It was the ultimate constitutional challenge, making the depths of rancor exhibited in politics today look like afternoon tea in a rose garden.
One hundred and fifty years ago, a perfect storm of conflicts had torn this nation in half, made cousins enemies capable of shooting one another and willing to do it, and testing, as Abraham Lincoln said, whether one nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal "or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
A century and a half ago Pennsylvanians, including many from Warren County, joined those from other northern states and volunteered to preserve that concept, offering up their lives for a concept that seems so simple to us today that we can't imagine Americans going to war with other Americans over it. On the other side were volunteers just as dedicated to preserving their own way of life.
As 1861 came lurching to a close, many months of bloodshed were to follow. The loss of life would be horrific.
There are many lessons we should take away from that time, and we need to impart them to our children so that they may be preserved. We should teach them not just how we killed one another, but why.
As the great Civil War historian Shelby Foote said in an interview, "And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads."
We may argue, and we may bluster, but our strength was forged in that crucible.
There is a monument in Soldiers and Sailors Park in Warren that pays tribute to this county's contribution to that trial. The next time you pass by, take a moment and look at the granite faces and read the names of places where Warren Countians paid with their lives.