Lightner West and the Horrors of War

Yesterday I inadvertently had a War Movie Day. I happened to be at my mom’s while she watched Monuments Men, and then I went with my dad to see the new Brad Pitt WWII tank movie, Fury.

Strangely enough, I had just hours earlier been perusing the Compiled Civil War Service Records for my 3rd great-grandfather, Lightner West. The records didn’t amount to much. He cropped up as a private on the roster of the 56th Georgia Infantry, Company D (the “Hall Volunteers”) and that was about it. As it turns out, most of the records were affidavits from his young wife, Sarah E. Moore West, swearing that yes indeed she was married to him and that she was owed the $50 bounty he never collected for volunteering for the war effort.

Lightner West civil War

So I guess, with this, and Veteran’s Day coming, war was on my mind when, in both movies I watched yesterday, I made the connection that each relied on a small incident involving a child soldier.

I suppose child soldiers are supposed to illustrate the horrors of war. But are we so desensitized to the horrors of war that we need to show little kids with guns getting shot or blown up to shake us up?

War is already horrible. Everybody already suffers. There are the soldiers who find themselves making excruciating choices on the battlefield, or the occupied who chew on shoe leather to stay alive, or the woman who can choose to collaborate and feel the scorn of her community, or watch her children’s stomachs swell as they slowly starve to death.

Yesterday, I made a sad timeline.

Lightner Leander West was born in Spartanburg or Union County, SC in January 1842.

He married Sarah E. Moore in January 1862. He conceived their only child with her sometime that spring.

In May of 1862 he enlisted in the Army of the Confederate States of America.

In October of 1862 he died, probably from illness, in Tazewell, Tennessee.

He was 20-years-old, and a schoolteacher, and a father who never met his son. He had blue eyes and fair hair and died, suffering, far away from anyone who loved him.

War is already horrible. We shouldn’t need to see child soldiers in every war movie to remember that.


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