Monday, June 29, 2009

New Review

I just wanted to let everyone know that my book has received another review, which is posted on Amazon, and also on the TOCWOC Civil War blog. Thanks for your support!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Memphis

Upon moving to Memphis, I decided to check out the city. Besides all the astounding music that resides there, i.e. Beale Street, the Rock and Soul Museum, Stax Museum of American Soul, and Graceland, to name a few, there is plenty of Civil War history as well.

Nathan Bedford Forrest is honored with a statue (under which he and his wife are entombed) and a park named after him. Elmwood Cemetery, one of the oldest in the area, holds the graves of yellow fever victims (there was an epidemic in 1878) in one section, Masons in another area, Chinese in another, and slaves in yet another. At Victorian Village, several mansions stand, one of which is called the Woodruff-Fontaine House, said to be haunted.

The Mississippi River played a vital role in the war, because the Yankees knew that, once they gained control of this essential, watery thoroughfare, the Confederacy would be terminally crippled. Memphis fell to Union occupation early in the war, as did New Orleans. Vicksburg, Mississippi would succumb a year later. General Grant achieved victory for these defeats, which then catapulted him to the position of Major General of the U. S. Army. After the war, a fellow by the name of Mark Twain (which is a boating term in reference to the river’s water level) would gain notoriety with his infamous novels. There is so much amazing history here in Memphis that I hope it isn’t forgotten and pushed by the wayside to make room for changing philosophies and advancements.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Visiting Shiloh National Military Park

Last weekend, I convinced my family to take a road trip to Shiloh, which is about two hours from where we live. Once we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that admission was free due to Father's Day. Although the temperature threatened to reach 100, we still enjoyed the time we spent there. My son and I went through the small museum at the visitor's center, and watched the 1/2 hour long movie about the battle. (The movie is from the 50's. Time to do an update!)

We then proceeded to stop #4, where we were entertained by members of Selden's Alabama Battery and Tarrant's Alabama Battery. These guys are genuinely devoted historians. They'd have to be, to dress up in wool uniforms in order to perform living history demonstrations. They enlightened the crowd by displaying an authentic campsite, firing off two cannons, and explaining the procedure required to do so. (It takes six men to fire off a cannon.)

Following the demonstration, we took the driving tour of the park, and saw the National Cemetery, the Confederate mass grave sites, the enormous monuments, and Pittsburgh Landing on the Tennessee River. The peach orchard has been replanted to replicate the original, and Bloody Pond still emits a strange, reddish coloration, but supports wildlife. (We noticed several small fish swimming in the pond.) The day was hot and humid, but the experience was profound and inspirational. Our son, who has never seen the park before, really enjoyed it, and learned much about the battle.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brice's Crossroads Reenactment (Part 2)

More great photos!

Brice's Crossroads Reenactment

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Brice's Crossroads near Tupelo, Mississippi. The event started out on Friday, but because a freak rain/hail/tornado storm blew in, the festivities ended early. However, they resumed again Saturday at about noon. Saturday morning was crazy in that torrential rains still persisted, but they eventually dissipated, and although it was hazy and overcast, the day was very warm and humid. There were well over 1000 reenactors present, including 400 cavalry, ambulances, infantry (of course), and an oxen-pulled wagon. Ladies in hoop skirts gathered with the crowd of onlookers, combining past and present as the battle was revisited on the actual site, with a small cemetery filled with Confederate dead overlooking the battlefield.

I saw "Nathan Bedford Forrest" atop his steed at a distance, but alas, was unable to meet the man in person. It's always fun to meet the reenactors, and get their take on the characters they portray. Last year, I met "Stonewall Jackson," and he was such a nice guy that I wondered if the actual Stonewall would be pleased. There was a great turnout of soldiers, and spectators as well, and a living history area was also set up, along with a sutlers row.

What makes this reenactment unique is that it takes place on the actual battlefield. The battle took about an hour and a half to play out, but in the end, the Yankees were driven from the field. I found it amusing to hear members of the audience making comments like, "There's a dead Yankee down there by the road," or "they got another Yankee." There were about thirty working cannons, and the earth-shattering boom they created, followed by billowing smoke that floated across the battlefield like a specter, was nothing less than awesome.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brice's Crossroads Book Signing Successful

My book signing on Saturday at the 145th Anniversary of the Battle of Brice's Crossroads was a big success! The event was a lot of fun, and fortunately, the rain stopped just in time for the festivities to begin. Thanks to everyone for their help and support.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cavalry Week

Two significant cavalry battles of the Civil War took place during this week. The Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863 was the largest cavalry battle to ever take place on American soil, and yet, it is an obscure battle to the mainstream. Whenever I mention it, most people have never heard of it. In fact, I became curious only because the battle took place on my birthday!

