We spent a rainy morning walking through the Stones River National Battlefield and National Cemetery. This field is where one of the worst battles of the American Civil War was fought. The Union army was losing the war, they had been defeated over and over again. But in the last days of December 1862 the two sides faced off in what was the bloodiest conflict of the entire war as they sought to advance over the Middle Tennessee area. But through some key strategic moves the Union army prevailed and the Confederate army was pushed back. This battle was a major turning point in the war for the Union and one that was essential to the country as it strengthened the Emancipation Proclamation that President Lincoln would put forth only a few weeks later. President Lincoln commented that had there been a defeat in this battle instead of a victory, the country would never have recovered. It was a powerful thing to consider as we walked around the battlefield how different our country would be had the Union lost this battle, and indeed had they lost the war. The battlefield has been left naturally wild with only a few paths put in to take visitors past some of the Civil War cannons that remain as tribute to such a horrific battle.
After walking through the battlefield we made our way across the street to the Stones River National Cemetery where thousands of soliders who died in that conflict are buried. Row upon row of small white stones are laid out with the name of the solider and the state they came from. But there are also thousands of gravesites marked by nothing but a smaller stone with a number on it of those who were buried unidentified. Atop the stones have been laid pennies with the face of President Lincoln facing up, honoring those that gave their life for the united country that we live in today and the price that was paid for that unity. One headstone in particular had a small collection of pennies on it, that of an 11 year old boy who had come to fight for the Union and died in that battle. The cemetery is a humbling reminder of our country’s history and what it cost us to remain united.
I felt very honored to walk through the cemetery today and to leave pennies to those that fought in such a terrible battle. Living in Tennessee has given us an interesting perspective because we are right at the middle between the the two ideologies of the Civil War. And while our country’s unity is somewhat strained these days as politics seeks to divide us, I can’t help but think of all these soldiers who were willing to fight their countrymen in order to keep us together as a nation. United we stand, but divided we fall- a thought we need to remember as we move forward. What a humbling and powerful experience to walk through the battlefield and cemetery today.