Here's one of the things I've learned from the years I've spent studying history. The twenty-first century does not have a monopoly on horrible events such as wars, mass shootings, epidemic disease, or even the loss of a toddler to a horrible accident. Oh, we may be more aware of these events than people used to be, thanks to technology that speeds up the spread of the news. But horrible events have always happened. You can find them in any period of history.
This morning I read a Facebook post in which someone lamented that she wanted life to go back to being like it was when she was growing up. Did she grow up in a perfect era? Of course not. Was the world safer, saner, healthier when we were kids? No. It's only our own knowledge and awareness that has changed. And does it help to solve the world's problems by wishing for a return to a simpler time? It does not.
Maybe we cannot always learn from history, but historical events may serve to remind us that much of what we struggle against is part of the human condition. Perhaps we all need to take a deep breath and then look at our world with a bit of compassion and sympathy. It should be possible to recognize the existence of tragic events without needing to point a finger at any one culprit. And then, perhaps, we can start taking small steps to make the world a better place.
What set me off this morning was the realization that my great-uncle James McCaskey died on this date--June 16--one hundred and fifty-four years ago. He was a Union soldier, killed in a botched battle during the first year of the Civil War. I re-read the letter his parents received, and I noted once again the stains on the paper caused by the tears of my great-grandparents. The letter reminds me that grief and loss are universal experiences. Here's the letter:
Mr. Jn. McCaskey,
General Benham appointed the morning of the 16th as the time for our forces to move on "Tower Fort" near "Sesesha" Ville, which is in sight of Sumpter, and about 2 miles from the City of Charlestown.
We left Camp at 1 A.M. and at daylight marched up to the Fort under a galling fire of Grape, Cannister, Shot, and Shell. I was in Command of our Company. Men were falling on every side. Whilst near the Ft. a Shower of Grape came in our ranks, one of which struck your Son, James, and we think tore off one of his legs, near the body. He fell! This is the last we saw of him. The "Liter-bearers" of General Wright's Div. must, I think, have carried him off the Field.
I have searched and searched for him but in vain. We all feel confident that he is dead. Jacob Leary fell at the same time and is also missing. James was a noble young man and a brave soldier—was beloved by all his associates. He was like a brother to me, and I lament his loss. You have my sympathy and prayers in your deep affliction.
The loss in our Co. was 4 killed and 71 wounded. We fought with great disadvantages and in consequence lost heavily.
If it can possibly be done I will send his Knap-Sack and traps home to you, as I have no doubt you would like to possess them. His Watch and what Money he had, were on his person.
If any further intelligence of his fate can be had, I will inform you in due time.
Lieut. Philo S. Morton
Note: His body was never found. His family erected a tombstone above an empty grave.