Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kingdom Comin': The Largest Slave Rebellion in U.S. History

Violence begets violence; oppress
someone long enough and they
will rebel. / PD LOC LC-USZC4-2523
Over at Present in the Past, Michael Lynch recently posted a provocative question and accompanying video about slave revolt. It got the wheels in my head turning. It also helped that Monday night was my first lecture scheduled on my course syllabus to dig into the "political war." My mind's been swimming with concepts of violence and resistance, freedom and slavery.

So what was the largest slave rebellion in U.S. History? That requires a key definition: what is a slave rebellion?

Toussaint-Louverture and his fellow revolutionaries in the Saint-Domingue rebellion, one of the first truly successful slave revolutions in world history, certainly throw light on one necessary ingredient: blood. The Haitian Revolution's iteration of slave rebellion was truly violent work, undertaken by one race of men against another race in response to their subjugation in spite of the master class espousing the tenants of freedom. For Toussaint-Louverture, that master race were the French. Violence was the first national language of Haiti.

Prosser's slave Gabriel, planning his revolution at the turn of the 19th century amid the growing state capital at Richmond, likewise chose violence as his language. But Gabriel more than likely had fewer than 30 allies. On Bastille Day, 1822, Denmark Vesey planned to rise up with a few more than a hundred slaves to strike Charleston, South Carolina. The plan leaked and it went no where. Just shy of a decade later, down the road in Southampton County, Nat Turner likewise echoed the idea of violence in service of freedom. Nat Turner's rebellion saw an army of as many as 200 slaves rising up to kill over 50 local whites.

The link Michael posted on his blog points to the Black Seminole revolt, claiming that John Horse and his fellows, "led the largest slave revolt in U.S. history." But I'm not so sure that's true.

The largest slave revolt in U.S. history involved nearly 5,000 slaves from Alabama, rising up to strike a blow against their masters. Over 5,000 more joined in from South Carolina. Mississippi saw over 17,000 black folks seize arms and draw a bead on the master class. Nearly 25,000 men from Louisiana joid the fight to secure freedom. All told, nearly 100,000 black men from across the South rose up in this slave rebellion, carried guns and killed those who would see them manacled and sold to the highest bidder. With them were nearly 80,000 black allies from the North, joining the fight alongside their enslaved brethren. This mass of men, in open and hostile rebellion against a government and economic system which would see them reduced to chattel, blows any other slave rebellion out of the water in a test of scale.

Never since the world began was a better chance offered to a long enslaved and oppressed people. The opportunity is given us to be men. With one courageous resolution we may blot out the hand-writing of ages against us."

The American Civil War could be seen, after the Emancipation Proclamation offered black men throughout the United States the opportunity to, "be received into the armed service of the United States," as the greatest slave rebellion in U.S. history. Much like the wildest dreams of John Brown, Nat Turner or Gabriel Prosser, black men were now marching across the South, physically destroying the institution with every bullet they fired and forward step they took. They were grasping manhood, proving their mettle and speaking a language of rebellion.

Striking a blow for freedom.
/ PD LOC LC-USZC4-2519
The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty...."
-Frederick Douglass, 1863

What happens when we, for a moment, think of the Civil War as the largest American slave rebellion?

It's a familiar, simple game of language, I will admit. These games, though, are instructive. They throw a new perspectives onto the war, forcing us to see the war through fundamentally different eyes and from radically different perspectives. Was that thrilling emotion felt by a USCT soldier donning his uniform and firing his gun for the first time really all that different than the emotion felt as Nat Turner's men swung axes against their masters' skulls? Both times, men were simply responding to a violent system with the only language that system would understand: violence.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Playing with Time and Contradictons: Warfield and Barksdale at Gettysburg

There is a small white farmhouse that sits a mile or so outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  During the time of the battle of Gettysburg, a blacksmith known as James Warfield owned it. Warfield, a 42 year old widower, had just moved to Gettysburg the year prior, 1862, from Maryland with his four daughters. Once in Gettysburg, he opened up a blacksmith shop adjoining his farm. In a county full of carriage makers, you could be assured that there was plenty of work for blacksmiths, and Warfield’s shop was touted as one of the best.

It would seem to anybody who hears of James Warfield, that he was living the American dream. He owned his own 13 acre farm and blacksmith’s shop, and although he had lost his wife, he still had his  four daughters. With the Confederate invasion in the summer of 1863, that would all change. James Warfield’s life and dreams would be shattered. Warfield and his family were forced to flee Gettysburg, because of fear of capture by the Confederates. Just because of the color of his skin, James Warfield, a free African American, was in danger. It didn’t matter that James and his family were free blacks. If the Confederates found them, they would be captured and sent south into bondage, into slavery.

