Commonplace Book #86

Those who attended the [Gettysburg] reunions left with happy thoughts and fraternal feelings.  “I spent four days with the boys in blue,” a Virginia veteran wrote following the 1888 reunion….These symbolic acts of reconciliation were grounded in deeper changes.  From postwar America’s rapid transformation emerged shared feeling among veterans that all who had proved their manhood during the war were worthy comrades in arms.  As “alien strains” of Eastern Europeans, certified as inferior by the science of the day, poured into the country, veterans could share pride in the myth that Anglo-Saxon heroism forged a powerful new America. At the same time, relentless industrialization bred nostalgia for the passing of agrarian life that helped Northerners lament the Old South’s demise.  And from the psychological perspective of aging, the green and salad days of robust youth, however unpleasant when lived, increase in happiness proportionately with advancing years.  Thus individual and collective memory shifted with time, and by the 1880s veterans North and South could celebrate martial valor without any discussion of the knotty issues that causes the war or their outcome….In its report of the fiftieth anniversary reunion, the state of Indiana termed the celebration “just one glad season of forgetfulness of the trials and hardships of the past.”  Trials and hardships disappeared among former enemies in banter about glory days; the war was reduced to an achievement in which only the exclusive club of Northern and Southern heroes could share.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine106.

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