Whether we realize it or not, history is being made.
It is hard, almost impossible, when we are in the midst of great tumult to even consider that decades from now, we will be telling the story of the coronavirus calamity to people who were born after it. That is already happening with Sept. 11. It has been happening with World War II and Korea for decades. Of course, the American Civil War is even more distant. The last survivors of that war have been gone for nearly three-quarters of a century, and the vast majority have been gone for more than a century.
During the four years of our civil war, some 700,000 soldiers died. Estimates are that perhaps 100,000 civilians perished. Incredibly, the population of our country at that time was only about 30 million. To put all of that into modern terms, based on today’s population, about 5,000 people died every day — for four years. At least half of them died of disease.
I think it is safe to say that Carter House and Carnton have never been so quiet as they have over the past couple of weeks. As the trees have leafed out and the grass has gotten green, the quietness is almost surreal. The sounds of guests, tour guides, and cars in the parking lot have been replaced by birds, bees and the wind. I cannot imagine how the spring of 1865 must have been perceived by the battered American public as the guns of war finally went silent and the spring awakening occurred — the first quiet one in a long time.
For almost 200 years Carter House and Carnton have been witness to the great epochs in American history — both good and bad. They have watched local history unfold and also played a role on the national stage. They stand quietly now, as before, waiting for Franklin to re-emerge and for the country to return to a sense of normal.
On March 18, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly at the Cooper Union in New York City to the Women’s Central Association of Relief, an early version of what we know as the Red Cross. He said, at one point:
“In this extraordinary war, extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars…”
I think we might all agree that none of us have ever watched our country almost entirely shut down. But different groups of people, in different times, have had to deal with situations that were entirely foreign to them and decidedly unexpected. This is our challenge. There has been death, and there will be more. There will be additional costs. But we, too, as others have done, will endure.
In the weeks to come we will re-open Carter House and Carnton and once again welcome visitors. But being closed has placed a financial burden on us, as it has so many other businesses and individuals. Any support you might be able to provide at this time would be greatly appreciated. You have been so generous in the past that I regret having to ask for your help now, but this is obviously an extraordinary time.
We will weather this storm, and this uncertain time will become part of our history. I have said many times that history is, in simple form, something that happened to other people — whether happy, tragic, momentous, or something else. History is important because whatever the event may have been, it was quite real to those who experienced it, as this is real to us. Let us work together to get back on track, to learn needed and appropriate lessons from this experience, and never forget that history is our common bond.
More than ever before, I cannot wait to see you on the battlefield.