The Sunflower

Gordon: Celebrate the defeat of the Confederacy by making Appomattox Day a national holiday

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Gordon: Celebrate the defeat of the Confederacy by making Appomattox Day a national holiday

April 9 was 154 years to the day that the Army of Northern Virginia was surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. As the day came and went, I kept thinking about a quote from the historian Barbara Fields. To paraphrase, Fields said the Civil Was is not “was,” it’s “is,” and she’s absolutely correct.

We still struggle over the central issues of that war: racism, patriotism, federal power, and what it really means to be “American.” Understanding how we got here is a key part of understanding who we currently are, and unfortunately, many Americans are severely lacking in this respect.

Enshrining the defeat of the Confederate States at Appomattox Courthouse as a national holiday would rightfully lift its place in American history to that of extreme importance — forcing a national conversation about how we continue to fight our own ideological civil wars every day.

The American Civil War was, in many ways, the creation of a modern United States. It cemented the supremacy of the union and created a federal government that would gain exponentially greater power in the coming decades.

Without a Union victory, the American experiment would have failed — destroying the fundamentals of our democracy. Instead, it showcased to the world the strength of union and the folly of disunion, a dynamic we still abide by to this day.

The war also ideologically destroyed the fundamental bigotry built into our laws, although we still struggle with serious problems of institutional racism. This is a perfect defense of Fields’ statement that the Civil War is an ongoing struggle, even though the battles have been over for over 150 years.

The ideological struggle, one for the moral heart of a nation, began the minute the Declaration of Independence was finished — and rages still — but the Civil War represents a significant shifting paradigm in this struggle. It enshrined legal equality of the races into law for the first time in the nation’s history.

Although by no means a perfect solution to any problem — nor an undeniable success — the end of our Civil War, represented by the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia on April 9, 1865, is undoubtably one of the most important moments in our nation’s history.

This importance must be enshrined in a way that matches the magnitude of what 700,000 American citizens died for. April 9 must be a national holiday. We are far too close to forgetting the momentous occasion that delivered modern America into our hands.

Just as President Lincoln said while standing by the tens of thousands of men buried at Gettysburg, “But [the world] can never forget what [the dead] did here.”

We must not forget them. We must not forget what they struggled for, and we must not forget that, regrettably, their struggle can still be in vain if we don’t pick up the banner and charge forward.

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