It’s like someone redecorated Hell. Budding trees, blooming flowers and singing birds masked the death that occurred there so long ago. Killing grounds are now beautiful meadows and forests. Grass and trees sway silently in the wind, like sentinels guarding a dark family secret. A small Methodist church named for the Hebrew phrase “Land of Peace” gave name to the place. That peace was shattered on a warm spring day so long ago. Peach blossoms and bodies fell to the ground for two days, changing this country’s history forever.
Last Saturday was a beautiful day at Shiloh National Military Park. Just like it was 155 years ago.
On April 6-7, 1862, 23,746 Americans , from the North and the South, lay bleeding on those 6,000 acres — more casualties than in any U.S. War up until that point had seen combined. Many of those men died. Most were scarred forever. It was the moment when both sides realized the Civil War was going to be a horrific, bloody affair. You never truly understand history until what you’ve read is underneath your feet. Walking on a battlefield is a sacred moment.
I’ve read about this battle for years. Shelby Foote and Winston Groom both wrote eloquently about the carnage. I thought I understood it. I didn’t. Seeing the battlefield is different. More powerful. One friend said in a comment that we need VR glasses to understand truly the Hell that went on that day. Being there is a close second. Seeing gravestones stretch to the Tennessee River and mass graves drive home a powerful message.
As if death wanted seconds, Shiloh saw violence once again on October 14, 1909 when a powerful tornado wiped the landscape (and much of the park infrastructure). That horrific storm took another seven lives (and wounded 33 more) that October day. Yet few scars from it or the war remain today.
Time has healed the landscape’s wounds. Time still has some more work to do on our country’s scars. It’s easy to forget history’s powerful lessons. I knelt down and felt the cool, clear waters of Bloody Pond as a reminder.
Shiloh Military Park is an emotional trip. I’m glad I had a chance to see it first hand.