number of years ago now our family took a vacation eastward and southward where we focused on learning more about the Civil War. We had been studying this war in our home schooling curriculum. Being able to see some of the sights added value to our education.
As we traveled, we read books and listened to tapes that told stories of the war. Yet we also visited a few places to see what we were reading.
We stopped in Gettysburg, heard of Pickett’s Charge, and read Abraham Lincoln’s address. As most of the war was fought on southern territory, it was fascinating to learn more of General Lee’s attempt to try to take the war to the Yankees. The great number of men who lost their lives in this battle was staggering.
Our favorite sight on this journey ended up being the private Pamplin Park near Richmond, Virginia. This four hundred plus acre site was extremely well-maintained, preserving the location of the April 2, 1865, “Breakthrough” battle which led to the evacuation of the Confederate capital at Richmond. This park also featured the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. As we walked through this interactive display, our imaginations were triggered by the audio recounting and memorabilia all around. The horrors of war and the appreciation of the sacrifice of the soldiers were cultivated. Outside on the battlefield, our children were also enthralled with the drum rolls of reenactment soldiers and the blasts of a vintage cannon, though some of them were a bit terrified of the latter as the sound reverberated through our bodies.
Later in this vacation we went further south to North Carolina to visit my relatives. As I told my assembled aunts and uncles of our time at Pamplin, imagine my surprise when my aunt informed me that my great-great-great grandfather had been captured on that battlefield! Having studied the genealogy on my mother’s side, she had discovered that he had been taken north to a prison camp in New Jersey. After he eventually swore allegiance to the Union, he was released, taken by railroad back to North Carolina, then had to walk over fifty miles to reach his home.
As my aunt shared this story with me, I thought of the contrast. We had enjoyed the park’s air conditioned museums and even eaten dairy treats in comfort on the very spot where my ancestor had nearly given his life and had been taken captive. My appreciation for the hardship others endured increased because of this personal connection.
As today is Memorial Day, it is good and right to reflect on the sacrifices others have made to give us the freedom we enjoy. I will be at a picnic today with family and friends, and plan to have us pause in thanks for the high price others paid so that we can enjoy grilling outdoors, playing games, and having fellowship. Yes, this day can quickly turn to idolizing rather than appreciating fallen soldiers and the monuments to their lives. But if we keep it in proper perspective, “giving thanks in everything” (I Thes. 5:18) is right and appropriate.
Finally, for believers we must remember that we have a memorial day of our own every week. Every Lord’s Day is to be a remembrance of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and the victory over our greatest enemies of Satan, sin, and death he won for us. Living in spiritual freedom from sin with the hope of eternal life should bring forth great rejoicing every time we gather for worship and remember what Christ has done.