By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
By the time the Civil War ended in April 1865, the North and the South lost more than 750,000 men, according to a recent study. In the North, the first national cemeteries were carefully laid out to contain the fallen; Gettysburg the most visited nearly a century-and-a-half later. Here and in other cemeteries, each state has its own monuments.
But in small towns and cities, citizens wanted to memorialize the war in their town squares. One of the first catalogues made this possible; it featured a full host of memorials. Some had a single soldier with rifle in hand, others were more complex and expensive with statues of soldiers, sailors and marines. On the stone pedestals, one can read the raw statistics of the number of townspeople who served and the number who did not come home. It is in these numbers that the full scope of the Civil War is revealed—a battlefield roughly the size of Western Europe. Once delivered, the monuments faced south.
While some of the metal statues were made in other states, most came from foundries located in Connecticut. By 1900, nearly all were in place in little towns like Newtown that dot the northern landscape.
It was in Newtown where a 20-year-old local resident broke into the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 and slaughtered 26 people, including 20 children, and then took his own life.
While the nation will move on, we know that the families, their friends, neighbors, and relatives will always have a hole in their hearts that will never heal. In time, perhaps, the people will find a fitting way to memorialize what happened, but it is too soon to think about. If and when this time arrives, just as the State of Connecticut’s foundries turned out memorials that captured the essence of the Civil War, someone will come up with a design in metal or in stone that will appropriately memorialize this profound tragedy.
In a state that has been the home and birthplace of so many people who have captured the high and low points of the American journey—what writer Arthur Miller did for the theater, what painter John Trumbull did to capture on canvas the American Revolution and the faces of the Founders, and what Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote before the Civil War— someone will emerge with the imagination to capture this heart-wrenching event. Perhaps a harbinger of this is to be found in the Hebrew chant of mourning sung by a local Rabbi and the profound grief expressed by President Obama, lost for words with tears in his eyes. Time and distance are needed.
A more immediate monument on the national level should not be made from stone and metal. We are in need of new laws and the enforcement of older ones that control and regulate easy access to weapons used for the domestic mass destruction. Congress has to balance the rights of gun owners with the inherent right of the American people itemized in the Constitution to expect far more than conditional safety in our malls, shopping centers, streets, movie theaters and, as we learned Dec. 14, our schools. The response is not to be found in the use of armed guards in the schools, let alone arming the teachers. The time has come for soul-searching and action to arrest this senseless pandemic of gun-related violence by rampage killers. The nation is in need of a restoration of civility in the political arena to accomplish this goal. This will hopefully create a common good; doing away with the belief held by some that they need weapons used by armies to protect themselves.