Today is Independence Day. It typically brings to mind the bravery and wisdom of the founding fathers of our nation, and rightfully so.
But today I am mindful of the bravery and wisdom of the men who fought and died to preserve our nation at a time when its future was hanging by a thread.
You might know that 700,000 American men died in the Civil War. You probably have heard anecdotes about how ugly and brutal the battles were. As I grow older I am more somberly aware of the toll the war took on our nation and its people. I recently viewed the movie “Lincoln”, and it was sobering, to say the least.
While there weren’t a lot of battle scenes in that movie, I was reminded of an old question for which I never sought the answer: why do cannonballs explode when they hit the ground in movie war scenes? Isn’t a cannonball just a solid ball of steel or iron?
So I did a little research, and learned: don’t believe everything you see in the movies.
The Civil War was called “the last of the ancient wars and the first of the modern wars”, because the military tactics included old-fashioned cannon, muskets, and close-rank troop formations as well as new innovations in guns and cartridges, iron-clad ships, and advanced ordnance.
Old-style cannonballs were solid balls of metal, 3″ to 6″ in diameter, that could be fired as far as a mile. Obviously a cannonball can knock down a wall or sink a ship. For anti-personnel purposes, cannon were fired into columns or masses of troops at a low trajectory, and would bounce along a deadly path with gruesome effect. A typical cannon shot could blast through up to forty men, knocking off arms, legs and heads as it passed, with no warning. Imagine the fear it lodged in the gut of a young soldier.
Just before the onset of the war, a British Army officer named Henry Schrapnel invented an even more efficient artillery weapon. He called it “spherical case” ammunition – a hollow cannon ball filled with lead shot and a timed explosive that would cause it to explode above ground, blasting lethal projectiles in every direction. His name defines the deadly metal pieces engineered into bombs and shells even today.
As I learn more about the ugliness of war and its place in our U.S. history, I reflect on the patriotism, honor, and bravery that our ancestors carried into battle. Not just those who fought the British and forged our great nation, but also those who stepped up to save the union at a time when it nearly committed suicide, and the healing that God makes possible between seemingly intractable enemies.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
Well, he was just 18, proud and brave,
But a Yankee laid him in his grave.
I swear by the blood below my feet,
You can’t raise a Caine back up
When it’s in defeat.
RIP – Levon Helm