On December 16th, 2020 the last widow of a Civil War veteran passed away, her name was Helen Jackson. This closes the chapter of the American Civil War. This chapter was one of immense struggle and strife, one where brothers fought against each other, as well as the bloodiest conflict for America to this day. With her death, the last person who fought in this war as well as everyone married to them have all passed on. Earlier on May 31st of the same year the last recipient of a civil war pension, Irene Triplett, died.
This isn’t the only chapter that has closed in recent years, however. On March 14th, 2019 Celestine Trott the last widow of a WW1 veteran passed away. The last WW1 veteran themselves was Florence Green who died on February 4th, 2012. As such world war one is going the same route and in many ways has gone there.
The question I’m sure some of you might be asking right now is probably why we should care, after all, World War One was a hundred years ago and the Civil War was even longer. One might also ask these same questions when considering how many casualties both of them had with 116,516 thousand American casualties in World War One and the Civil War with a much larger bloodbath at 620,000.
To answer this simply, it is to remember the legacy they left us. To understand that freedom while freeing us, isn’t free itself. In order to end slavery and reunite ourselves as a nation we had to pay a cost of hundreds of thousands. In order to get through World War One we had to pay the cost of over a hundred thousand and many more in injuries.
The two lessons here are blatant. One is of the struggle and horrors of war. In the words of William T. Sherman, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.” Beyond this discription is nothing I can add, never having fought in war.
But as I said, there were two lessons, the other is to learn the value of why so many people willingly went through all those horrors, and that is what they defend. In the worlds of Faramir in The Two Towers, “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” Now at first, we may be tempted to ask where Tolkien gets the right to say this, that is until we learn that he fought on the front lines of World War One and served again within Britain in World War Two.
So then what do the recent passings of both World War One and the Civil War widows mean? If nothing else, it serves as a reminder to look to the past and at the great cost to us, all that freedom is, and then to do the smart thing and cherish it.