Serenity at a battlefield...paradox?

Old Oct 25th, 2006, 06:49 PM
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Serenity at a battlefield...paradox?

my daughter is doing a 5th grade project on the civil war and as i was helping her assess some research to help her out, i couldnt help but notice how many people commented on how tranquil and serene they felt at some battlefield sites (notably Antiem, Harpers Ferry, and Gettysburg). In my mind that seems like quite a paradox, and just got me thinking and wanted to pose this question to you all since you know the best...why are battlefields seen as a place of relaxation, mediation, and calmness despite its bloody roots?
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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 06:52 PM
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Mainly because they are big green open spaces, and there is a stillness that you don't find in todays busy world.
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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 06:58 PM
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lcuy is right. Unless you knew a battle had been fought there, you would only notice a large expanse of acreage without "modern" conveniences. Just sounds of wind and birdsong and perhaps a distant sound of car traffic. The sounds of the long ago farmland that just happened to became a battlefield for a matter or days or weeks. Ageless really.

Very few have the opportunity to experience quietness like that anymore.
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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 07:34 PM
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Although I think that part of the explanation lies in the open space referenced in the prior posts, I think there is more to it than that.

You can still feel the solemnity of the human tragedy that happened so long ago, and that intensifies the natural tranquility.

Also, when you consider the bravery and sacrifice that occurred, you tend to contemplate universal questions that we don't always have or take the time to consider.

Finally, the paradox itself may help to explain the feeling of serenity. Maybe our thoughts of the horrors of war make the current stillness even more noticable.

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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 07:36 PM
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packing, if she has time, have her watch the old movie Shenandoah. I love the movie, but I also love the images of the patriarch of the family, Jimmy Stewart, trying to remain neutral during the war and his grown sons out of the war. Then, the war crossed his Virginia land.

Well, she's 5th grade. Maybe you should watch it and decide - but I saw it around that age (actually younger). The movie made a big impact on me - especially regarding the Civil War.
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Old Oct 25th, 2006, 07:47 PM
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As I mentally connect with the people who sacrificed themselves on a battle, the thoughts of them gives me a sense of solemn solidarity. I wouldn't use the term "serenity," but I do feel a sense of quiet contemplation.
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 03:32 AM
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I think the feel of a battlefield makes you more aware of the senseless things that went on here.Especially in a civil war where sometimes brothers were opposed in battle.Battlefields can be compared to cemetaries in my opinion.Sometimes thousandths of young men died there.What an enormous waste.Paul
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 07:00 AM
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Another interesting thought - take a look at a list Civil War battlefields. It's interesting to see the mix of battles fought in Confederate vs. Union states. Even those in "northern" states are just over the border from Virginia.
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 10:35 AM
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I feel solemn and reflective at battlefields. Same type of feelings just described differently than tranquil and serene.

It is inspiring and somewhat overwhelming to think of all the people who have died for a cause.

It is also sad to think of how often people forget what others before them have sacrificed - in the civil war and other conflicts.
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 12:13 PM
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Amen, because freedom does not come free.
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 01:16 PM
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I feel very meloncholy...best way to describe it. Oh the humanity....it is a paradox, and thanks for asking this question...very pertinent IMO.
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 01:35 PM
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The only other time I could really feel that battlefield feeling was at Ellis Island. There it was so tangible it made the hair on my arms stand up.

It was like a "dense" quiet- hard to describe.

I think it is more than the quiet of the country/nature. I have that in MI and it's not the same.

Maybe it is the leftover from the immense tension- like the ahhh or gasp after a physical fall. But it is palatable.
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Old Oct 26th, 2006, 01:39 PM
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In Gettysburg the battlefeild is entwined around the town. I always felt that the enormity of the event has affected all aspects of the town...kind of "haunted" in a way.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 04:50 PM
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I think they are a place of contemplation because of what happened there. Interestingly, some people are pretty upset over some of the restoration work going on at Gettysburg - namely the clearing of trees to make the battlefield more like it was in 1863 - more peaceful and beautiful with the trees but more realistic without so many.

Battlefields are perhaps like cemeteries in a way. Throughout history, cemeteries have been a place to think, despite their sadness. This was particularly true in the antebellum U.S. when many communities created cemeteries as a sort of park where people could go for outings. The Gettysburg National Cemetery owes something to this trend.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 11:04 PM
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I also think it is more than just the open space and relative quiet. For me, at least, not all CW battlefields evoke that sense of awe and serenity.

I have walked all over the battlefields surrounding Richmond and Fredericksburg, and some in the Mississippi River basin and I enjoy them for their sense of history but they always leave me in the moment.

The big three, for me, are Gettysburg, Antietam, and Shiloh. Nowhere else have I experienced an almost haunting feeling of connection with the men who fought and died there. I don't know how to explain it well but at those three, the battlefield seems to become a part of me.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 11:13 PM
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Even though it isn't a battlefield when I finally visited Appomattox I began to realize why Bruce Catton named his work, "A Stillness at Appomattox."

Yes, freedom is never free but war is not the only way to defend and preserve it.
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 06:01 AM
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I think you have a very good point, dwooddon. Perhaps it has something to do with a few other things as well. Perhaps, our memorialization of the men who fought and our preservation efforts make a difference. Many of the battlefields around Fredericksburg and Richmond, for example, have little or no
monuments to remind of us the sacrifice.

The landscape is often very different than Civil War times because of all the building in some of those places. For example, Fredericksburg's Marye's Heights, which should be one of the most poignant places in the U.S., is surrounded by modern houses. Perhaps the cemetery brings those feelings to us better at that location.

A battle's place in history may have something to do with it too, since Gettysburg, Antietam, and Shiloh were recognized for their seminal importance in American history from the beginning and have been written about over and over through the years. There are even books about Gettysburg's somewhat mythical place in our history.

Maybe the sheer scale of the sacrifice matters some too, but that is not all there is, because Antietam is far more evocative than Chancellorsville. I think Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle has some of the same quality as the big three you mentioned.
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