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The Legacy of Our Civil War Heroes

Joshua ChamberlainWhen I think about our Civil War heroes, I think about their contributions to our nation and how they have made a difference in our lives today. If not for their valorous deeds in the face of adversity—their commitment to fighting for the cause in which they fervently believed—we would have fewer role models by which we can shape our lives.

Our heroes help us define ourselves as individuals. By learning about them and their personal histories, we also learn something about ourselves. What might we aspire to achieve in our lives that will help us become better persons—not only for the sake of bettering ourselves, but the lives of those whom we hold dear? For each of us holds within ourselves the capability to become a hero or heroine. When we strive for what is noble, we cannot help but to live a part of that nobility in our lives. In doing so, we become living examples of what we perhaps admire in our own heroes.

Robert E. Lee Boyhood HomeIn the process of studying the lives of our Civil War heroes, one often becomes curious about the places where these admirable people lived or through which they passed, because environments significantly influence lives. To visit the home of a Civil War hero or to tread upon the same soil on which he fought brings alive the story of that soldier's life. We realize that Robert E. Leethis is not just a face and name from a history book, or an ancestor from a distant time. This was a person like you and me who walked from room to room in a house; who camped on the grounds of a battlefield that is now a part of The National Park Service. With each passing breeze these places still resound with the words of the mighty and the brave; their very energy still permeates the landscape upon which they struggled—upon which many had been wounded or slain. Thus visiting the places from their lives significantly enhances our education and understanding of our Civil War heroes.

Sad to say, though some of these places have been preserved, acres upon acres of historic sites have already been lost to development, and more sites faces the same fate of endangerment. What Morris Island Lighthousecan we do to save a building or a battlefield? We can be alert to what is going on in our own community or to those areas that concern us. There are organizations on the Web that help preserve historic structures and battlefields, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Civil War Preservation Trust. We can take part in helping to save a treasured structure or hallowed ground by spreading the word to others and by writing to our representatives whenever we hear, read or see something that involves the endangerment of a place that interests us.

Our historical heroes are only alive to us as long as we care to remember that they existed. If we cherish their lives and ideals, and embrace the legacies they left us—their deeds and presence at the places they once inhabited—we owe it to them and ourselves to preserve their memory. When we lose an historic building or a battlefield to modern development, we lose a part of our heritage, a part of ourselves, forever. But when we preserve these places of our heroes’ past, their memory and inspiration continues to live on through future generations.

- "1st Dragoon"
January 2001

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Top right: Union hero Joshua L. Chamberlain.

Middle left: Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee (photo by CNO), in Alexandria, Virginia. This historic home is no longer a museum open to the general public. Due to a lack of funds for restoration and repairs, this home was sold to a private party in the Year 2000.

Middle right: Confederate hero Robert E. Lee.

Bottom left: Morris Island Lighthouse (photo by CNO) near Fort Sumter, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Morris Island, where the 54th Massachusetts met a terrible fate in their struggle to take Fort Wagner, was nearly sold to a developer for the construction of luxury beachfront homes early in the Year 2000. The combined efforts of historians, Civil War re-enactors, the general populace, and citizens of other nations helped save this hallowed ground. The words of these caring individuals were read in letters of concern sent to city council members, and their voices were heard at city council meetings.

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