Re: ”Our View: What Appomattox says about race today” (April 12, Page A6):

I feel the wording of events in the original editorial is unfortunate and distracts from the actions of a greatly admired and decorated Maine hero, Joshua Chamberlain.

After Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Ulysses S. Grant chose Chamberlain to accept the formal surrender. As Chamberlain positioned his men, he ordered them into a “carry arms” salute to acknowledge the passing Confederates, which was graciously accepted by his former adversaries.

The editorial states that “Chamberlain was putting the dignity of the Confederates ahead of that of the freed men and women who they had so recently brutalized, and who they stilled viewed as lesser.”

This is a broad generalization, suggesting Chamberlain specifically intended to denigrate the freed men and women, when in fact, in his 19th-century soldier mindset, he was more likely simply recognizing the sacrifices of fellow soldiers at the end of a brutal war.

The salute was undoubtedly an audacious move on Chamberlain’s part, and he paid a price for it. The rest of his life he would hear negative comments about that “damn salute” in his hometown of Brunswick. But keeping in mind the 19th-century context, these negative comments were more about him honoring “the losers” and the traitorous Confederacy than about dishonoring freed men and women.

The Reconstruction era is one of the darkest blights on our history. The injustices put upon African Americans, who were tragically brutalized, are appalling. Chamberlain witnessed these conditions, and one only need read his memoirs and speeches to understand that. It was merely recognition of soldiers by a soldier, 150 years removed from ours today, along with hope that a decimated nation could be reborn.


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