Monday, November 30, 2009

Battle of Franklin - Then and Now

On this date in 1864, the Battle of Franklin took place in Franklin, Tennessee. The battle was a decisive victory for the Union army, and paved the way for Sherman's March to the Sea. Like so many Civil War battles, severe blunders were made by the generals. In this case, Confederate General John Bell Hood allowed the Yankees to pass his army in the middle of the night, where they managed to establish themselves in breastworks that were essentially impenetrable by the Rebels. Many Confederate soldiers met their deaths as they marched on the fortifications, which would become known as "Pickett's Charge of the West." Six Confederate generals were killed. The Rebels lost over 6,000 casualties; the Union lost a little over 2,000. This was due in part to the Union army's advantage in using repeating rifles.

Recently, the battle was revisited when construction crews unearthed the remains of a soldier last spring. In appropriate military style, the remains were laid to rest with full honors, including a three-volley salute, and many participants attended in period clothing. A crowd of around 3,000 observed the funeral procession and ceremony. Although the soldier's affiliation is unclear, several U.S. eagle buttons and a spent bullet were found at the grave site. The casket was draped with flags from both the United States and the Confederate States.

Two special attendees were also on hand. One was 91-year-old Harold Becker from Michigan. His father fought for the Union side at the Battle of Franklin, and according to Becker, only had good things to say about the Rebels he fought, admiring their bravery. The other was James Brown Sr. from Tennessee, who represented the Confederate side as a Real Son. He talked about how his father rarely discussed his experiences, except for the suffering that the Confederates had to endure. When the two met, they immediately embraced before delving into discussion about their ancestors. The two gentlemen were given special seating at the funeral, and escorted the horse-drawn buggy to the cemetery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would like to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving! Of course we all know that Thanksgiving originated with the pilgrims. But did you know that the holiday wasn't made official until 1863? President Lincoln declared a national day of thanks, to take place on November 26, after the Union victory at Gettysburg. The speech, which was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, declared that every fourth Thursday in November would thereafter be an official U.S. holiday.

George Washington, in 1789, called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer, but an annual event wasn't observed. This was in part because successive presidents thought it was going against the Constitution's separation of church and state. From 1815 until 1863, no official proclamation took place.

Thanksgiving was celebrated on the fourth Thursday from 1863 until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to change it to the third Thursday in an attempt to boost the economy by providing extra shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, he changed it back in 1941 after bowing to the pressures of Congress.

So let us all give thanks for the wonderful country we live in, for our troops, and for the many blessings we have. Have fun watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and all the football games. And try not to eat too much turkey!

Monday, November 23, 2009

KKK Expelled From Ole Miss

Last Saturday, the Ku Klux Klan showed up on the University of Mississippi campus to protest the chancellor's decision for the band to stop playing "From Dixie With Love" after each football game. Apparently, there was some concern about the students chanting, "The South will rise again!" after the song. Personally, I don't see how that is a racial slur, but the students have complied.

The KKK made a stand by appearing at the University prior to the game on Saturday. However, the students were so upset by their presence that they verbally insulted them until the KKK left. I say Kudos to those students! I am NOT a fan of racial injustice, and I think it's great that the student body represents equality. It has come a long way over the past forty years.

My only regret is that the KKK is representing itself with the Confederate flag and the song "Dixie." In my opinion, I wish they'd get their own flag and song and leave the rest alone. I saw a bumper sticker with a picture of the Confederate flag on it that I think says it all: Heritage, Not Hatred. The flag has been misconstrued to represent the KKK, and that's a shame. The Sons of Confederate Veterans are in no way associated with the KKK, and yet, they must endure criticism for their honoring the flag of their forefathers. Sad but true. I always liked the song "Dixie." I only hope it doesn't come to being associated with white supremacy as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Confusing State of Affairs

By the end of the Civil War, Unionists from every southern state except South Carolina, where the war originated, sent regiments. How confusing it must have been to have to pick a side and go fight for it, even though your neighbor, cousin, or whatever fought for the other side. Some soldiers joined up, only to desert and enlist with the opposite side later on.

It seems that at the start of the war, sections in several southern states were in favor of preserving the Union, even though the majority didn't vote for Abraham Lincoln. Secession was a state decision, and wasn't put to the popular vote, so once the state joined the Confederacy, the men typically enlisted dutifully, in preservation of their own state. Slavery wasn't as issue, because most southern soldiers didn't own slaves, and those that did were often exempt from fighting. Some northern states allowed slavery, as well as several "border" states.

