If you didn’t get the chance to watch the documentary on Ulysses S. Grant presented by the History Channel, I would urge you watch it at some point.

Six hours, including commercials, can’t possibly capture all the intricacies of one’s legacy, but this captured a portion of this man who was part of the shaping of our country during one of our most tumultuous times.

One hundred fifty-five years after the meeting of Generals Grant and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, some of the fundamental reasons for that bloody war between citizens of one country are still with us today. 

There are still some who do not see the worth of all human beings, and feel one color is superior to another. There are some who recognize the indignities that still exist and want to change our society to value all and wish for a time when we truly color blind. There are still some who don’t want to take a stand one way or another. Human DNA – always a puzzler.

I am a child of the poor South. I was not raised there, but it is my birthplace and heritage. In the documentary, part of the story told was the battle of Shiloh – referred to as Pittsburg Landing at the time. If my increasingly challenged memory recalls, the church on the battlefield was called Shiloh – meaning peace and abundance. 

During our visits to relatives, my parents would occasionally take us to see Shiloh. I didn’t understand what it meant. There was a lot of silence and murmurs among the adults, a sad and embarrassed mention of the “war of northern aggression.” We primarily made the trip to eat catfish at a restaurant on the banks of the Tennessee River adjacent to the historic site.

I just remember the feel of the place, almost reverential. I had a child’s ignorance and a child’s intrigue of the cannons, the headstones and the stillness. I had no idea what I was standing on and how many people died on the ground beneath my feet, much less why they died. That came later.  

At a time when we are still a divided country over some of the same issues that led to that awful war, plus several others to add more fuel to a fire, I paid close attention to the Grant documentary. What touched my soul was the meeting of Grant and Lee to discuss terms of surrender.  This didn’t end the war; that came many months later. 

But it did signal the beginning of the end. Grant, though flawed, knew what President Abraham Lincoln wanted with surrender, knew what was necessary to start the process of winning the peace. They knew that humiliation and subjugation of the defeated would be the ruin of the country. 

The confederate soldiers could go home; officers could keep their weapons; men could keep their horses. No gloating by the victors. A gentlemen’s agreement, as it were. This fateful day at Appomattox showed the mark of true leaders who offered grace and dignity to each other, fellow soldiers and the country.  

If only we had a small part of that grace and dignity from leaders today.

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