Sunday, September 30, 2018

Will Gettysburg Be Forgotten?

Here's a reflection on Gettysburg and historical memory from the August 2018 issue of Preservation and Progress. For the online issue, see here, pages 3 and 4.

Those of you who visited with us in Topsfield earlier this year will remember Dr. Matthew Moen.  He's pictured below, speaking at Trinity Church along with our friend from the Gettysburg National Military Park, Chris Gwynne.  Matt's note on civility is on pages 10 and 11.

There's lots going on at Gettysburg.  Enjoy the issue!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Extinction is Silent, Unless It Chirps

Dodo skeleton and model at Oxford University

[I owe a series of brief research essays over the next year in fulfillment of my Audubon Birding Certificate, sponsored by the good folks at Joppa Flats on Plum Island.  Essay #1 was about food waste and birds.  This essay addresses extinction.  Future topics should be happier.]

The first Dodo was described by a Dutch sailor in 1598.  The last confirmed sighting was in 1662.  It took humankind exactly 64 years to wipe a million-year-old species off the face of the earth.  Likewise, there were five billion Passenger Pigeons in North America two hundred years ago. Audubon himself observed a flock that passed for three days numbering perhaps two billion.  Thanks to hunting and habitat conversion, the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.[1]

Here’s the extraordinary thing: As good as human beings have been historically at wiping out our fellow species, we are even better at it today.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Last Battle is the Biggest One

A few hundred yards along Stone Avenue, just off Chambersburg Road on the Gettysburg battlefield, stands a bronze statue dedicated to John Burns (1793-1872).  The inscription includes a report from Major General Abner Doubleday who wrote that Burns, though a civilian and seventy years of age, “shouldered his musket and offered his services” on the first day of the battle, joining the skirmish line of the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers. When the 150th retired from the field, Burns fought alongside the Iron Brigade in some of the most intensive action of day one.  He was wounded three times and carried home to recover.

John Burns was a veteran of the War of 1812.  He had already served his country.  But neither this prior service nor his advanced age mattered when the Civil War invaded Gettysburg.  As gunfire erupted, he grabbed his ancient flintlock and powder horn, more Ichabod Crane in his “swallow tail” coat and black silk hat than Johnny Yank.  Insisting to Union commanders that he knew how to shoot, this citizen-warrior was provided a modern rifle and bravely traded fire with Confederates until he could no longer stand.

What would possess a 70-year-old veteran to put his life on the line? Perhaps it was Burns’s recognition that the single greatest fight of his life, to preserve the American union, had begun.  It did not matter if he had already served his country.  It did not matter that he was entering his seventh decade of life. Burns opened his door, listened for the gunfire, and then walked toward the battle.