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Wilder Tower, Chickamauga NP, by JDPBy John Pierce

Age can bring perspective. For example, the U.S. Civil War seemed like ancient history when I was a child and youth.

Yet less than a century had passed from the bloody Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 19-20, 1863 to my birth just outside the nation’s oldest and largest military park.

The pristine grounds where my family would picnic and I would toss Frisbees or footballs with friends in front of Wilder Tower had just nine decades earlier been the scene of such gruesome American-on-American crime.

Recently I stopped by the Chickamauga National Military Park visitor center to see what had taken shape in recent years and to browse through the exhibits. One episode — following the war — caught my attention unlike it had before.

On Sept. 19, 1889, exactly 26 years after the devastating battle, some Union and Confederate veterans gathered in nearby Chattanooga to consider turning the battleground just over the Georgia line (and other sites in the area) into a national park. Those fellow Americans who had bludgeoned one another just years earlier now shared handshakes, memories and a common goal.

Union General William Rosecrans, whose Army of the Cumberland had been defeated at Chickamauga but whose side emerged victorious from the larger war, remarked: “One of the most noble features to me of this occasion is this: It is very difficult to find in history an instance where contending parties in after-years meet together in perfect amity. It took great men to win that battle, but it takes greater men still, I will say morally greater, to wipe away all the ill feeling which naturally grows out of such a contest.”

The next day, the blue and gray veterans shared a big barbecue beside a spring in what is now Chickamauga, Ga. And they agreed to move forward with the park (which was dedicated in 1895) as a memorial to those who fell in the costly, two-day battle: 4,045 killed with thousands more wounded or missing.

Whether in personal relationships, community life or large-scale conflicts, reconciliation is good and important work. However, prevention is so much better.

I kept wondering: What if that barbecue had been thrown before the conflict?

It may not have made a difference. Passions were high, power struggles were growing and economic interests were at stake. Such are the ingredients of most conflicts.

My thoughts focused less on that particular war a century and half ago than on the larger idea of finding more constructive ways to address conflict — before rather than after the damage is done and broken pieces need to be glued together.

Founding editor Walker Knight, on whose shoulders I stand to write each day, coined a good phrase that has appeared on the lips of a U.S. president and on refrigerator magnets in Israel: “Peace, like war, must be waged.”

Indeed. Eat the barbecue first. Seek better, more constructive ways to resolve differences.

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