Although James Warfield was nowhere near his farm during the battle, his farm was far from being deserted. On July 2nd, General Barksdale and his Mississippi brigade briefly occupied the farm waiting for their orders to attack. General Barksdale, an imposing figure of a man, was a well known Southern planter. As a young man, Barksdale had studied at the University of Nashville, graduated, and eventually settled down at a plantation outside Columbus, Mississippi, where he took up the practice of law. An ardent supporter of State’s Rights, Barksdale abandoned the study of law to become the editor of the Columbus Democrat. As editor, he used the paper as an organ to promote his pro-slavery views. When war broke out with Mexico, Barksdale joined up as an officer of the 2nd Mississippi. Returning home a hero, Barksdale took up politics, first as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention of 1852, later as a representative in Congress from 1853 to 1861. While in Congress, Barksdale gained prominence for being an fervent State’s Rights Democrat, an ardent “Fire Eater” and later, a Secessionist. He would make a speech in 1856 declaring, “I deny the power of Congress to legislate upon the subject of slavery anywhere, except to protect it. That is my position…”

War hero. Accomplished planter and newspaper editor. Congressman. Some might say Barksdale was also living the American dream.

So, when Mississippi seceded, Barksdale thought nothing of resigning his seat in Congress, and returning to the South - to his home, his slaves, and his new country. He would offer his services to the Confederacy and now, two years later, July 2 1863 found Barksdale at the Warfield farm waiting to go into battle. Barksdale was once again a soldier, this time fighting against a country he had previously sworn to defend.

For William Barksdale, you could say that the very reason the battle of Gettysburg was being fought was over his idea of the American dream. Barksdale’s version of the American dream was a dream of property - human property. Barksdale, was fighting at Gettysburg for State’s Rights, for slavery’s rights, and for his own right to own slaves, all 36 of his human property. Ranging from 2 to 40 years old, some of these human beings were the same ages as James Warfield, and his four daughters. In another world, James Warfield and his daughters, could have very well been, the reason, the property, that Barksdale was fighting for at Gettysburg.

General Barksdale and James Warfield probably never met though. But what would have happened if they did meet? What would they say each other? When they looked into each other’s eyes, what would they see?

Would they have seen the antithesis of each other and their dreams?

What do you think Barksdale would have saw? What should have been a piece of his American dream – a piece of property, a slave, was in fact, a property owner himself, James Warfield was no property, he was a human being who owned property – land and a blacksmith shop.

What so you think James Warfield would have saw? A man that was fighting for his dreams? Or the devil that could take his family and freedom away?

Both Warfield’s and Barksdale’s dreams would be shattered later that day, July 2, 1863. Barksdale would be shot down during the attack, and die the next morning in enemy hands. The slave-holding country he fought for would also be struck down by a blow at Gettysburg, one from which it would never recover. After the battle, Warfield would return home with his freedom intact, but his farm ruined. During the battle, it sustained over 500 dollars in damage. 50 bushels of wheat, 60 bushels of corn, and 50 dollars of fences were all destroyed. 2 heads of cattle and 3 hogs went missing during Warfield’s absence as well. Neither Barksdale’s nor Warfield’s dream survived the battle - no one really survived the battle.

The above is one of my favorite interpretive bits/stories that I used to tell to folks when I worked at Gettysburg. I loved playing with the possibilities of bending the fabric of time, throwing together weird contradictions, and generally just using history as a thought experiment. It doesn’t matter that Barksdale and Warfield never met, or that the phrase “American dream” didn’t come into usage until the 1960s (although versions of the idea are found within the ideology of Manifest Destiny). What matters, is we (the visitors and I) thought about it then during that moment. We looked at the story from a radically different perspective. We thought about things in a new way, from some different angle. What matters most, is we tried to create meaning.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Your Fortune: Fried Rice and John Brown

Fortune cookies usually disappoint me.
I had Chinese food Sunday night and it got me thinking. I know that's a very random thing to say, but it's the truth. We don't usually consider Chinese food to be brain food, but for me it can be very powerful stuff. I like the stuff they serve up from the back of the Giant Supermarket here in town. The people who work the counter are always very nice and it tastes just clean enough. I like a bit of mystery in my pork fried rice.

