History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our MN state capitol needn't focus on Civil War

Our Sam Smith "running rifleman" statue at Summit Cemetery, Morris MN

"Free State of Jones" begins with a standard Civil War battle scene. The Confederates march forward toward a prepared Union position. This is done with full knowledge that many in their ranks are going to be felled. 
Civil War battle tactics seemed outdated. Progress in war tech made the weapons so lethal, beyond the smoothbore muskets used previously. The "rifled gun" came on the scene for the Civil War. So did the early repeating rifles. Repeating rifles enabled John Buford's cavalry to hold off the advancing graycoats on Day 1 at Gettysburg. The Union artillery chief felt he could have held off Pickett's Charge with artillery alone. Imagine marching directly toward those belching cannons. Imagine the "grape and canister" too. So inhumane all the way around. Why couldn't we in America find harmony with the tremendous resources this continent was affording us? Indeed, Civil War "buffs" speculate endlessly on what possessed us to sacrifice so many lives, in painful spasms, in a political conflict. 
Our town of Morris MN has surprising connections to Civil War memory, considering how far to the West we are. We were founded six years after the end of the war. But there is a statue at our local cemetery (the public one, not the Catholic anti-abortion one). The statue is of Samuel Smith, running just like the pose of the official monument to the First Minnesota Regiment at Gettysburg. Mr. Smith was present for several of the famous engagements in the Eastern theater. He was assigned to the ambulance corps for the Battle of Gettysburg. His descendants continue to be well-known in the Morris area.
Why did the young men of that era put their lives on the line? Perhaps more intriguing: Why were they sacrificed in such large numbers amidst tactics that seemed so brutal and futile? There is a book about Cold Harbor called "Not War But Murder." In that case it was the Union that employed the sad mass assault approach vs. fortifications. The movie "Cold Mountain" showed Union forces being chewed up.
Debate over public art at MN capitol
We reflect on this troubling chapter of U.S. history when we consider State Capitol art. There was a totally needless dust-up recently when our governor appeared to make a reasoned judgment. We no longer need such focus on the Civil War conflict at our state capitol via art. Because he is a Democrat, the other party was bound to take issue with the judgment.
It seems hard for Democrats to assert themselves these days. Republicans seem to have the default political position that people favor. We get disgruntled about government. The Republican Party feeds into that. Things change when Republicans finally get enough power to impose their positions. So now the "repeal" of "Obamacare" looms, for real, and suddenly the realities of that are beginning to scare people.
If you didn't know what Republicans truly stood for in the past, you may well find out now. Republicans are always trying to undo the New Deal. Other advanced industrial nations around the globe have decided that health care is a right. It would seem to be the Christian position. The U.S. to this point is an outlier. I wonder if it's because of racism, because there is a perception among political conservatives and reactionaries that non-white people make disproportionate use of government assistance. Of course race should be out of the equation. Our whole population is aging to where people of all races are living well beyond their productive years. Politics will catch up to them, or maybe we already saw this with the massive turnout for Bernie Sanders rallies (under-covered by the media).
The U.S. Civil War was a dispute over whether non-white people should be treated as property. The Confederacy was a spasm of reactionary anger that was never destined to succeed. It was, as the North pointed out, a "rebellion." Like the political tea party of our recent past?
So now we come down to the question: Should the old paintings at our state capitol stay as conspicuous as they have been for the last century? The obvious answer would seem to be "no." It is exciting to ponder what kind of historical artwork might be exhibited to replace the old stuff. The art could in fact be rotating, refreshed from time to time.
Governor Dayton is wholly right in asserting that Minnesota has been through a long and interesting history since we sent troops for the Civil War.
The Civil War was unlike other wars in that we were fighting our own brethren, our own countrymen. Efforts at reconciliation were strong after the war. Captured battle flags were returned. Minnesota still has one, only because of an oversight. The state of Virginia cannot make a formal request for its return. Southern governments of today cannot take actions bestowing respect on what the Confederacy represented. There is a private re-enactors group in Virginia that has made requests for return of our flag. In the most famous snub of that, Governor Jesse Ventura spoke for Minnesota. "We won" or something like that. I really wouldn't care if the flag were to be returned. The Southern cause died eons ago. "The South will rise again!" is just a cute comment you'll find in souvenir gift shops in the South.
Some veterans have felt the need to defend the conspicuous Civil War art at our capitol, using the knee-jerk pronouncements about how those sacrifices need to be remembered. Why not display paintings from the other wars where our adversaries were truly from outside? Minnesotans have made countless dedicated sacrifices. But the Civil War was fought against a civilization with which we would reconcile.
Regardless, we will never forget the U.S. Civil War. Go out to our cemetery and appreciate that Sam Smith statue. Think of the resolve. I wish there was a wider open space around the statue, maybe even a small park area. I'm really not a fan of cemeteries anymore. But the Smith statue has meaning that transcends the normal cemetery plot purpose.

Fame achieved by First Minnesota
The men of the First Minnesota are most remembered for their actions on July 2, 1863, during the second day's fighting at Gettysburg. Our regiment prevented the rebels from pushing the Federals off of Cemetery Ridge, a position that was to be crucial in the battle. General Hancock ordered the First Minnesota to assault a much larger enemy force. The battle cry was "take those colors." Thus, "Take Those Colors" is the name of a song I decided to write about the gallant First Minnesota. I don't know if I'll have it recorded.
I invite you to read the lyrics. The song has a verse/climb/chorus structure. The tempo is upbeat with strategic pauses here and there.
"Take Those Colors"
by Brian Williams
The sun was getting low
There along Plum Run
A night of destiny
There for men with guns
The men of Minnesota
Ready for the fray
The men of Alabama
Wearing Southern gray
Would we be two nations
Or would we be one?
Would it be decided at Plum Run?
Take those colors
The Minnesotans charged
So outnumbered
Still they bet the farm
Just for buying time
Good men had to die
That Minnesota charge
The gray line aimed and fired
Hoping to break through
The noise was thunderous
As the conflict grew
The Southern flag unfurled
In its brilliant red
Renewing all their passion
As they fought and bled
But the Minnesotans
Made it mighty clear
They were moving forward with no fear
(repeat chorus)
The screaming minie-balls
Made the danger great
The Union had to fear
Canister and grape
The creek bed was a magnet
Turning into hell
There was no time for grieving
When a comrade fell
Men in blue so certain
They could get it done
Letting loose their volley at Plum Run
(repeat chorus)
They plunged into that swale
Knowing it was grim
They knew it had to be
If they were to win
They had a resolution
Not to give one inch
So they could guard an asset:
Cemetery Ridge
Lumberjacks and farmers
From so far away
Showed their love of Union in that place
(repeat chorus, then repeat last line of chorus)
© 2016 Brian R. Williams

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