Thursday, May 31, 2012

Leaving the South

The South is slowly fading away in my rear view mirror as I push ever northward.

I climbed up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and traveled for 3 days and 150 miles--a trip that should have taken no more than 1 1/2 day unless you stop at every scenic pull-out along the way--which I did.

I saw deer and wild turkeys and a small furry animal that looked like a Colorado marmot or a very large  prairie dog. Gopher, maybe?

And all around me were the Great Smokies, the Blue Ridge mountains and the Appalachians while far below were the lush, fertile green valleys,  tiny towns and Grandma Moses farms.  And best of all, it was still before the start of tourist season so I had the drive all to myself except for an occasional farm truck on its way to the big city on the other side of the mountain.

Saying 'Goodbye' to the south means leaving behind: soft southern drawls, mustard greens and cornbread, genuinely friendly strangers, 19 year old store clerks who say, "yes, Ma'am",  fried okra, moon pies,  outrageously blooming azaleas, lazy bayous, and funny signs (see picture above). 

Some of the best historical markers are in the south.  I have seen two that marked the spots of duels but I was driving and couldn't get a picture for one and the second picture turned up out-of-focus. And if I stopped for every historical marker I would still be in Louisiana.  This one above was one of my favorites.  It was located right outside Appomattox and please note that Major General Jeb Stuart had his own personal banjo picker--truly a southern general.  I guess Sigh Me is my own personal purring serenader.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Surrender at Last!

When I started this trip one of the top reasons for doing it was to learn and to feel the history of my country--on the spot.  I did not expect the experience to become so inspiring or disturbing.  It has been both and much, much more.  But it was with great relief that I finally reached the town of Appomattox Court House (Yes, it's the name of the entire town--not just the courthouse building) where the surrender of the Confederate army took place.

It has been over 150 years since the start of the Civil War and everywhere I have gone in the south there has been recognition of that war with pageants, memorials, historical markers, and battle re-enactments.

But no where has there been a need for celebration and retrospection more than in this tiny little town that is preserved as a reminder of the end of a war that split this nation in two.

The McLean House was the best house in this tiny town and for that reason it was chosen for the special event--the signing of the surrender papers.
From the Historical marker:  At midday on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee rode into this yard, dismounted and disappeared into the McLean house.  Grant, surrounded by generals and staff officers soon followed.  Dozens of officers, horses and onlookers waited outside.  After 90 minutes Lee and Grant emerged.  To the silent salutes of Union officers, Lee  then rode back through the village--to his defeated army.

Grant sat at the small desk to the right of the fireplace..

and Lee sat to the left.  Most of the furnishings in the room are reproduced from the originals.

The Tavern was the location for setting up a printing press and printing 'paroles' for the Confederate Army so the soldiers could return home to their families.  Grant elected not to take any prisoners but allowed the defeated army to disperse. But they needed proof that they were not deserters should they be stopped along the way--hence the paper that each would carry.


There are walls of photos of soldiers, both Confederate and Union lost in the war and it is especially moving to see how young they were.

From one of the historical markers:  On April 12, 1865, Union Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain watched the distant ridge as the confederates prepared for the surrender.  They formed into column, marched into the valley then up the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road toward the village.  As the column approached this knoll, Chamberlain ordered his men to honor them.  The Federals snapped to "Carry Arms"--the 'marching salute.'  A surprised Major General John B. Gordon (Confederate Army) instantly ordered his men to return the salute.  Until now the drama at Appomattox had been played out by major figures.  But here was a profound expression of respect by the armies common soldiers.

The town is well preserved--the shop, the houses, the jail, an ice house, even an outhouse.

PS...I expect to come across only one more scene of this war--at Gettysburg.  And then this blog will get back to more cheerful stuff--I promise.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chancellorsville Battlefield

The following narrative is so descriptive and horrifying that I have very little to add to it.  I do suggest reading it all.  It seemed fitting to post it on Memorial Day.  And there is absolutely nothing to glorify about war.

The setting was so peaceful...

Orange Plank Road

 "The wounded stream out and fresh troops pour in.  Stretchers pass with ghastly burdens and go back, reeking with blood, for more."
Reporter Charles Page,  from The New York Tribute

This was an actual photograph of this same field with this notation:  "Nearly every sapling visible in this postwar view bears the scars of bullets or shells.  Many of the dead lay unburied for years."

The Union Army lost 17,500 men and the Confederacy lost 11,000 men in two days of fighting.

Note:  As I was leaving the battlefield a couple of people that were there told me there would be a re-enactment of the Spotsylvania courthouse battle the following weekend--and it was only $6.00.  They were clearly excited about the event.  I thanked them, said I didn't think I would go and I left feeling very sad.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Thomas Jefferson is my favorite Founding Father and I was really looking forward to seeing his home. Montecello was designed and built by Jefferson and means "Little Mountain" in Italian.

