On May 26, I joined a small crowd at the Memorial Day ceremony in Eastview Cemetery in Newton, NC.
I hadn’t been to such a ceremony in several years, and for me, it was a solid reminder of the phrase “freedom isn’t free.” We honored American service men and women for their sacrifice in the line of duty. There was a wreath laying ceremony, speeches by veterans, a mayor’s proclamation, a gun salute and “Taps.”
Among us were veterans groups and re-enactors in wool Confederate uniforms. And there were members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Order of Confederate Rose. This event honored all war casualties.
Over Memorial Day weekend, the Hickory Daily Record published a list of Catawba County’s war dead since the Mexican-American War. (Catawba County wasn’t founded until 1843.) Among the lost were familiar Catawba County family names from Abee to Zerden—two pages of lists, the most being for the Civil War and World War II.
I counted them. Catawba County lost 178 of its sons in World War II—a staggering number, but a fraction of 565 lost during the Civil War. Historical context makes that figure even more shocking.
To lose 565 men today would represent less than 1% of our population of 158,000. In 1940, before we entered World War II, Catawba County had 51,653 residents. Those 178 men lost represented less than 1 percent of the county’s population at that time.
The 1860s was a whole other matter. At the start of the Civil War, Catawba County had only 10,729 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The war claimed 5 percent of our county’s population. To put that in perspective, it would be like losing 7,900 today. Yes, the Civil War was a very big deal.
Historians estimate that America lost 750,000 soldiers, both Union and Confederate. The three-day battle at Gettysburg, PA alone saw nearly as many casualties as the United States lost during the entire Vietnam War. Such carnage is unimaginable.
As historian James McPherson once said, “The Civil War created 200,000 widows and half million or more fatherless children. It left large parts of the South a smoking ruin and destroyed more than half of Southern wealth.”
The Civil War is still haunts us, and rightly so. We can debate whether Confederate soldiers were on the right or wrong side of history and what the Stars and Bars does or does not signify. But the enormous cost of that war alone should make us pause to ask serious questions about the current state of hostility and incivility among our own people.
Failing to remember the fallen is to do so at our own peril.