But the thing that gets me thinking the most in any meal of General Tso's or Sweet and Sour Chicken is the fortune cookie. These little nuggets are always so poorly named. They rarely actually try to tell the future, which bugs me a bit. A fortune cookie never warns me I'm about to trip or about to be hit by a speeding train. Platitudes and weird horoscope mumbo-jumbo can only carry this mind so far. That and a few, " bed," jokes made with friends while munching after some Beef and Broccoli.

My fortune cookie on Sunday night had a Franklin-esque aphorism which really got the gears turning in my head: "Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery."

My brain turned back to this past summer. I've mentioned a few times that I piloted some experimental programming down in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, trying out some wild and different interpretive experiences we don't necessarily see that often when we visit historic sites. I let the visitors speak.

We so often paint our museums and institutions, our historic sites and interpretive programs as passive experiences, where the visitor is either explicitly or implicitly told, "look, don't touch; listen, don't talk" That's one of those phrases I hate, right up there with, "no photography allowed." Nothing makes me want to snap a photo more than a small pictogram of a camera in a no-smoking red circle. And when I hear the words, or get the vibe off of a docent or interpreter that this is a, "look, don't touch," moment, or the dreaded and condescending, "touch with your eyes," my fingers begin to twitch. My understanding of the world is based quite a bit on spacial relations and tactile space. Chock that up to the prime toy in my life having been LEGO.

I'm also a talker. Look over on the right-hand side of the blog for proof: a year's worth of back catalogue of rantings, ravings and my inability to keep my big, fat mouth shut. So telling me, "listen, don't talk," is the surefire way to drive me batty.

How many mes are out there in the world, itching to express themselves in environments we typically rope off for listening and observing only? And what could they have to share?

This past summer, I offered one example of what happens when we shut up for a few minutes and let our visitors talk. The results were simply amazing. I would take the crowd on an abbreviated John Brown program, hitting a few key points but not worrying about being completist. Give them a few key pieces of the story: the tales of Dangerfield Newby and Thomas Boerly, along with a piece about why someone might want to own a human being.

The engine house as it appears in
the MOLLUS scrapbooks at
USAHEC (Vol. 134, p. 6858) / PD
Then we would step into the magical place, the sacred, inviolable space. Every site has that place. At Harpers Ferry, it is the four brick walls of the armory fire engine house, known in later years as "John Brown's Fort."

The key to the whole moment was my demeanor. Over the course of the preceding half an hour, I have mostly presented to the crowd in a typical, everyday Ranger style. Moving into the Fort, I change my mannerisms. I sit down, lean back against the wall. I take my hat off and set it on the bench beside me. I speak more softly, not presenting but just chatting. I ask an open ended question: "Was John Brown right? Was violence the answer?" And then I shut up.

Magic would happen. On one tour, within minutes of the visitors beginning their tentative conversations, one man piped in that John Brown was, "just the same as Osama Bin Laden." I could have jumped in. I could have pushed and prodded. I didn't. The crowd did. Other visitors challenged the man in a respectful way. They pushed and pulled back and forth on Brown and his character. They chewed this man who used violence to try to end violence, this man who killed American citizens in order to make a race of men into American citizens. They truly tried to taste Brown.

On another tour, a nice British couple on holiday in the 'States compared Brown to both Nelson Mandela and the American Revolutionaries. That gave the crowd pause as they took in the moment, stirred it into the melting pot of ideas within their brains, and tried to see Brown from that point of view.

We would spend half hour in the Fort some days. Others, the conversation would stretch more than an hour and a half, with new visitors drifting in and out as the topic suited them. In all that time, I probably said five or ten sentences. That's it. The visitors talked, and I listened.

I listened. I bestowed upon them the same respect they had offered me for the past half hour as I tried to unfold a few key moments in Brown's raid. Then I imitated them and listened as they tried to unfold their personal Brown and wrangle with his meanings in our modern land.

It wasn't hollow flattery, though. I listened, sitting in the calm cool of the Fort to show sincere respect. The marketplace of ideas is a powerful thing, if only we are humble enough to let it flourish. Every time I walk into that Fort now, I don't simply think about Brown in 1859. I think of the faces of those people who went on those journeys with me this past summer. I sincerely hope they're doing well.

And I sincerely hope they are still struggling with the morality of Brown. It flatters and humbles me to think that they might still be thinking of his struggle just because I had the crazy idea to shut up and listen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Interpretive Vernacular: Pop Culture is a Language

I trust people who sound like me. I trust people who speak the same language as me. Part of this comes from a simple fact of understanding. I speak very little Spanish, even less French.

But I also speak other languages, and trust people who speak to me in those languages.

