They knew what they were fighting for.
It seems that the reason you walk into the hail of bullets and canister shot is for the guy next to you; it’s a combination of not being willing to lose respect in his eyes, and feeling like you owe him. But what makes you go forward into your second battle, after you’ve been through one already? How can you do that, when you know what it’s like?
It was a time when the notion that there were causes greater than one’s self–to preserve the Union, to free slaves, to defend one’s homeland–wasn’t absurd.
Yes, today there are still those who will risk their lives for a cause, and this is worthy of respect, however misguided–even evil–I might believe that cause to be. But they’re increasingly rare.
Today, the passion and excitement is coming from people saying, “Why should my tax money go to support people who can’t afford food, housing, and medical care?” followed by endless and increasingly lame justifications that make this position sound moral. That’s what we hear today: utter selfishness hidden behind a veneer of moral posturing. It is repulsive; and more than that, it is sad.
A hundred and fifty years ago, the passion and excitement was about actual efforts to make the world better for everyone.
The era has changed. The culture has changed. But–
We are still human beings. Inside of us are still those yearnings and desires that inspired the 1st Minnesota to charge, or the 20th Maine to hold. Yes, the dominant culture now is as reactionary as the dominant culture in South Carolina was a hundred and fifty years ago. But I believe we have it in us to fight to make things better, whatever sacrifice that entails. I believe that we’re going to see that. I believe we’re going to do things that those boys would be proud of. I think the culture can change, and I think it will.
When you stand on Little Round Top, or Culp’s Hill, or by the statue erected for the First Minnesota, remember that they knew what they were fighting for.