Jefferson is standing guard outside, looking very wise and dapper.  The statue is life sized and he stood approximately 6'.  I was glad to know he wasn't one of the 'munchkins'.

I entered the house from this portico.  Immediately I was warned that I could not take pictures. So once again, I don't have the complete experience in photographs.  But I found the house to be very unpretentious in comparison to some of the others I have seen.  The rooms are rather small and filled with a mixture of his collections of Indian artifacts, furnishings from Europe plus those built by his own slaves,  and his experiments with gardening, science and architecture.  My daughter, Janice, would like to know that he was fascinated by--and had a collection of--Clocks!
He had a peculiar collection of paintings and I noticed that only two had religious significance.  I mention this because one of those paintings hung in the dining room overlooking the dining room table--a painting of Salome carrying the bloody head of John the Baptist on a tray!  When I asked the docent about the painting she said, "Jefferson chose his paintings to spark conversation."  I think he may have also wanted to keep people from eating too much or hanging around too long. 

He inherited the 5000 acres on the top of the mountain from his father and struggled with the ethical dilemma of how to farm it without slaves.The 150 slaves he owned were from his father and father-in-law and he never bought more.  But he also never sold any. However, some he set free.
At that time the only available labor for farming was with slaves--there was no work force to draw from. He also inherited a lot of debt from his father and debt at that time was not eliminated with a death but passed down to the heirs.  Jefferson tried his whole life to clear the debt but at his death the family had to sell Montecello to pay it off.  It was in the 1920's when the residents of the home sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

This is the ruin of one of the workshops.  He had highly skilled carpenters and cabinet makers and some of the furniture and woodwork in the house shows just how talented they were.

He loved experimenting with foods and he is responsible for introducing one of the most popular foods to this country after living in Europe for awhile--Macaroni and Cheese!

One of the original out-buildings..

I could hardly wait to make the walk to his garden.  Montecello is famous for the gardens.  He grew all the food for his family and staff and experimented with new plants and trees from around the world.

The views from the garden are beautiful and the neat rows of every conceivable vegetable made me really yearn for my garden back home--which, by the way, is pretty sickly compared to this.

The following pictures are for Aunt Pauline.  I know she'll appreciate the greens and cabbages and flowers as much as I did.

There was a fruit orchard that I didn't hike down to, plus a grape arbor and a whole row of huge fig trees.

The people who now work the gardens share in the harvest.  Boy did I want to volunteer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Montecello Cemetery

Thomas Jefferson is buried on the grounds, along with his wife and much of his family.  The slave's cemetery was somewhere else on the property and unmarked so that it wasn't even discovered until the year 2000.  I am finding that is the case at most of the south--the slave's graves would have only small wooden markers that quickly decay and disappear leaving the graves undiscovered until someone decides to dig up an area.

The cemetery is surrounded by this wrought iron fence.


For anyone curious about the Sally Hemings family, the docent said she moved to Ohio and is thought to be buried there.  DNA has definitely connected her offspring to the Jefferson family though there is no direct connection to Jefferson himself. The family reunions now include a very interesting ethnic mix and I can't help but think that Jefferson would have been pleased.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Va

This cemetery has nothing to do with Hollywood, California.  Now, that's out of the way--This cemetery was named for the holly trees that abound in the area.  It is quite large, sits on the top of a hill in Richmond and overlooks the James River.

It was founded in 1849 and is the burial ground for 2 US presidents, 1 Confederacy president,  25 generals from the Civil War and 18,000 soldiers....

plus a few ghosts and one vampire.

I thought it was interesting that, nowhere on the tombstone for Jefferson Davis does it mention that he was  president of the Confederacy.  There were also a lot of weeds growing around his grave--hmm.  I think some of those guys wearing the Confederate flags on their t-shirts might want to volunteer some time to do some weeding for old Jeff.

You sure couldn't discount the view from the hilltop. 

One of three presidents to die on July 4th.  The other two died 5 years before James Monroe (5th president) and on the very same day--the 4th of July-- John Adams (2nd president) and Thomas Jefferson (3rd president). In an effort to even things out, Calvin Coolidge was born on the 4th of July.

The Monroe family crypt was pretty impressive. By the way, James Monroe was the father of the "Monroe Doctrine" that basically told England and every other European country with designs on the new world to 'back off'.


This rock pyramid was erected a few years after the war to commemorate the Confederate soldiers that were buried there.

I really do not understand the love affair we have for weapons...cannons, guns, rocket launchers, bombs, and on and on.  Why is that cannon in the graveyard overlooking 18 thousand graves? Just asking.

I like this statue much better.

I finally found John Tyler's grave then got a terrible picture of it.  He was our 10th president and ended up supporting the Confederacy during the war. Other than that I know nothing about him.

Finally, time to leave Richmond and head east toward the mountains.  
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