First, I speak geek. I am an unrepentant lover of science fiction, native to personal computers since the era of the DOS prompt, frequent quoter of nerdy movies and television, admirer of the beautiful simplicity of physics and the amazing symmetry of maths. Geek is a second tongue for me.

I also speak the language of popular culture. Frankly, we all do to greater or lesser degrees. I know what Mad Men is all about. I 'get' a good number of the gags when Saturday Night Live lampoons MTV, BET or Lifetime. I have enough of a working knowledge of the Twilight series, The Jersey Shore and much of modern popular music to understand a passing reference to them (and know they hold no real interest for me).

But when I interpret, I am told to dress up my language. We struggle in the public history world with this awkward concept of 'agency voice.' We quake in fear at the concept that we as individuals speak in some mystical, disembodied voice on behalf of our agencies or institutions. But this gussying up our prose, this abandonment of a cultural vernacular for some perceived cultural high ground could be severely destroying our ability to communicate with a modern audience.

We can't speak to an audience in a language they don't understand. Speaking more slowly and louder doesn't work. Just because an audience might listen to Lady Gaga doesn't make them unable to understand, appreciate and come to care for large historical concepts and truths. Sometimes we need to speak in the very words our audiences share with each other, that we share with each other everyday.

So what might this look like? Simple: imagine if Lady Gaga performed a power-anthem to accompany the women's suffrage movement of the late 1910s...

From the folks who brought you Too Late To Apologize, the latest in vernacular public history.

This video is nothing new per say. Yet it is still powerful. Watch it ten times, twenty times, a hundred times. Each time you'll find another small, powerful detail. Did you catch the note from the Senator's mother telling him, "Huzzah and vote for Suffrage"? Did you catch the doubt in the woman's eyes as she proudly declared she didn't need to vote? Did you notice how the protesters in front of the White House were a spot on match for the real women who stood there fighting for their rights? The piece is outrageously powerful, even on the hundredth viewing.

Add caption
But it is only an evolution, not a revolution. It joins a long lineage of style and straight parody incorporating history and civics into a modern vernacular language. Who from my generation and the one preceding doesn't recognize the line, "I'm just a Bill, Yes I'm only a Bill..."? I learned the preamble to the Constitution thanks to Schoolhouse Rock! as well, and still need to hum the tune to keep the pieces in the right order in my mind. Even Schoolhouse Rock! took on Women's Suffrage, with another power anthem about gaining the right to vote.

How can we foster more creative ways of sharing the vast world of history with the public in the language they speak instead of the stilted and foreign voice we think our institutions should speak with? How can we reach an American public where they already are, instead of fruitlessly demanding of them that they try to understand a language they don't speak natively?

I'm not sure. But I think it looks something like a tribute to Lady Gaga featuring Thriller-esque suffragettes, a brooding Woodrow Wilson and a struggle for freedom embodied by men and women acting to make the world better. I think it looks like Ben Franklin wearing a mock AC/DC tee-shirt and shredding the guitar while Thomas Jefferson sings his grievances to the King. I think it speaks in the language of the modern world, the vernacular of the culture we live within. That history will gain far more traction than anything in 'agency voice' could ever hope to, I guarantee.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Confederates in the Dorm: Hidden In Plain Sight

By late June 1863, Penn Hall had all
but completely emptied of students. /
Harpers Weekly 22 June 63
You can imagine the terror in the young 21-year-old's eyes as he realized who was charging down the Cashtown Pike into Gettysburg on the 26th of June. You can feel the chill that might have run down his spine as he realized that the rebel army he had deserted, the one he had escaped by running to the Federal lines, was crashing down upon him again. And the deserter's fate during this war was simple: execution.

Last week I cancelled office hours. Cancelled might be a strong term: I delayed them from 7:45pm to 9:00pm. I know, it broke the solemn vow of my professorial duties. But I left a nice note on the office door and headed to Special Collections on the fourth floor of Musselman Library.

Gettysburg College's Special Collections never ceases to amaze me. Every time I wander through the doors on some wild lead or another, I find the most dumbfounding artifacts of a past long forgotten. Wednesday was no different.

Students living within the main edifice in 1863 at Pennsylvania College were required to be back in bed by a certain time each night. The college's tutor, Mathias Richards, performed bed checks. He kept meticulous notes on who was tardy, who was absent and who caused particular trouble in what otherwise were supposed to be quiet halls.