There were a few "fire eaters" who spewed venom, persuading others to join their crusade for the Confederacy. One such example is the following, written by a Kentucky rebel named James Blackburn, in a letter to his wife:

My Dear Wife: I have left you and our children in the land of the despot, but God grant that I may soon be able to make the union men of Kentucky feel the edge of my knife. From this day I hold every union traitor as my enemy, and from him I scorn to receive quarter and to him I will never grant my soul in death; for they are cowards and villains enough. Brother Henry and I arrived here without hindrance. I have had chills all the way, but I hope to kill 40 Yankees for every chill that I ever had.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Case of John Wilkes Booth

Everyone knows who John Wilkes Booth was, or if they don't they should. He was the guy who shot President Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford's Theatre, jumped onto the stage after doing so, yelled, "Sic semper tyrannis" (Latin for "Thus always to tyrants"), and supposedly followed it up by exclaiming, "I have done it! The South is avenged!" He then high-tailed it to Virginia, dragging along an accomplice by the name of David Herold. It took the Union cavalry eleven days to track him down in a tobacco barn, but when they finally did, they set fire to it, and one soldier named Sergeant Boston Corbett shot the assassin, even though he had been ordered to bring Booth in alive.

Very strange things happened in accordance with this event. On November 9, 1863, President Lincoln attended a play in Washington D.C. entitled The Marble Heart. Among the cast was none other than John Wilkes Booth. The actor, who had plotted to kidnap Lincoln prior to the war's end, was photographed in the crowd that attended Lincoln's second inauguration.

After the assassination took place, it seems a curse was placed on many of the people who were involved. Dr. Mudd, who tended the actor's broken leg, was incarcerated for four years before being freed, due to his lifesaving efforts during the prison's yellow fever epidemic. He died at the age of 49, and is buried in the cemetery of the church where he first met John Wilkes Booth. Mary Todd Lincoln went bonkers, and eventually ended up living in a single room with a money belt around her waist, where she packed and unpacked her 64 crates of clothing until her death. Judge Holt, who sentenced the conspirators to hang, became a recluse as well, no doubt because he couldn't deal with the guilt of sentencing Mary Surratt, who many thought was innocent. Major Rathbone and his fiance, Clara, who were in the presidential box with Lincoln the night he was shot, got married, but sadly, on Christmas Day 1883, he shot her to death. Sergeant Corbett lost his marbles, also. He pulled a gun on two boys in Kansas, and was committed to the Topeka insane asylum. But in 1888, he escaped, and was never heard from again. And the Lincoln's oldest son, Robert, believed whole-heartedly that he was cursed. In 1881, while he was with President James Garfield, an assassin attacked and killed the president. Then in 1901, the same thing happened, only this time it was President William McKinley.

But what about John Wilkes Booth? He was a very popular actor at the time, and some think he killed Lincoln for his own notoriety. His brother, Edwin, who was a famous actor, too, received permission from Andrew Johnson, who had succeeded Lincoln, to bury his brother in an unmarked grave in the family plot in Baltimore. Prior to that, the killer's body had been buried under the floor of the Old Penitentiary's dining room. But for years, speculation circulated about John Wilkes Booth actual death. Some swore the body was that of another man because the wrong leg was broken, the scars didn't match up, etc. A conspiracy theory arose, and some believed that the man who had been buried was a prop: that the real John Wilkes Booth had escaped. Years after the assassination, people reported seeing him out West, in Europe, and in Japan. In 1994, the court ruled against exhuming the body to determine if it really was John Wilkes Booth who was buried there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hemingway and Me

I am currently participating in a writing class, and my instructor asked us what our writing habits are. She informed that when Hemingway wrote, he would always find a definite place to stop, so that when he resumed his writing, he could pick up again where he left off more easily. I thought, hey, I do that, too! Us writers are strange creatures of habit. We have unusual routines that vary from person to person. I recently saw Diablo Cody give an interview, and she said that she usually stays up until 3 a.m. I got that beat, sister! I've been known to stay up until 4 a.m. In fact, on several occasions, I was just going to bed when my husband (who is an early bird) was getting up!

Some writers are able to get up in the morning, go straight to their computer, and start writing. Not me. I have to get the blood circulating into my brain for several hours before I can become coherent behind the keyboard. Some writers can sit behind the computer for six to eight hours a day and write, but I can't. I have to take breaks, and lots of them, otherwise, I lose focus. So what are some of your writing habits? Write back and let me know!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hug a Veteran

As most everyone knows, tomorrow is Veteran's Day. The day was originally established as Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed ending WWI. Major hostilities were ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. President Woodrow Wilson declared it a holiday in 1919. In 1953, the idea was spread to include all veterans, changing it from Armistice Day to "All Veterans" Day, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. All states within the United States observe this holiday.

