A long-ago lesson in reconciliation

Published 12:48 am Sunday, August 20, 2017

By William M. Bucher Jr.

Special to the Salisbury Post

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy it’s probably time to think about the future of Salisbury’s own Confederate statue, and what purpose such a memorial has in our society today.

Before we talk about that, however, I want to tell you about another Civil War memorial.  This one is located not in Salisbury, but some 500 miles away in the small town of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, across the street from the old Victorian home where my grandmother Bucher spent her last years of life as a widow.  It’s called “The Soldiers and Sailors Monument,” and it was dedicated by the town fathers at a ceremony in the year 1901.  It consists of a 40-foot tall granite obelisk fronted by an authentic cannon, and at the top is a Civil War soldier in full battle uniform.  The base is guarded by two more life size bronze figures, another Civil War soldier at parade rest and a sailor in the uniform of that day.

My family has a proud Civil War history, with one particular notable, my namesake William D. Muir, having been wounded on the second day at Gettysburg. Being from Pennsylvania, of course, he was a Union soldier and one of the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteers who were decimated near the Peach Orchard in an attack by a Mississippi regiment that day.

Every year the townfolk of Lewisburg hold a parade which ends at the foot of the monument, and various public speeches are made honoring those local veterans who have fought and died for their country, not just during Civil War times but through the various wars that have followed.  Pennsylvania is a proud state; proud of their history, their spirit and their sacrifice throughout the years.

Many of us are too young to remember, but you can find pictures on the Internet of the 25th, 50th and 75th reunions of those who fought at Gettysburg. Invariably, Confederate and Union veterans were photographed together, shaking hands and swapping stories in remembrance and reconciliation. If the men who actually fought at Gettysburg can forgive each other, who are we to keep the conflict alive?

And now we consider the question of a monument to Salisbury’s fallen Civil War veterans.  Few of Salisbury’s veterans actually owned any slaves themselves. Like my Pennsylvania forbears, these men took up arms to defend their homes, their families and their states from what they saw as unwarranted aggression from an outside force. 

I might reluctantly agree that statues of General Lee and other Confederate leaders can be controversial, particularly in today’s toxic climate. But why should we deny every small town south of the Mason-Dixon Line a tribute to the heritage of sacrifice and bravery of their Civil War ancestors? The sacrifices made by the Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg and over the course of the war were no less brave and noble than those made by their Union counterparts from Lewisburg, regardless of the purposes of their leaders.

Let Salisbury’s statue stay. Rename it if you like. But let us not relive the pain of loss or the horror of conflict, but celebrate the nobility of those who lay down their lives to protect us. Let us follow the example of our ancestors, who have long since forgiven each other for the tragedy of the Civil War. It’s over, folks. The Civil War is over.

William Muir Bucher Jr. lives in Salisbury.