This week marks the 150th year since the Civil War began. One thing we did to observe this historic event is restore the battle flags displayed at the Capitol. Among the flags is one carried by the First Minnesota Volunteers at Gettysburg.
Some of the fixed-up flags were unveiled during a ceremony Saturday in the Capitol rotunda and I delivered a speech during the event. I have received a lot of positive feedback regarding my message and the complete text of my speech follows in this email. I hope you'll take a moment to give it a quick read.
I also helped form a task force to help increase the public awareness of the war through public educational programs and more. I will pass along more details as they become available.
CIVIL WAR OBSERVANCE SPEECH 4/9/2011
I’m honored today to be part of this observance. These restored flags are important symbols. They help us to remember the most momentous time in American history. It is fitting that this observance is held in our State Capitol, a monument to the Civil War.
I commend the Historical Society for their commitment to our state’s story and these symbols that to me represent passion, courage and tragedy.
The Civil War is the great seminal moment of American history. Everything is measured up to and from that point. The men who raised up and followed these flags did so out of the purest motives possible. They wanted to end slavery and save the union.
A multitude of reasons are given for this great conflict. State’s rights, economic and cultural divides are frequently cited. But no one should doubt that primarily this war was about slavery and ensuring that nearly four million people held in bondage in fifteen of our states would be freed.
Slavery, that peculiar institution, had plagued our national consciousness since the beginning. It lie coiled like a snake at the feet of our founders as they wrote our Constitution guaranteeing all other Americans equality and freedom.
As our young nation grew and expanded to the west the issue of slavery impacted decision after decision regarding the makeup of our country. Thomas Jefferson called slavery a “fire bell in the night,” implying the chaos that was to come.
Slavery and the inevitable conflict that followed brought greatness to people whose names are immortalized because of it. Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Grant, Lee, Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Stonewall Jackson, and countless others are remembered today in large part because of how they were shaped by this era.
The Civil War is a tapestry woven of singular events: the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh, the Devil’s Den, the Hornet’s Nest, Pickett’s charge, Colville and the charge of the first Minnesota, Appomatox and the sacrifice of Abraham Lincoln.
As we move into the next four years of observing the sesquicentennial of the Civil War there is much to remember. If those who held and followed these flags could speak to us today what would they say about the country they gave so much to save?
In my district, in Litchfield, standing like a lonely sentinel on the east side of Central Park is a building constructed to resemble a fort. It is a GAR Hall built as a meeting place by and for the “Boys of 61.”
The meeting room is just as they left it. Their chairs are there, with their names scrawled on the undersides. Scenes of the war and their leaders are displayed from the walls. But more importantly, proudly gazing down upon us are the original photos of the men that Meeker County sent off to save the union.
They still speak to us today. Listen closely and the echoes of a rebirth of freedom and giving a last full measure of devotion for this country can still resonate with us in the present.
We hear much of a greatest generation. Those who fought in WWII deserve that title. But let us never forget that there was another greatest generation, that held these flags, that struggled mightily for great goals, that saved this country, that are depicted in this state capitol, and that with great dignity watch over us from the walls of the Litchfield GAR Hall.
Through their unspoken lips comes the question: How stands the union we struggled to save? How stands the Union? We must rise above the current problems that confront us and answer: Our Union still stands strong and free!