National ceremonies take place every year at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. The day will be celebrated with parades, speeches, and observances of our beloved veterans. So if you know someone who has bravely served in defense of this great country, give them a hug. If they are serving now, hug them. If they fought in Desert Storm, Vietnam, or Korea, give them big hugs (here's one for you, Dad.) And if they are one of the few remaining veterans who fought in WWII, give them an extra special hug. Without these men and women, our freedom would be lost.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Haunting of Abraham Lincoln

Jenna Bush, one of President George W. Bush's daughters, recently talked about how she had heard phantom opera music coming from the fireplace in her bedroom while she was living at the White House. In the same breath, she expressed her disappointment about never seeing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.

It's common knowledge that Lincoln's spirit still resides within the Executive Mansion, as the White House was called during the Civil War. In my opinion, Lincoln was psychic. He had premonitions about every major battle, and dreamt about his own death. His wife, Mary, held seances after his assassination, and in one photograph, an eerie manifestation of Lincoln appears in the background. It could have been a photographer's trick, but many other witnesses have seen his ghost as well.

Several heads of state have witnessed the ghost of Lincoln, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, President Coolidge's wife, Grace, President Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan's daughter, Maureen.

Sightings of Lincoln's ghost have occurred near his grave in Springfield, Illinois, and at his former home there. It has also been seen at the Loudon Cottage in Loudonville, New York, which belonged to one of the women who was sitting in the president's box at Ford's Theatre when Lincoln was shot. The President's spectral funeral train has been observed on the anniversary of its journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, thundering through the darkness to its spooky destination.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haunted Jeff Davis

Keeping in the spirit of Halloween (for just one more week), I'd like to devote some attention to the late great (and only) president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. As most of you know, the president had an illustrious career, but he also suffered great loss and personal tragedy. He was a West Point Graduate, served in the Mexican War, was elected Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, and served as U.S. Senator of Mississippi. When the War Between the States broke out, he reluctantly gave up his Senate seat, and accepted the position of President of the Confederate States of America. Mr. Davis had premonitions about this acceptance, but surrendered the decision as being that of divine will.

Davis' first wife, Sarah, daughter of President Zachary Taylor, died shortly after their secret marriage took place.Ten years later, he married Varina Howell, who was half his age. Despite his ill health, brought on by malaria he had contracted and that had killed his first wife, Davis held his position with great esteem. But soon, another tragedy befell him, as his son, Joe, fell from the second story balcony to his death at the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond. (Davis subsequently had the balcony removed from the house and destroyed.)

Upon the fall of Richmond, the Davis family was forced to evacuate, and traveled into Georgia to escape persecution. However, it wasn't long before President Davis was captured. He was held prisoner at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, where he suffered much humiliation and degradation, confined by leg irons in solitary confinement for the first four months. His incarceration lasted two years. Upon his release, he and Varina went up to Canada and traveled to Europe. After several years, Jefferson Davis returned, and lived in Memphis. He served as president of Carolina Life Insurance Company, and lost another son in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. He retired to Beauvoir in Biloxi, where he wrote his memoirs. Davis died in 1878 in New Orleans, and his funeral was the biggest event ever witnessed in the South. Varina had his remains moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. However, his spirit supposedly isn't at rest with his body.

Strange things have reportedly happened at Ft. Monroe. Civil War soldiers, as well as President Lincoln, are said to haunt the place, and the sounds of phantom boots clunking have been heard, as well as phantom skirts rustling, and laughter echoing within the ancient walls. The apparitions of President Davis and Varina have also been witnessed near the room that confined him while he was imprisoned there. His spirit has been seen in the form of eerie mist near his grave as well. And his son, Joe, haunted the Confederate White House until his body was exhumed and buried beside the grave of his father. Then, inexplicably, the haunting stopped.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Haunted Horn Lake

Last Saturday was Halloween, and in keeping with the spirit, I went down the Haunted Trail at Latimer Lakes Park here in Horn Lake. Besides the usual ghouls, goblins, and chainsaw massacre people, this trail had the ghosts of Confederates! They chase away trespassers who dare to come near their hallowed graves on Halloween night. So beware the next time you venture South on Halloween, all you Yankee blue bellies!
(In the photo are members of Pvt. Samuel L. Hughey Camp #1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans. From left to right: Sam McGan, Commander Randy Hailey, and Lynn Herron.)