Footsteps of Great Men

Today we take a break from my scary story for a stormy night and welcome guest essayist, Brian Pease. He is the Historic Site Manager at the Minnesota State Capitol for the Minnesota Historical Society. He has been interviewed by local media about Minnesota history, the Minnesota battle flag conservation project that he led, the Capitol, as well as the present work that is being done for its repair and restoration. Brian recently toured Civil War battlefields in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee. He also likes Dr. Pepper.


I was walking in the footsteps of great men. These were not famous men who achieved success by political or business gain or created something people would marvel over as cutting edge. The course I trod was well paved, the feet of thousands before me led me on my way. I was just following.

As I moved to my destination – a gradual rising hill on the horizon –  the trampled grass exuded a fragrance of fearlessness, bravery,  courage and honor, but it also smelled of fear and was littered with loss so overwhelming it was hard to comprehend. Yet amid the debris and odor, these men went with one goal ahead of them, the same hill I was walking toward.

As I stepped around and over the bodies of the fallen of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, I was trying to absorb what had happened  here – why men would pursue such a course that would end with such a result. It was obvious they were told to do so, so through obedience they followed orders. As they gathered in rank and file, standing shoulder toIMG_2544 shoulder, they saw they had to cross open fields the length of a mile while at the same time, continuous artillery rounds exploded above or crashed into the ground around them. They knew that once they crossed the road and clambered over the fence rails, thousands of enemy rifled musket balls would whizz over, around and through them. From experience, these men realized it was folly and the outcome doubtful but they held out hope the enemy would run before them.  As they started with a steady walk, then a jog, and finally a sprint with fixed bayonets the last yards, more importantly they knew with each step their life could end in an instant. Yet on they went.

My conclusion was they were not only fighting for the man next to them but because they chose to believe in something provided to them by previous generations – the rights of freedom and liberty. Others before them had sacrificed on different battlefields, their lives to declare their independence from another country, create a united nation that was guided under a Sovereign God. The contentious part of this moment in time, why men from the same country were fighting each other and drenching the land in blood, was one side wanted liberty, the other side believed that the pursuit of liberty was as a united nation and freedom was for all people.

Each place I went, whether at the sunken road at Antietam, the stone wall at Fredericksburg, the entrenchments at Spotsylvania, or the thick underbrush of the Wilderness, I walked in these men’s footsteps both North and South. They were great men because they were willing to sacrifice everything for what they believed was important. I can only hope the footprints I – no, we – leave, whether it be a few hundred feet or even a mile, will be as honored and remembered.

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Photo: Cannon at Gettysburg, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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