The National Cemetary at Andersonville, Georgia. Hundreds of identical white grave markers standing at attention, lined up in perfect formation. Regiment of ghost soldiers ready to march into battle. Not even room for a full name: Newel, Strups, Arnold--anonymous as a grey wave charging the hill...
Fascinating, these tintypes of the Civil War. One thing I can say is that these folks were experts in the lost art of posturing--every photo is choreographed like a stage production. Thirty men--doctors and surgeons--in and around the hospital where they work...and every one of 'em striking a stance or a profile, even the guys inside looking out the windows!
Inside the trenches before Petersburg, Virginia...Union soldiers waiting to meet their fate--and on the rise above them their commanders gazing into the distance, but unmistakably POSED, as if the eye of the camera supersedes all concerns.
General Robert E. Lee...dandified, a dapper looking fellow in bow tie, vest, and waistcoat. Your slacks are the perfect length and your shoes so shiny they reflect the sunlight. You sent your infantry charging federal artillery emplacements on Malvern Hill and they were slaughtered. You took a long time dressing...they spent a short time dying.
General Ulysses S. Grant...dressed to the nines like your Confederate counterpart--posing like a movie star at Cold Harbor, where your blundering offensive against entrenched rebel forces caused seven thousand Union casualties in a span of twenty minutes.
Dead confederate soldier in the trenches--April 3rd, 1865, Petersburg, Virginia. You look no more than 14 for God's sake. Lying on your back, head with its shock of blonde hair tilted at an angle--I swear there's a hint of a smile on your lips, as at the moment of sexual release, when one also gives his full measure...
President Lincoln and his generals at Antietam...you tower above your men, Abe, but then you're the only one with a stove pipe hat--even in your day, you must have been a laughing stock of fashion--perhaps you were trying to draw attention away from your ears, huge as grapefruits.
Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady...all decked out in your balloon skirt, a crown of flowers in your hair--dressed more like a queen--but plain looking at best. He broke off his engagement to you once, and I think he'd have rather had a hole in the head than marry you...an admonition for the rest of us to be careful what we wish for.
John Wilkes Booth--hair so curly as to be unmanageable; hand resting inside your jacket--a typical affectation of the times--in your case, however, we're not sure just what you might be reaching for.
Alexandria, Virginia...the sign on the three story building says: PRICE, BIRCH, & CO.--DEALERS IN SLAVES. Here's where I put myself into the picture. I walk up to the two soldiers sitting on the bench near the door and say, "Howdy boys...you can probably guess I'm not from around here, but I just came by to say that I think...that if you could WIN, perhaps it would save us from a place called VIETNAM--and if you could win, maybe it could save us from a place called IRAQ, and a place called AFGHANISTAN. But I gotta tell ya this idea of human beings as chattel is reprehensible, and it's going to stain you and your descendants for more than a century to come. And I wonder why we always have to KICK SOMEBODY'S ASS--or they have to kick ours--before any of us can comprehend the error of our ways!" (This is where I magically disappear, before they can spatter me with tobacco juice.)
Unfortunate, because I wanted to tell them that one day, this reunified nation would become the most potent force for good...or evil...in the world.At times POSING as one, while essentially becoming the other.
And I wanted to tell them that if THEY could win, perhaps they could save us from ourselves.