Gettysburg Reparations

The dead at Gettysburg lie silent. Yet their actions are louder than our words.

By Isaac Willour


Spending a morning in Gettysburg is a haunting experience. The sunrise brings a strange dichotomy as the first rays of light hit the first rows of graves. Row upon row of gravestones dot the quiet green lawns, punctuated by the occasional memorial and cannon. More than six thousand men lie at rest beneath these tranquil grounds—more than half of them laid to rest after three days of brutal fighting between Union and Confederate soldiers in July 1863. Yet they lay side by side, finding their final peace next to brother and foe alike under the rolling hills of Pennsylvania.

And I think to myself—how am I supposed to explain this to my future kids?


The Modern Race Debate

It’s not going to be easy, regardless. Explaining America’s history regarding race and the abject failures of both sides of the political aisle to give agency-creating answers for Americans of color isn’t an easy question—it’s an issue I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life answering in some form or fashion. But let’s not use the panacea of both-sides-ism to gloss over the fact that there are actors infusing the American race debate with a deadly cocktail of cynicism and deceit.

I’m referring, of course, to Critical Race theorists like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, who’ve made a fortune peddling their depressing narratives not only to white-guilted liberals but also impressionable children of color, many of whom who will now grow up with the fundamentally evil and destructive idea imprinted in their brains that every hurdle or obstacle they face is somehow the outpouring of America’s ongoing failure to quash its original sin.


Profound Pessimism

It’s racism, says the Pied Piper. It’s white supremacy. Ethnocentric Christofascism, even. Such are the depths to which the American race debate has sunk—advocacy for a profoundly soulless and fatalistic worldview that views the historically marginalized as incapable of overcoming that marginalization and being empowered with the actual power that moral agency provides. 

So what does any of this have to do with a field in Pennsylvania? It’s an answer to the perennial question of the modern anti-racist movement: what has America actually done to make good on its promises of rectifying its original sin of racism and progressing toward a bright future of liberty and equality? In other words, it’s an answer to the reparations question.



It’s the question that makes conservatives and even moderate liberals fundamentally uncomfortable, because it seems to presuppose that the answer to the race question is financial in nature. While actors like Kendi and DiAngelo certainly seem to think that these answers are financial (as long as it can be measured in book sales), the underlying assumption is that American anti-racism can be measured in dollars and cents. Now, it certainly could be (Ta-nehisi Coates and many others have expressly argued so), but to think that’s all that it takes/the only way to fix American racism is a profound misunderstanding of the capacity of Western civilization.

Let’s cut to the chase: Gettysburg is part of American reparations. As is Shiloh, and Antietam, and Bull Run. Gettysburg represents an argument regarding American history that the modern anti-racist movement seems unwilling to take up: the dead in the Civil War represent part of the price paid to destroy an evil insurrectionist regime (a term used by President Lincoln at the time) that viewed racist chattel slavery as a fundamental part of its existence. The thousands who died in the Civil War, albeit for a plethora of reasons, were the price to maintain America and push it forward into a brighter day of racial equality.


Racial Progress

You do not get to the Million Man March, or Selma, or ‘I Have a Dream,’ without the sacrifices of the men at Gettysburg. That matters. In the process of righting the darkest parts of the American story, it matters. It doesn’t matter if it never gets an Atlantic op-ed (or sermon, as John McWhorter might say). It doesn’t matter if the agitators in America’s race debate insist that it’s not a real victory unless every individual soldier on the Union side could pass an implicit bias test. It’s the tangible proof, written in blood, that the American dream of liberty and equality for all was worth sacrificing its native sons.

I look at the America of today, think about the kids I may one day have, and feel a profound sense of depression. Not merely because the generation that comes after us is going to be a target for pernicious ideologies regarding their own identity backed up by state power, but because my kids are going to have to figure out how they fit into America. Not all of the anger and frustration in America’s race debate is misguided (although some is certainly misdirected).


A Stone of Hope

Yet, we don’t just live in the America that saw slavery and Jim Crow. We live in the America where thousands of men laid down their lives, Gettysburg included, to create an America where “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” That is what reparations fundamentally means—the word reparations quite literally means to renew and restore.

This nation, this great nation, that wasn’t born perfect, has made tremendous progress to renew and restore the meaning of its promises. We owe it to the ones who died—not just to make sure that the America they built lives on, but to not forget their sacrifice, because their actions speak louder than our words, our “poor power to add or detract.” And if we’re not telling that to our future kids, we’re selling them short on just how resilient and truly unique this country is.


About the Author

Isaac Willour is a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom and the editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News. An award-winning journalist and political science student, he has covered topics ranging from Florida’s death row to the war in Ukraine and has published more than a hundred pieces in outlets ranging from The Gospel Coalition to National Review to The Wall Street Journal. He has also contributed to interviews on the state of American politics for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and The New York Times Opinion. He blogs about culture, religion, and Generation Z at The Unafraid on Substack.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.