Who has looked at the Record of Absences from rooms or building for Pennsylvania College in 1863 since Mathias Richards penciled in the notes in tight block letters? I would wager very few eyes, more than likely a few interns writing a catalog record or two. Other than that, I would guess no one has spent much more than a moment to glance at the register.

Richards, with many of his classmates, joined the local company of volunteer militia bound for Harrisburg to defend the Commonwealth against the rebel invasion. The register became haphazard after his absence, with a long column of ditto'd observations that a majority of the college left on the 17th of June, either to fight or to flee. Of the 102 college and preparatory students who lived in the college edifice, only 19 students remained on campus after June 17th - 5 Seniors, 3 Juniors, 1 Sophomore, 1 Freshman, 2 Partial course and 7 Preparatory students. That's a scant 16% of the whole student body still living within Pennsylvania Hall.

One of those who remained behind was a partial course student named Arthur Markell. While his classmates evacuated to the safety of their homes, and other joined the Pennsylvania Militia, Markell found himself stranded. His family home in Winchester, Virginia was very much inaccessible, behind Confederate lines. Even if he could have made it to his family in the Shenandoah Valley, his welcome mightn't have been so warm. Arthur Markell was on the lam. He had broken a sacred vow. He was a wanted man.

First Lieutenant Arthur Markell had deserted from the 5th Virginia Infantry in March of 1862.

For one Confederate, the watchful
gaze of Mercury became home for a
short respite from war.
In 1861, as war was looming on the horizon and Virginia's fate was yet to be decided, Arthur Markell was a student at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. But the Old Dominion's hesitant decision to leave the Union would change that quickly. The young student returned home, and was instructed to join up with his local militia company at Harpers Ferry. He eventually found himself coerced into service in the 5th Virginia Infantry, Company A.

Arthur Markell ran from the army in March of 1862. He made his way between the lines, surrendering to General Banks at Charlestown, Va. He was sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington City, where he let fly every piece of information he had on where the Confederate forces were situated in the Valley. After signing an oath of allegiance, he was let go.

Markell wandered northward, ultimately ending up in Gettysburg just two months after he had skedaddled from the rebels near Winchester. Pennsylvania College, like Roanoke College, was a Lutheran college. Markell would have fit in perfectly among the Pennsylvanians and Marylanders who dominated the school's population. He settled down to his studies once again.

Until June of 1863, he was safe. But as soon as Markell got wind that Confederates were setting their sights on Gettysburg, he headed south. His friends in town had begged him, "to seek a place of safety," from the oncoming tide of Confederates. If Markell was caught, he clearly knew his fate. Deserters were low scum in the Civil War. Traitors who revealed secrets to the enemy were doubly vile. Markell was running for his life. The Federal army, he wagered, was his best bet for safety. Down the Emmitsburg Road he ran, until he was stopped by a curious officer. When questioned, the young, naive and scared man more than likely told the truth. He was a Confederate deserter seeking protection from his own former countrymen. The officer arrested him.

Markell found himself once again imprisoned, this time held at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. He begged the Commander of the Middle Military District General Robert Schenck for his release, explaining his story in a detailed letter. Many prominent citizens of Gettysburg banded together and vouched for Markell's loyalty in their own letter to General Schenck. The young man was finally released in early August after signing another oath of allegiance. He never returned to complete his studies in Gettysburg. Pennsylvania College's rebel deserter had escaped once again, this time from a much more awkward fate than marching and fighting. He had escaped both the executioner's bullet and the Federal prison.

Prominent citizens vouched for Markell,
including Robert Harper, David
McConaughy & College President
Henry Louis Baugher.
My biggest question is how this all went undiscovered for so long. The Battle of Gettysburg, out of every topic within the Civil War, has had more eyes passing over more documents in more archives than any other. The gaps within the scholarship though, particularly in the civilian end of the story, are huge. Not simply huge, they are drive-a-Mack-truck-through-them huge. It is frightening how little even some of the experts on this field know about the citizens who lived here before it became a battlefield.

This whole tale emerged from one line in the attendance register buried away in Special Collections. Markell, unlike the rest of his fellow students who, the ledger explains, "Left after 17th," is instead listed as, "Left as Refugee." Those three words were a tiny thread. They were tantalizing words waiting to be pulled. Am I weird that these types of dangling threads nag at the back of my skull until I yank them and run the lead to ground? Am I odd that this type of thing keeps me up culling databases until 2am on a Saturday night, bleary-eyed and hunched over my laptop's glowing screen as I marvel at some long-dead deserter's paper trail?

