Looking at the calendar, I see that today is the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War. Thank goodness, too, or the upcoming golf tournament might have been fouled up by all the traffic – Southern and Northern alike – heading in from all directions.
Before you whip out your phone to look up the definition of “sesquicentennial,” let me remind you that it means “150th anniversary of a major event.” Today is April 9, 2015, and exactly 150 years ago, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Many of our visitors to town this week remember that date – or at least, the observation of it – but I have met a few Southerners over the years who scoff at the notion that it actually happened that way. Many of them reject the idea that a war in which Gen. William T. Sherman burned an early interstate all the way to the sea was in any way “civil,” and I suppose I agree.
Some of them call it the War Between the States, or the War for Southern Independence. The first, however, sounds as though it was a free-for-all in which dozens of states had it out with one another instead of fighting on two big teams, like Duke and Wisconsin.
The second euphemism painfully reminds us that because we don’t have Southern independence today, we obviously lost the war. Nobody wants to have that on their bumper stickers. It’s kind of the opposite of Remember the Titans!: Forget the Whole Thing! (Although, as another common Civil War sticker reminds us, We Ain’t Fergettin’!)
I grew up hearing it called The War of Northern Aggression (guess where I grew up!), and a friend likes to say it was The Recent Unpleasantness. Perhaps that is the mother of all understatements.
I’ve lived with the 150-year-old surrender at Appomattox all my life, because, as a child, I read a James Thurber short story called If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox. As it ends, a solemn Lee rejects a bottle offered by Grant and says he wants to get things over with quickly. Grant takes another swig.
“ ‘All right,’ he said. ‘Here we go.’ Slowly, sadly, he unbuckled his sword. Then he handed it to the astonished Lee.
“ ‘There you are. General,’ said Grant. ‘We dam’ (sic) near licked you. If I’d been feeling better we would of licked you.’ ”
I suspect Grant wasn’t that good a drinker, although President Lincoln is said to have replied to someone griping about Grant’s habit: “Find out what Grant drinks and send a barrel of it to each of my other generals!”
Neither do I believe the quote attributed to Grant after he watched a novice golfer flailing at the ball with no contact:
“That does look like very good exercise,’’ Grant said, adding: “What is the little white ball for?’’
Reach Glynn Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.