William Cuthbert Faulkner (September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962) knew much about the heart and dreams of a young man. Even better, he wrote about those dreams and the spirit of America. He was a southerner and an American and both labels seemed to wrestle within his soul as to which was more important. Like anyone of southern descent, I understand those emotions. Nothing can quite move me to tears like the sight of Old Glory dancing on the whisps of a summer breeze. And yet, there is something electric that courses through me when I hear the strains of “Dixie”, or see the old Battle Flag:
Oh see her stars, how bright they shine, upon that cross of blue,
Wrapped within the pure white of solemn vows renewed,
Transfixed upon a field stained by youthful hearts, the Earth reclaimed,
Twas ever nobler banner sewn? Twas ever nobler banner flown?
Faulkner is perhaps best known for a brief description of how a young southern boy (and many an older man) envisioned the scene before Pickett’s charge on 3 July, 1863. It was the last great act before the sun began to set upon the Confederacy. Afterward, as Lee began his retreat, and Vicksburg fell, the southern armies would continue their fight, but every road they trod, every step they took, would lead them slowly, painfully, to Appomattox. Still, a young man can dream, and Faulkner knew that dream well. He wrote:
It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago;
From: Intruder in the Dust (1948)
I am proud to be an American, and happy we have these United States. But I am also proud of how my folks stood up for their beliefs, and put them to the test. They bore the weight of battle, and when it was done, when the issue was decided, they laid aside their arms and once more took up their vocations, rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt what was lost.
That’s who we are. That’s what we do. Tomorrow, we celebrate the birth of these United States, and it would be wise for those who would test our resolve to study our great civil war, and it’s aftermath. We can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare. God Bless these United States.