In 2005, America’s last Civil War soldier, Mark Matthews, passed away from pneumonia at the age of 111. He’s considered to not only be the last soldier of that war but also the last of the great Buffalo soldiers, a group of African-Americans who fought for the Union against the Confederacy.
One would have thought we had put to rest, the last of those who directly witnessed one of America’s historic conflicts but 2015 turned out to be the year that the civil war soldier came back.
On October 17 of this year — according to Colorado’s local 9news site — the names Cpl. Thomas Walker, Lt. Louis Young, Pvt. George Washington, and Pvt. James Williams rose from obscurity after a research project by Lucille Corsentino, founder of Concerned Citizens of Roselawn Cemetery, uncovered them from unmarked graves.
Given the history of the United States, it would be a matter of time before the tone of civil war would dominate daily events. With gridlock between America’s two political parties during both terms of the nation’s first black president, racism rears its ugly head with mass shootings and with them, the symbolism of the confederate flag.
For the civil war soldier, the conflict came down to defending the union or defending the south and today, this parallels that war with extreme right-wing parties focusing on a platform that looks at the federal government as a great enemy, so much so that many are actively focused to secede from the union.
Many more Americans are involved with the daily conversation to generate a consensus which reveals where this era’s current fight is, with predictions that another civil war is around the bend.
The conflict is very real, with activists demanding that confederate flags be removed from public places all over the United States, or at the very least, the acceptance that it’s a symbol of hate and shunned quietly as it was in Dallas’ Lee park.
The park is named after confederate leader Robert E. Lee and was once overrun by white supremacists as written in an article by the Dallas News, just one of many public places where these relics of the past only seem to stir up controversy.
So, much has been made of the confederate civil war soldiers who fought for the South and the few who wish to publicly express symbolic gestures to them. At the same time, movies like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, also tells the story of African-Americans who fought for the union, is always maintaining a progressive standard against racism.
Certainly, there were a few black civil war soldiers who fought for the south but the decision to fight for freedom is an easy one and so the conflict clearly documented is that most fought for the union.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to see beyond the fact that the American people are polarized today as they were back then. The demand to take down confederate relics from public places to put them in a museum, is also countered by other memorials which symbolize the success of abolitionism of the north, such as with the Shaw Memorial in Boston Massachusettes.
In this memorial, Col. Robert Gould Shaw rides a horse while surrounded by black civil war soldiers. Unlike the other memorials which represent lone confederate figures, this one documents the union’s support of the freeing of slaves, as described in a piece written for WBUR’s The Artery.
“The newly freed soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment were led by Col. Robert Gould Shaw and their bravery is immortalized in a memorial directly across from the State House on the Boston Common. It’s been called ‘a symphony in bronze.'”
In the midst of the fight over progress and traditions, America’s forgotten past is never out of reach. Whether the history is good or bad, the memorials will always conjure up relevant discussions which hold true meaning for all Americans, passed down through generations. The revealing of those forgotten men, makes the American civil war soldier as important in 2015 as it was a hundred years before.
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]