Louisa Gray

Louisa Gray

At least 700 Brunswick Elementary School students attend a new, handsome, superbly equipped facility and campus on McKeen Street. It is aptly commemorated to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote her famous book on the horrors of slavery, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” in 1861 while living in Brunswick at a time her husband taught at Bowdoin College.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” quickly became a worldwide success and contributed substantially to the beginning of the Civil War.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous comment to Harriet Beecher Stowe: “So you’re the little lady who started this great war!”

What you may not know is that “this great war” became tragic for her own family — like so many thousands of others — due to the severe injury of her only surviving son, Capt. Frederick Stowe, in the famous Battle of Gettysburg. He never recovered — only one small example of the outcome of more than 23,000 Union soldiers either killed, missing or wounded over those three days at Gettysburg.

The total number of casualties from that battle has been estimated at 51,000 American soldiers and is often described as “the most stunning carnage of the entire Civil War.”

The valiant Mrs. Stowe, while totally broken-hearted as a mother, continued to lobby relentlessly for the emancipation of slaves.

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War will soon draw to a close. It has indeed been awesome and highly educational, marked by a steady stream of extremely well-documented articles in all our country’s leading publications.

One would hope this past year’s exhaustive documentation of the most deeply tragic period of our history to date has caused a tremendous reawakening of our entire population to the evils of war and our almost continuous participation in “back to back” wars throughout the 150 years since.

Have we become more aware of the actual legacy we have created and are leaving for our cherished young people? What have we been awakening in the millions of students across the country as they move into the future of our nation ahead of them?

Here in our town, it has become one of the most cherished and exciting educational traditions for fifth-grade students over the past 10 years to mount their own re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg each spring, following intensive study of the Civil War. These students are to be commended for their enthusiastic efforts to re-enact this famous battle.

Additionally, they need to be congratulated for their impressive use of dramatic improvisation — an especially powerful teaching tool — to re-create this particularly shocking and bloody battle. These elementary school students have been using their wonderful imaginative powers to re-create this history … what if they could be encouraged to redirect it to envision their own deep dreams and hopes for their future inheritance as citizens in the United States of America? Would it be one of a peaceable, loving, cooperative and just community reaching out to everyone living on Earth?

We adults all know that a very precarious future lies just ahead for every one of us, and that there are deep divisions within our citizenry continuing to deter our desire to become a stronger, more unified democracy.

Are we willing to admit war is wrong, that it has always been wrong for human beings to kill other human beings, and that our present-day warlike behaviors need to be confronted and healed?

Are more of us ready to admit that war as we have known it is now obsolete?

How are we going to prepare our children for the future challenges ahead of us as they continue playing war games, and as gun violence in our schools continues to escalate?

Can we begin to mount a big educational effort throughout our schools to begin to build a world without war and the further destruction of our beautiful earth?

What can we begin to do right here in Brunswick — right here and right now — now matter how small?

LOUISA GRAY lives in Brunswick.


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