Paul Greenberg

Muffle the drums, furl the flags. The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the great battle is concluded, this year's faux battle lost and won, the hurly-burly done. The crowds and tumult are gone, and once again the grass is allowed to grow in peace. I am the grass; I cover all ... Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work. This place is outside a small town in southern Pennsylvania just north of the Maryland line where two ridges parallel and Robert E. Lee determined to fight the decisive battle of The War. He did. It was.

Here the rock from which we are hewn -- The War that made us what we are, north and south -- came to its climax. The Union would never be the old Union again. For here there was a new birth of freedom, with all the travail and cries and blood of the first.

And here the Old South died, with its old grace and its old pretensions and its old curse that the Founders dared not even name in their -- and still our -- Constitution, as if even calling slavery what it was would also call down the old curse on the whole American venture. Their circumspection in framing the new republic's fundamental law was an unspoken recognition of how shameful the Peculiar Institution was; they dared not even call it by its right name.

Slaves would be referred to only obliquely in that founding document -- as "other persons" or persons "held to Service or Labour." Everyone understood, though not everyone dared admit, that the slaves' thralldom was at the root of this great conflict. It was their existence by the millions that was the ultimate reason why these two great armies would converge on this quiet, wooded terrain on a summer's day and turn it into a field of blood.

Now that hallowed place can fade back into the past again, its peace disturbed only by the tinny sounds of historical re-enactments and whatever detritus the tourists leave behind.

Now the grass returns, covering all. And the ghosts who never go away, though they may be obscured for a few days every July in the glare of artificial lights and an artificial battle, return to roam the places where they fought and died and made history -- Seminary and Cemetery Ridge, Devil's Den, Little Round Top, the Peach Orchard now planted with apple trees, the Wheatfield . . . .


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.