The weight of war–a 150th musing on Manassas

From John Hennessy (a Manassas musing on the 150th anniversary of the battle–newly updated with an additional image):

No photograph I have ever seen conveys more vividly the weight of war on those who struggled through it than this one.

This is an image of Lt. Colonel Joseph McLean of the 88th Pennsylvania–his shirt unbuttoned, shoulders slumped, face heavy with sadness or fatigue. Precisely 150 years ago this afternoon–almost to the minute as I write this–McLean fell in the swirl of fighting on Chinn Ridge, at Second Manassas. About most who fell in this war, we know little beyond the official record–little of their life, their being, or their death. But of this man, Lt. Colonel Joseph McLean of the 88th Pennsylvania, we know a good deal.

Compare that image with this one, taken just before the Civil War, newly provided by McLean descendant Tim Perella (I am grateful for his sending it along and helping to share the story of Joseph McLean).

The purpose of war is to inflict hurt and suffering and destruction and death in quantity and intensity enough to compel the other side to yield the effort. Every death sent a pulse of pain through a family, community, and nation that in some way challenged their will to continue.

Back in my Manassas days, the family of Joseph McLean came to the battlefield, bearing his pictures and letters. Mike Andrus took them to the place where “Uncle Joe,” as they called him, fell. The pain from his death lingered still. ┬áIt was a tortuous, compelling experience for the family, made more so by the crushing blow McLean’s death was for his wife and family. Continue reading