Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tis the Season!

Now that it is December, the holidays are officially upon us. I always hesitate to say that until November has passed: contradictory to retailers who can’t wait to push the holidays on us by displaying Christmas trees and decorations in their stores even before Halloween. It seems like an atrocity, even though I understand where they’re coming from, but they are missing the whole point by being money motivated. Money is not the reason for the season!

I feel very fortunate this year in that I will be able to spend the holidays with most of my family and close friends. It is a big deal for me since my family is scattered across the country. This year, I will be able to see my youngest son’s annual Christmas concert for the first time, see my oldest son’s new home, and be able to experience California in December.

However, my parents will be spending Christmas in a nursing home. Since my dad’s fall last summer, his health hasn’t improved significantly, and my mom will spend Christmas and New Year’s in the nursing home with him, just like she did on Thanksgiving … alone. No relatives will make their way over there because of various reasons (too busy, too emotional, bad weather, too far away – yeah I’m guilty of that one). So please keep them in your prayers, as well as those who are suffering loss this time of year, be it the loss of a job, a home, a loved one, or a relationship.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another Fascinating Discovery

Recently, a site relating to the War Between the States was discovered in Georgia. This time, it was a Confederate prison used for Union POW's. The prison was occupied for a short time before closing in 1864, when prisoners were relocated to South Carolina to avoid Sherman's "March to the Sea."

Specifically, the camp, which was referred to as "Camp Lawton" because it was near Lawton, Georgia, replaced Andersonville in the fall of 1864. The camp was just as foul, and was only used for six weeks. During that time, approximately 725 to 1,330 men perished. The number is unknown because the deceased were tossed into a mass grave, which the Union soldiers discovered in December 1864. Only a board beside a freshly-dug plot, stating "650 buried here," marked their remains. Enraged, Union troops burned the prison to the ground, as well as a hotel and depot in nearby Millen. No photo exists of the camp, but a Union mapmaker named Private Robert Knox Sneden painted watercolor pictures and kept a journal detailing life in Lawton while he was imprisoned there.

The site was lost for nearly 150 years, but was discovered by Georgia Southern University students who were exploring a state park and federal fish hatchery in Lawton. They found prisoners' personal artifacts such as silverware and coins, as well as the exact location of the prison's stockade. Archeologists have proclaimed that the find is "one of the most significant Civil war discoveries in decades."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I would like to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. The last Thursday of November was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, thus commemorating "a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." It took nearly a century before some cities in the South, such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, finally acknowledged the holiday.

Only a week earlier, on November 19, 1863, President Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate a national cemetery that was being established to bury Union soldiers who had met their demise there. Everyone is (or should be) familiar with his Gettysburg Address. After delivering his famous speech, which he considered to be "a few appropriate remarks," he was heard to have stated, "I failed, I failed, and that is about all that can be said about it." This was because of the poor reception he received following his speech, but little did he know that his words would become one of the most famous addresses in American history.

With that, let us all give thanks for what we are blessed with. Sometimes it is difficult to perceive the blessings we receive, just as Mr. Lincoln failed to perceive the potency of his words at the time. Many have friends and/or family who are dealing with the loss of loved ones or other critical situations in their lives. During this holiday season, please pray for them, as well as our military personnel.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

UDC National Convention (pt. 5)

Sunday night, November 7, following dinner at the United Daughters of the Confederacy National Convention in Richmond, I managed to contract a stomach virus, and paid for it all night. I learned later that the bug was going around, but at the time, I wasn't sure if it was food poisoning. After suffering for 72 hours, I realized that it wasn't food poisoning after all.

Monday was the final day of the convention, but I spent the entire time in bed while other members voted in new officers. Our Mississippi president was elected national vice president. Fortunately, one of the ladies had an extra bed to provide me before we departed the Omni Hotel on Monday evening and headed back to Charlottesville, spotting several white-tailed deer along the way.

In the morning, we went out for breakfast, departed Lake Monticello, and headed to Appomattox Courthouse. Wilmer McLean's house has been restored, as have several other outbuildings at the tavern, located at a crossroads intersection. The road where Confederate soldiers lined up to surrender their arms still exists. The buildings were in severe decay when restoration began. Mr. McLean lived at the home for five years after the war until his debt forced him to move back to Northern Virginia, where his wife owned a home. From that time until the 1970's, the house and surrounding buildings stood vacant. Restoration is still in process.

We reached Knoxville, where we spent the night, and continued on to Mississippi the following day. Hence, our big trip came to an end. Even though I fell sick, it was still the trip of a lifetime, and I'm glad I went! Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

UDC National Convention (pt. 4)

Sunday morning, November 7 was bright and sunny. My group decided to head over to Hollywood Cemetery, where we made a tour for ourselves, taking in the sights. The Confederate monument shaped like a pyramid was awesome, as was seeing the graves of Jeb Stuart, Jefferson Davis and Varina Howell Davis, my chapters' namesake. Somehow we missed Pickett's grave site, but we saw enough old Victorian headstones to make up for it,and the fall colors were brilliant.

