There’s a Question My Confederate Ancestors Taught Me To Ask

Many readers may not know this, but today is a significant day in Civil War history. On April 26, 1865—17 days after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox—Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee at Greensboro, North Carolina. The last major Confederate combatant command stacked its arms. 

I think of this day not merely because of its national historical significance but also because of its personal family importance. My ancestors fought for the Army of Tennessee. In fact, my ancestors marched across the very ground where my house sits and fought for their lives in the very town—Franklin, Tennessee—where I now live. Other ancestors fought for the Army of Mississippi. I’ve walked their battlefields at Shiloh and Vicksburg. 

And I must confess, the older I get, the more I’m haunted by their legacy.

I don’t mean that in a guilty way, as if I’m somehow responsible for the actions of men who took up arms for an unjust cause more than a century before I was born. Instead, I mean that I’ve often asked myself, “What would I have done?” 

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