I have reached the end of my first semester since I made the decision (or actually my back made the decision) to end my law enforcement career and return to the classroom. To me, final exam week is always a melancholy experience. You know, the first day of class is like a first date. It can go really good or really bad. (And is usually awkward!) The last day of class feels like a break up, though not in a bad sense. You get to know your students over several months and realize that most of them you won't see again. That feeling always makes me a little sad.
This has got me thinking about what the end of the war must have felt like for the veterans. Many of them spent as many as four years of their lives fighting alongside men who must have felt very much like brothers to them by the time it was all over. They lost many of them along the way too both to combat and the ever present threat of disease. And then one day it ended. How did they part ways? Was it as simple as a handshake and a "See you in hell"? The fact that many of the companies were raised in certain geographic locations meant that they would perhaps see each other in civilian life sometimes.
But that raises another question. How could someone who went on Pickett's Charge or fought at the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania simply go home and farm again like nothing had ever happened? Yet so many of them did. After the war, the men on both sides formed veterans associations. The Northern veterans and their Grand Army of the Republic proved to be a potent political force in the post-war world. The United Confederate Veterans were important in their own right in the south. My great-grandmother always talked about the UCV men that she knew as a child. She said they were "fine old men". Of course, when she knew them they were 40+ years removed from the war. She told me once that those she knew were all very old and had the long white beard which it seems that many Confederate veterans adopted. But she also said that you couldn't let their age fool you. They were tough, very tough. Their legs had carried them thousands of miles. Their shoulders carried heavy burdens. And their eyes had seen far too much.
One of my favorite songs from this period is "Long Ago" which you can listen to here. I don't know all of the back story on this song, but I do know that it was written by a Civil War veteran. I think it sums up the feelings of a lot of Confederate Veterans quite well.
And if I may end with some thoughts of a different kind. To any of my students who may be reading today's blog post, I would like to say this. It has been a long semester for us all. I've been dealing with back pain, PTSD issues, and a crazy schedule. You made it all worthwhile. Over the past few months we've shared laughter and even the occasional tear. Some of you have opened up to me about issues that you are facing and I have done the same. I can honestly say that I feel that I am a better person for having gotten to meet all of you. This semester I have had the best classes that I have ever had in all my years of being an adjunct. Thank you for not only making that happen, but for also showing me what was important in life. Remember that no matter what happens to you in life, I'll always be in your corner.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Civil War Addict who has come to realize what my purpose in life truly is thanks to my students.
One of my Civil War Ancestors.
A "Fightin' Fool" of the 8th Ohio!
And a native son of Ireland!