grass that signifies just how close the confederate and union solders were to one another…a few hundred feet, maybe? The story goes that the union army dug a very large tunnel, about 450 feet, to where the confederates were camped at. They then loaded the mine with explosives and lit the fuse, creating the crater.
The explosion had a double effect. Yes, it killed 400+ confederate soldiers. However, it also sent debris and shrapnel flying through the air towards the union soldiers, who were only a few hundred feet away. They did not escape unharmed in the blast.
In the midst of all the racial tension this past 12 months has brought, The Battlefield is a sobering reminder of a very scary past. I cannot fathom going to war in our own backyard…our enemies being our neighbors and cousins. Living in fear of our own houses being caught in the middle of a cross-fire. Having to choose sides, knowing that your side could loose and you and your family would forevermore be considered an enemy of country.
The Civil War had more American deaths than any other war…an estimated 750,000 Americans lost their lives. It’s staggering, and quite humbling, to walk on such hallowed ground. It amazes me, absolutely amazes me, that we did not fall as a country at that point. Loosing close to a million Americans, with countless more wounded and disabled, and with the countryside tattered and torn, we still made it through that period of history! We rebuilt! We reconciled!
What an amazing testament to our nation to be able to overcome such diversity! I only hope that we remember our past and strive to learn from it.