We've seen some excellent living history programs here at Stones River National Battlefield. Groups come often to the park to hear about the events of 147 years ago. Here's Ranger Jim Lewis giving one of his frequent presentations. This group is from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Last Saturday evening we took a reverent walk through the national cemetery with 20 other visitors for the Hallowed Ground program. We met soldiers and civilians who told us their stories as we made our way along our path among the soldiers' headstones. They related how the battle and other events surrounding it affected them personally. Their emotional and history-based accounts gave a view of the terrible cost of the Civil War.
This weekend we are witnessing the annual battery demonstrations that involve firing of six cannons at once. A ranger sets the scene of the fighting and the artillery's impact on this battle. He explains the firing technique, step-by-step, as the thunderous booms begin.
Obviously, a lot of time and effort goes into these living history programs. This weekend people traveled to Murfreesboro from battlefields in other parts of Tennessee and in Georgia. They even brought cannons with them. The goal is for us all to contemplate the lessons of the Civil War, to realize the lasting impact and, perhaps, to learn from it. Another side of this living history is to teach about the tremendous pain and sacrifices of all those involved.
These scenarios are taking place at many national parks. After watching several it followed that we started talking about --- why? Why is this a wide-spread custom? Perhaps it's tradition to some degree. Why does it draw people in? Maybe it's curiosity, still a wonderment of how brother could fight brother or the intrigue of the stories of heroism. Could it be the connection for so many people to an ancestor, or two or more? Why do the people want to sleep in these encampments on weekends and wear the scratchy wool soldiers clothing? Maybe it's exciting to fire these historic weapons. Maybe some of them believe it's important to teach the lessons of the war. What do you imagine are their motivations?
Well, the two soldiers here, Elena and Elizabeth, are seasonal recruits working on their masters degrees in public history at Middle Tennessee State University. Historic preservation is a part of their psyche, studying about it, writing about it and living it. They provide interpretive programs five days a week at Stones River. Here they are demonstrating musket loading and firing with Jim.
Judging from the attention of the many visitors we've seen this summer at national park living history presentations, the program is a success. People ask questions or you hear various discussions as the crowd breaks up. It made us think about the issues, effects and results of the War of the Rebellion or the Civil War, or whatever title you have for it. What do you think? Why would these men (and women) leave their loved ones to endure such a nightmare? Why did this war happen? Was it justified? What did it accomplish? And the big one: Was the cause states' rights or slavery? Just a few questions for your next bar-b-q or campfire discussion. It was the living history that made me ask.