Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Grey, the Blue, and the Poppy Red

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

Colonel John McCrae wrote these words following the death of one of his friends. By accounts, he wasn't particularly pleased with the poem. Regardless, it became the most quoted poem of the war and it established the poppy as the emblem of remembrance not only in Canada, the Commonwealth or even their allies, but also in Germany, Italy and parts of eastern Europe and Asia.

The proceeds from Poppy campaigns go towards wheel chairs and other aids and programs for veterans. They represent our gratitude, but also our responsibility to those who serve.

What are the iconic symbols of the Civil War? The Confederate Stars and Cross; the Union Stars and Stripes; the Grey and the Blue. They are symbols of division that are still present on the American landscape more than a hundred and fifty years later. Why?

Geographically the war was between the North and the South, but the war divided families both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Only a small percentage of the Southerners owned slaves. Most had no vested interest in the institution or, if anything, suffered economically because of it. They were rallied to the Confederate cause by fear of Northern aggression. Most Northerners were not abolitionists. They rallied to the Union cause to fight the Southern Rebels, not to free the slaves. There were also southerners who supported the Union and northerners that support secession.

 

In order to fill their ranks, both sides vilified the enemy. This wasn't the first or last time this would happen, but in this case, it set American citizens against American citizens. Bottom line, more Americans were killed in the Civil War than in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam combined. That's a very deep wound.

This rift has shaped American history from the old west to the present - not always pervasive, but never quite disappearing either. Fortunately there are always poets to pass a different kind of torch from one generation to another, reminding us that the dead are just as dead, no matter what side they were on.

The Blue And The Gray
Francis Miles Finch (1827-1907)
 
By the flow of the inland river
 Whence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment-day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray

Twin sisters separated by war, bound by love…

After the death of their father, twin sisters Maggie and Matty Becker are forced to take positions with officers’ families at a nearby fort. When the southern states secede, the twins are separated, and they find themselves on opposite sides of America’s bloodiest war.

In the south, Maggie travels with the Hamiltons to Bellevue, a plantation in west Tennessee. When Major Hamilton is captured, it is up to Maggie to hold things together and deal with the Union cavalry troop that winters at Bellevue. Racism, politics and a matchmaking stepmother test Maggie’s resourcefulness as she fights for Bellevue, a wounded Confederate officer and the affections of the Union commander.

In the north, Matty discovers an incriminating letter in General Worthington’s office, and soon she is on the run. With no one to turn to for help, she drugs the wealthy Colonel Cole Black and marries him, in hopes of getting the letter to his father, the governor of Michigan. But Cole is not happy about being married, and Matty’s life becomes all about survival.

Two unforgettable stories of courage, strength and honor


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