As a Virginian, I have conflicting emotions about the American Civil War. I understand that those who participated in it were products of their time. They lived in an era heavily influenced by the two previous centuries. The American Revolution, after which the idea of secession was patterned, was only three generations away and still within the memory of some people.
Those on the side of the Confederacy had strong ideological beliefs and felt they were defending their homeland. Those on the Union side were fighting to save the nation. The boys and men on both sides fought with the valor and bravery typical of the American soldier. I have the greatest respect for all who sacrificed so much for what they believed.
Having said this, I view our Civil War as the greatest disaster ever experienced by this country and have no desire to celebrate or re-live any part of it. The conflict was as destructive and brutal as it was senseless. After 150 years, that war continues to divide and weaken us as a nation.
This was a war the South had to lose. I shudder to think of the human rights scenario that could have resulted from a Confederate victory. In spite of the war's outcome, we have continued to struggle with many of the same ideological issues of that time. To this day, the Confederate battle flag literally flies in the face of those who see it as a symbol of division and intolerance, I being one of them.
As we enter the sesquicentennial of the war, a series of re-enactments are planned, including the firing on Ft. Sumter where Edmund Ruffin played an integral role. While it is appropriate to remember these battles and events, there is a fine line between commemoration and glorification. These battles were raw carnage. Americans killing Americans. They lost their limbs, their lives and often their sanity. Their families lost sons, brothers and husbands. The Ruffin family was no exception. Edmund's son and grandson were killed in the conflict, and he took his own life shortly after the war.
The Civil War was not a recreational activity for the actual soldiers who fought it, and I do not believe they would be pleased to see it treated as such today. We cannot move forward as a credible or effective nation while romanticizing our past mistakes. The brave soldiers who suffered the war can best be honored by remembering their struggle as a hard-earned lesson of how not to address our differences with one another.
We must now focus on closing the wounds of that period of history rather than re-opening them. It is time to let go of the 19th century and spend our energy shaping our present and future with the knowledge and perspective of the 21st century. As a descendant of Edmund Ruffin, I implore my fellow Southerners to use this sesquicentennial to formally slip the remaining bonds of that tragic time. Let us commit to making our country the united nation that it must be to thrive and, indeed, survive in modern times.