, Newburyport, MA

June 21, 2013

The war that made us what we are

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — While taking nothing away from the historical importance of the war that separated us from England’s royal rule or our First or Second World Wars, our Civil War’s history prevails as a reminder of what we had been as a nation and what we became because of it.

That was central to the rededication of Newburyport’s Atkinson Common memorial that names those who served in it.

Mayor Donna Holaday’s presentation of the late Hyram Landford’s speech of 1913 linked this occasion to that of the original dedication — a choice I find to have been particularly relevant to the need to revisit who we are, what we have become and why.

The outcome of that war truly engaged us as a nation by and for ALL the people.

Staying engaged is relevant because of the ongoing challenges we face for so long as the Statue of Liberty’s message continues to welcome those who would join us regardless of their means or place of entry.

We have fought great wars at equally great costs to win, define, retain and preserve that freedom.

Numbers do not begin to tell it all, but they are there to remind us of what it has taken to create and protect this great nation.

Of all our military dead, the newly revised total of 750,000 Civil War dead are the most.

Consider that our total population in 1860 was only 31,443,321.

Loss totals of other wars are incompatible with those of the Civil War because all the losses on both sides of that war were Americans.

Considering all the issues that had been so long in the making — chief among them being slavery and, to a lesser but persistent degree, women’s rights — the Civil War was the major testing of this nation’s commitment to self-governance.

By its very nature, self-governance can be contentious and certain to be seen through partisan predilections as being either good or bad depending on which party is in or out of power.

Our two world wars put most such divisiveness on back burners.

What we have been enduring in the Middle East for far too long, together with major domestic issues, however, has given rise to hardened political stalemate.

We have become a nation so divided on so many fronts it would seem that only another overriding international calamity would bring together.

And yet, there in the Atkinson Commons of America’s cities and towns, are the reminders of what it has cost to provide for the freedom to continue this quest by voting, however frustrating and futile it sometimes seems to be

For those who haven’t done so, visit those parks where those who served in the Civil War are honored and read the names, one by one, of those who gave of themselves to save this nation from itself.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His email address is