What does Memorial Day mean to you? A day off from work to relax? Well we all love a nice day off but we should all take a moment from our day to give thanks to those that we are supposed to remember. Now I know many people that don’t have people in their lives that have been in the military. For me that is far from the truth. I have relatives that have fought in the U.S. military in every war since the Civil War in 1861. I learned recently that my great great grandpa Richard McIntosh was a part of the battle at Gettysburg.
Part of what I have been doing on my whirlwind tour of the US is learning about how the country came to be. I have been learning about Presidents, Wars, Forts, Independence, etc. This year 2011 is the 200th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Something that I have become fascinated with is the people that are so resolute about their opinion that they are willing to die for it. I don’t really have any opinions that I believe in so firmly that I would die for it. I have people I love that I might die for but if someone put a gun to my head and told me to change my opinion about something in all likelihood I would give it up. I just don’t hold my truths to be that important, then again I am not fighting for the rights of my nation. My grandfather was.
To give you a little background on my grandfather you may begin to see why he went to war. In the early 1800s Richard went out one night and being a good Scot he went down to the pub and got a little loaded. Well a little might be off a little. He passed out from his imbibing and the next morning he awoke on a vessel headed for the New World. Upon his arrival he was enslaved and forced to work on a tobacco farm in Virginia. Well being the good Scot that he was he was not going to have any of that. Scotsmen are not known for being a submissive sort so he worked it out and escaped from his captors. He ran off and lived in the countryside until he heard tale of a war for the freedom of slaves. Being a kind-hearted (if persnickety) soul he made his way to Pennsylvania to sign up with the Union. Recently the National Archives in Washington D.C. allowed all of the Civil War documents to be scanned and added to the National Registry. This allowed me to actually see the document where Richard had signed up to fight against the slave owners in the South.
He was not known as a calm person. He was quite boisterous. The Battle of Gettysburg may have been his first battle. We are not quite sure but we do know that he fought there and was shot in the leg. He survived the bloodiest battle in American history but he did not get off without damage. Damage to his leg that nearly lost him the limb but also to his psyche. After the war he was given land by the government and moved out to Kentucky where he would live out his years. He was known to shoot at anyone that knocked on the door without announcing themselves first. I imagine he was always concerned that the people that shanghaied him would come back. His house still stands in the mountains of Kentucky with gunshot holes through the door. A testament to an era gone but never forgotten.
Thank you Grandpa for making the world a better place. If you had not sacrificed yourself for a cause you believed in I may not have had an adopted little brother named John McIntosh who is African American. You helped make that possible. Gone but never Forgotten!