We returned to the hotel in time to change and board the bus for a memorial service, which was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond. This church has seen a lot of history in its day ... Jefferson Davis was in a Sunday morning service when a courier delivered the news that Robert E. Lee was pulling his troops from Richmond. Once the service was over, President Davis ordered that the city be evacuated and departed himself later that day. We then continued our tour onto the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

On Sunday evening, we congregated in the large convention hall again for a silent auction, dinner, and entertainment by Doug Lothes, who gave us his interpretation of "Gone With the Wind in 20 Minutes." His performance was absolutely hilarious! He portrayed each of the characters himself while adding his own flair. It was a very fun evening, until ...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

UDC National Convention (pt. 3)

Friday morning, November 5 in Richmond consisted of one meeting after another. I set up shop in the corner of a vendor's table and commenced to selling my novel while enjoying the crowd, as well as the other vendors. The hats were awesome! At lunchtime, the UDC ladies dined on salads and listened to entertainment provided by a local author who portrayed his character.

Following an afternoon of more meetings, we congregated after supper in the large convention hall. Each state who had representatives present at the convention had their flag carried in, whereby the ladies from that state sang their state song. It was very inspirational. After the display, Mrs. Ruth Ann Coski spoke about Varina Howell Davis. I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Coski, and gave her a copy of my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, to pass on to her husband, John, who assisted me in my writing in research.

On Saturday, the ladies partook in more meetings. My small group of Mississippi Ma'ams found a very cool restaurant down the street, which looked to be as old as Richmond itself, and served the best hamburgers! On Saturday evening, we dressed up and gathered in the large convention hall for the President's Dinner, where live musicians (Civil War era, of course) entertained us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

UDC National Convention (pt. 2)

My escapades with the UDC ladies continued. On Thursday, November 4, after spending the night in Charlottesville, we traveled on toward Richmond through heavy rainfall, traffic, and ominous darkness. Amazingly, we arrived at the Omni Hotel, checked in to our wonderful room, and made it back downstairs in time to board the tour bus, which took us to the state Capitol Building. A tour guide gave us the insights as to Jefferson Davis' time spent there, as well as many other patriots who resided within its Romanesque-like walls.

Following a quick lunch, we rode the bus to Petersburg, and toured the amazing Blandford Church. Following the Civil War, the infamous Louis Tiffany was commissioned to create stained glass windows for the church, each one representing a state of the Confederacy. Needless to say, the sight was inspiring. We boarded the bus, rode through the ancient cemetery surrounding the church, and embarked back to Richmond, where we toured the Museum of the Confederacy.

I have been to the museum once before, but this time was even more insightful. It's like most things in life: you see it once and you remember certain things, but when you see it again, you absorb so much more. I noticed paintings I hadn't remembered seeing before, and the portrait of General Robert E. Lee was almost spooky, because his eyes seemed to follow me wherever I was in the room! My "partner in crime" persuaded one of the vendors to share their table, and so I was established to sell my novels at a small end corner of one of the tables. Thus began the convention ...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

UDC National Convention

Last weekend (Nov. 4-9) was the national United Daughters of the Confederacy General convention. This year, the event took place in Richmond, which only seems appropriate, since that city was the capital for the Confederacy during the War Between the States. Over the course of the next several installations, I will discuss the convention, as well as Richmond itself, and all of the amazing history that exists there.

I departed from Mississippi on Tuesday with three other ladies, two of which belong to the Varina Howell Davis chapter of the UDC with me (I am an associate member, but I prefer to refer to myself as an "honorary member"). After a day of driving through Tennessee, we reached the border of Virginia, and immediately, my spirits were lifted. I have only been to Virginia twice before, but every time I go there, I get an overwhelming feeling that I have been there in a previous life. The beauty of the state always awes and inspires me.

After spending the night in Wytheville, we proceeded the next day toward Charlottesville. En route, we traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was amazing, adorned in colorful fall foliage. Some of these photos can attest to the awe-inspiring beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Battle of Collierville

This weekend, a reincarnated event will take place near Collierville, Tennessee. The reenactment of the Battle of Collierville will again be held at Piperton Hills, the former Twin Hills Ranch, which is 2.5 miles southeast of Collierville on Hwy. 72. this reenactment was previously put on hold, but after experiencing success last year, the 51st Tennessee Infantry, the Wigfall Greys SCV, the Forrest SCV, R E Lee SCV, and Bankhead’s Battery decided to stage the event again this year.

