A Remembering People

Many of my paternal ancestors lived in and around the Chancellorsville Battlefield in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. My great-grandparents, and other family members, in fact, are buried in a small church cemetery on Ely’s Ford Road. So these people and events are very near and dear to me.

Fredericksburg Remembered

Musings on history, public history, and historic Fredericksburg

By: John Hennessy:

Here are my opening comments for the Chancellorsville 150th, given on the First Day’s battlefield.

The Chancellor Clearing. Courtesy Buddy Secor

We are a remembering people.

In this tumultuous world of trauma and turmoil, we insist not on forgetting but remembering. It may seem odd to some people that we do so. But again and again and again, over weeks and decades and even centuries, we remember.

We are a remembering people.

A week ago Monday, much of America stood in silence at 2:50 p.m. remembering a moment of tragedy precisely one week before.

We remembered those who perished, certainly. We prayed for those injured and those left behind, their lives or families damaged. But we also recalled those who by their acts demonstrated the fundamental goodness of people. Those who aided the injured. Those who rushed to protect our people and our nation. Those who, caught in the midst of horror, showed courage enough to act not solely in their own interest, but in others’.

We are a remembering people, because in some way, in many ways, we know that remembering—though sometimes painful–makes us better. As a people, we should remember far more and forget far less.

Today, this week, we come together at Chancellorsville to remember. We do this for many of the same reasons we paused nine days ago, though our personal connection to those who struggled here is separated by generations. We pay personal respects, convey honor, seek to understand.

But we do more than that. This week, on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville, we remember not just as individuals, but as a nation. We reflect not just on the acts and loss of participants—acts both noble and harsh, as war always is. We also reflect on our nation’s winding, complicated, difficult road to where we are.

We recognize that the Civil War was not just an accumulation of milestones—rather than beneath the famous dates and places was a moving, massive transformation. We learn. We understand. And, I hope, we come to value our nation more than we already do.

We do this not as mere spectators, for though we may not realize it, we come here today and this week possessed of a responsibility. There is a connective thread between those who lived here, fought here, suffered here, and died here….and us. For they did what they did with the hope, even expectation, that those who followed would not forget what they had done.

We are a remembering people.

And our remembering is an essential and ongoing part of their drama. Over the next many days, we will walk many fields and many miles, stand at places famous, and some forgotten. We will share the words and stories of those who were here, soldiers and civilians alike—stories sometimes painful, stories often complicated, stories sometimes reflective of the best of our nation, sometimes the worst. We will evoke. And perhaps even provoke.

And, we will do so, I hope, mindful that our acts of remembrance help render our forebears’ hopes and expectations fulfilled. It is a debt repaid, and we repay it I hope mindful that our acts of remembering are in their own way helpful to our nation.

I thank you for coming.

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