Jake and I have a mutual friend, a colleague in the world of public history. Invariably when we're around her we start spouting random historical tales we've recently run across in our research. Invariably, her response is the same: "Where do you guys find this stuff? Don't you have a life?"

Yes, yes I do have a life. But I also have an unquenchable thirst for discovery. I want to see more new things, touch more undiscovered documents, see more pieces of the 'true cross' that no one has ever laid eyes on before. I have an insatiable curiosity for historical tidbits. I think that curiosity is the prime tool for any historian to posses. I want to be the first person to the pinnacle of this or that historical mountain. But I want to climb that mountain not to brag that I was first, but simply to see how weird and wild the view is from up there.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meaningless Landscapes Yield Meaningless Graffiti: Are We All to Blame?

Who did this? Who caused this?
Are they the same people? /
Photo provided by Kendra Debany
It is a juvenile bit of graffiti. Someone has slathered spray paint across the chest and mustache of one of those iconic Gettysburg monuments: the 2nd company, Andrews (Massachusetts) Sharpshooters monument along "the Loop" just to the west of the Wheatfield. The news hist Facebook for me yesterday afternoon, when local historian and house history sleuth Kendra Debany posted the shocking photo on her wall. The kneeling figure now has two cartoonish blue female breasts and a blue handlebar adorning his lip. It is ridiculous. It is uncalled for.

And we should have seen it coming.

Why do I say that? What impels someone to commit such an act of wanton vandalism? The comments that bubble to the surface invariably when these things happen are, "Kids today, no respect for the past!" and, "This is sacred ground where men gave their lives for what they believed in!" But how helpful are these sentiments? Is shouting "Get off my lawn!" truly the right image we as a Civil War community need to portray to help prevent these types of crimes?

I'd submit that the vandals in this case found no personal meaning in this (or any) Civil War landscape. And it's not because they're dumb or young or products of a broken educational system. They find no meaning in this landscape because we so often fail to let them find it. We lock landscapes into our personal resource meanings. "This place must be important because and only because two valiant armies bled here for their own beliefs," we shout from rooftops and the crests of rocky, wooded hills. And as we shout, we alienate.

When someone tells you exactly why you must find a place important, in rote language lining out the meaning like a mathematical equation, how invested in that place do you truly become? Now imagine slowly unfolding the meaning of that place yourself, bit by bit, discovering piece by piece why that place belongs in your soul, how and why it plucks your heart.

I didn't hold the spray paint can when the monument was vandalized. But I'm responsible; we all are.

I feel a twinge of shame in my heart. I didn't reach these people. None of us reached these people. We failed to reach them not because they were unreachable, but because we are so often too bullheaded to see that someone might care about this place or that place for a different reason than we do.

Maybe they were a young woman, who saw the trees at the base of Little Round Top as a nice place to read their algebra quietly, but had an interpreter come up and inflict interpretation in them in a vain attempt to make them care about a landscape that already had value to them as a quiet respite. Maybe they were a father and son flying a kite in the fields of Pickett's Charge who were told by some interpreter or law enforcement officer that this type of valuing of the resource was a "disrespectful" or "wrong" use of that place. Or maybe we never got the chance to speak with them, turned off because they assumed, because of the Civil War world's bad reputation of telling the same old 1960s 'valor and shared sacrifice' story over and over, that they'd never find meaning in this place.

The monument in better days
/ CC Michael Noirot
They could have found meaning somehow, I am sure of it. But because this place meant nothing, they meaninglessly graffiti'd it.

So how should we now respond? Should we damn them? Alienate them? Extradite them to a foreign land where torture is legal? One comment on our Facebook page suggested stringing them up by their thumbs and bleeding them from their feet, before throwing them to gators (frankly, I'm hoping that was simply an enraged momentary misremembering of the 8th Amendment).

I think that's all useless. Threats and fantasies of torture build no new audience. They don't explain why we as a community find this reprehensible.

What's the best way to deal with this? Tell some universally meaningful stories about the Andrews Sharpshooters, maybe juxtaposed with the photo of the graffiti'd monument. Who were those men? What were their dreams? What were their passions? Who did they love? Eleven of them died over the course of this war. Where were they wounded? How loud were their screams of pain? What did they write home to mother as they lay dying far from home in some hospital? And how did mother crumple to the floor in agony over the prospect of never seeing her darling boy again?

Humanity, empathy and finding universal meaning in these landscapes - our best tools for helping others to care about and thereby care for these special places. But they need to come to their own meanings, whatever they may be, or every monument on the field will be simply another granite tabula rasa for a spray can and idle hands.