The battle was a confrontation between Confederate cavalry commanded by General J.E.B. Stuart, and Union cavalry under General David Gregg. It was considered a Confederate victory, even though it was more like a draw, and the Rebels were taken by surprise, which nearly cost them the battle. When I visited the battlefield several years ago, I discovered a fascinating piece of history that was nearly lost. The Graffiti House stands at the edge of the battlefield on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. After years of neglect, the building was almost demolished, but in 1993, a discovery was made. Under layers of paint, signatures of both Union and Confederate soldiers, along with drawings they’d made, were written in charcoal on the walls, one of which was by General Stuart himself. Since that time, the structure ha become part of the Brandy Station Foundation, and is in the process of being restored.

The other notable battle took place on June 10, 1864, in what is known as Brice’s Crossroads. In this battle, General Nathan Bedford Forrest set out to destroy the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which was supplying General Sherman in anticipation of his March to the Sea. Forrest confronted Union General Samuel Sturgis, and defeated the much larger Union opposition.

Because of these two important battles, I hereby declare this week to be National Cavalry Week, in hopes that these battles will not be forgotten, like so many other, smaller Civil War battles have been. The idea of soldiers fighting on horseback has always intrigued me, and I hope it will inspire others as well.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Old Forts Are Not Forgotten

Over the weekend, I traveled to Mobile Bay, where I saw for the first time what remains of Ft. Morgan. The fortification is located at the very tip of land that stretches across the mouth of the bay like a long, skinny finger. It was built following the War of 1812, and was used up until 1946. Although the structure is merely a skeleton of its former self, it still resembles what, during its day, was an impermeable design. In fact, it probably wouldn't have fallen to Union troops on August 23, 1864 if it hadn't been overrun.

This is where Admiral David Farragut, upon attacking the Confederates at the fort, uttered his famous order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" The Union fleet penetrated the fort by blasting past the Rebel vessels and through the minefield, thus taking control of the fort. The U.S.S. Tecumseh monitor was destroyed by the C.S.S. Tennessee, and sank just off the coast, killing 90 of its crew.

The fort was reactivated during the Spanish-American War, and was used as a training base during WWI. In the forties, it was reactivated once again, and manned by the Coast Guard. In 1946, it was deactivated and turned over to the Alabama.

Even though the fort is old and somewhat creepy, with weeds growing up through the handmade bricks that make up the walls, it is a fascinating edifice with an intriguing story to tell. Pieces of rusty cannons lie half-buried in the white sand below the fort, remnants of what was once a magnificent battle. The view from the batteries out over the bay is spectacular. I highly recommend that everyone take the opportunity to see this fort if they can, and/or Ft. Gaines, which stands at the west side of the bay.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Walmart is Taking Over

Last month, a news conference was held in Virginia concerning the expansion of yet another Walmart store into the Wilderness battlefield area (there are already four). I have been to the battlefield, and I can attest that, to see subdivisions and strip malls go up over what I consider to be sacred ground is nauseating. The same thing is happening to many Civil War battlefields across the nation. At Brandy Station, Virginia, shopping malls are threatening to overtake the battlefield as well. To me, it is like building on top of a graveyard. In some cases, it is exactly that.

Recently, while progress was being made near Franklin, Tennessee, a Union soldier's remains were unearthed. Alarming as this might have been to the construction workers, big box stores still insist on encroaching.

I realize that it has been a very long time since the War Between the States took place, but we should nevertheless honor those soldiers, our ancestors, who fought and died in honor of their homelands. That is why it is so important to support groups such as the Civil War Preservation Trust. Last year, the CWPT prevented gambling casinos from moving into Gettysburg. Thankfully, with respect, the town and battlefield will remain hallowed ... at least, for now.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Can't Change History

Last week, certain individuals attempted to convince President Obama that he should not honor Confederate fallen with a wreath for Memorial Day. Gratefully, the president ignored these requests, and sent a wreath to Arlington National Cemetery anyway. These people argued that, by honoring Confederate soldiers, it was a symbol of racism. Unfortunately, they fail to see the whole picture. Those men fought and died for what they believed in, and chances are, it didn't have anything to do with slavery. What people fail to take into account is that the entire nation was racist at that time. Northerners didn't want the slaves freed, because that meant they would come up and take away their jobs. Southerners didn't want them freed, because it meant they would lose their free labor system. By failing to acknowledge the Confederate graves, the President would have been turning his back on Americans who died for their country.

This situation reminds me of the controversy that surfaced last year. A candidate running for office attempted to raise the issue of tearing down the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis, and renaming the park. Again, the cry of racism rang out. To me, it seems a mute point. People in the 1800's just didn't think like we do today ... period. To destroy Nathan Bedford Forrest Park would be to try to erase history, and in my opinion, that is terribly wrong. As one writer declared in a letter to the editor, printed in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "Leave Nathan Bedford Forrest alone!" I can't agree more.

Is it wrong to honor those heroes who fought and died for what they believed in, even if it is considered racist today? I don't believe it is. We have to take into account the mindset of the day, and even though our morals and opinions have changed since then, to devalue and deface their name and image would be tragic. There are plenty of occasions throughout history that have offended, oppressed, humbled, and humiliated. It is our responsibility to learn from these situations, and become a better people because of them.