It’s a curious thing. The Civil War remains the most accessible — and thus, for many, most palpable — of all this nation’s conflagrations. Battlefields can be reached and toured in a day or two for many people. Re-enactments can draw troops of men in authentic gray and blue wool.
It is the one war that Americans can relive without leaving the country.
Yet the men who fought in those wars often seem amorphous, more distant to us than veterans of other wars. Part of it may be time, of course. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Perhaps the names of grunts and foot soldiers are overshadowed by the larger-than-life principal characters such as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Stonewall Jackson.
Or it could be that the distinctive nature of the war makes it harder to put their valor in sharp relief. It was not America rising up to fight a powerful foreign threat; it was America fighting to rip itself apart or to keep itself together. There may have been foes, but they were also countrymen.
So Sunday’s Times Leader story by Tom Mooney about Luzerne County’s Civil War veterans served as welcome reminder. About 2,500 men from Wyoming Valley served in the war, with some 600 or more of them killed or wounded.
They were, of course, honored in their day. The 1928 burial of Luzerne’s Peter Austin created a particularly poignant moment, as a flag that had draped the coffins of other civil war veterans was buried with him, testimony to his place as the last such veteran from the borough.
Our Memorial Day national holiday began as Decoration Day, created to honor Civil War vets. GAR High School is named after the Grand Army of the Republic, a national organization formed to help Civil War veterans.
Yet the names of some of those veterans pictured above apparently are lost, even though the photo can be dated by a partially obscured placard on the right touting “The Adventurer,” a 1928 movie starring Tim McCoy, himself once a highly popular star of westerns who’s name has faded into near obscurity.
These men and thousands of others from our region fought in a war unlike any other in our history.
When it comes to their names and stories, frankly, we should be more curious.