Last year's event was nearly called off because of heavy rainfall the week before, but this year has been dry, and so there is no question about whether the reenactment will take place. Make plans to attend this event, because it is one of the most realistic reenactments in Tennessee, complete with approximately 600 reenactors, cavalry horses, artillery, and a fort.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

God Bless Our Vets

Today being Veteran's Day, I would like to pay special homage to those who sacrificed lives and/or limbs for our precious country's preservation. Many veterans today face what Vietnam vets had to endure during the 60's ... not so much ridicule but being taken for granted. Without these brave souls, we would not be where we are today.

My father is a veteran of the Korean War. It is something he has ever talked about, and I think something he really wanted to forget. But as he got older, he became more proud. My mother discovered that his medals had been tossed out unintentionally with his uniform when she discovered that moths had eaten through it in a box in the attic. After decades, the Korean government (yeah, that's right!) sent him a special thank you, complete with replacement medals displayed in a shadow box. I know this is something he will cherish for the rest of his life.

Many of our WWII vets are rapidly passing on, so if you know one and have the opportunity, make a special effort to thank him or her. Without their sacrifice, and those of veterans since, we would not be the great nation we are today. God Bless America!!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mary Surratt

... the only woman convicted and hung for the role she played during the War Between the States.

Mary Elizabeth Surratt became a widow at age 42, during the summer of 1862. Her husband left behind 287 acres in what is now Prince George’s County, Maryland. He had constructed a two-story house on the land that became known as Surrattsville. The house was converted into a tavern that served as a way station for the clandestine Confederate network. Mr. Surratt also left his wife a boarding house on H Street in Washington D.C. In October 1864, Mary and her three children permanently moved to that location and rented out the tavern to a man named John Lloyd.

Over the course of the next few months, 541 H Street would become the focal point in what is considered to be one of the most influential crimes in American history. John Wilkes Booth, who frequented the Surratt home, hatched his original kidnapping conspiracy there. Other players who were involved included Mary’s son John, George Atzeroldt, who was supposed to assassinate Vice President Johnson, and Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Paine), who was responsible for the vicious attack on Secretary of State William Seward the night of April 14, 1865, (the same night that President Lincoln was assassinated). David Herold, who was a friend of John Surratt and John Wilkes Booth, rode with Booth following the assassination. He was later captured at Garrett’s Farm, where Booth was shot to death by Sergeant Boston Corbett, who was part of the 16th New York Cavalry that cornered the two men inside a barn. Also participating in the conspiracy were Samuel Arnold, who was an original plotter in the kidnapping scheme, Michael O’Laughlen, who was had been sent to kill Secretary of War Edwin Stanton but failed, and Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth’s injuries after he escaped from Washington.

Booth intended to kidnap President Lincoln in order to force the Union to surrender captured Confederates. His plans were solidified by March 1865, but were postponed for various reasons, and proved futile once General Lee surrendered on April 9. Mary Surratt traveled to her tavern on April 13, where she allegedly told her renter, John Lloyd, “to have the shooting irons ready; there will be some parties call for them.”

Following the assassination, a woman whose niece worked for Mary contacted police, saying that suspicious men had been seen at Mary’s boarding house. Subsequently, everyone in the house, including Mary, was arrested. Before leaving, Mary was caught in a lie, denying that she knew Lewis Powell, who just happened to show up with a shovel, claiming that she required his services for digging a ditch.

At the trial, several eyewitnesses testified to her involvement in the assassination scheme, including George Atzeroldt. Some claimed that they had seen Mary conversing with Booth, who gave her a wrapped package containing field glasses that she was to leave with her tenant, John Lloyd. Although her son escaped conviction because he was in New York at the time, Mary was not so lucky. Tried before a military commission, the conspirators were found guilty. Mary was one of four sentenced to death by hanging. No one believed she would actually be put to death because of her gender, but regardless of her lawyers’ issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, the federal judge’s order to have her delivered to his courtroom on the morning of her execution (which was ignored), and pleas from her daughter, Anna, President Johnson refused to commute Mary’s sentence. Two days before her execution, the judge advocate general delivered a plea for her clemency to President Johnson, who later claimed that he received no such request until after the hanging.

Mary Surratt died in Washington’s Arsenal prison yard on July 7, 1865 with Lewis Powell, David Harold, and George Atzeroldt. As army personnel crowded into the yard to watch, the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government fell through the gallows’ trap doors alongside her co-conspirators. Whether she was actually guilty of the crimes she was accused of committing, or whether her sentence was unjustified and unfair, remains a topic of debate.

A film directed by Robert Redford, entitled “The Conspirator,” tells the story of Mary Surratt, and is set for release in March 2011. If you have the opportunity, visit Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. In the basement is housed a unique museum containing descriptions and artifacts surrounding this inauspicious act.