Kennesaw Mountain sticks out of the rolling piedmont of North Georgia like the preposterously vertical subject of some romantic Chinese watercolor. It is so steep that, when I was a kid, I used to wonder whether· anybody had ever climbed all the way to the top. But, of course, somebody had. On June 27, 1864, a good part of the Army of the Tennessee climbed up there, hoping Sherman would try to root them out.
Sam Watkins wrote about what happened in his memoir, Company Aitch. What he said was – I’m·paraphrasing here – I don’t have the book in front of me, but it’s a good paraphrase because Sam used the kind of phrases that stick in your mind: Most veterans will tell you they don’t know whether they killed anybody. But nobody who was on Kennesaw Mountain can say that. It was load and shoot. Load and shoot. Three. Four. Five dozen apiece.
The men who tried to get by Company H that morning did something I never heard about in any other battle any- where. They wrote their names on pieces of paper and pinned them to the backs of their tunics so their bodies could be identified.
They were right to do that. Not one of them made it to the top. And some 3,000 never came back down, about the same number of Americans as those who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, forgotten, now, in a minor battle of a single campaign six major wars ago.
As a Southern boy, I have a dispute as to what that fight was about, but I know this: Those guys thought freedom had a lot to do with why they were trying to get past Sam Watkins and Company H that day. And they went up that mountain, knowing they would not be shot in the back, so that people they could never imagine could live in freedom.
We do not honor those men, nor the million or so others over the past 225 years who died in defense of 0 ur freedoms, by so easily and willingly giving over the fruits of what they earned for the hope of some incremental increase in our own security.