Saturday, June 27, 2009


Vicksburg is set on bluffs overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. During the Civil War, control of that great waterway and the rail lines crisscrossing the city was critical to the North. That control would allow the North to get its troops and supplies moving. Vicksburg was a series of battles over months. U.S. Grant's decision was to lay siege to the city. Needless to say, the result was devastatingly successful. It is hard to get a sense of the battles when touring the battlefield as, in the 1930's, the Conservation Corps planted 1000's of trees and completely altered the terrain. We watched a demonstration by some history buffs. Cannot imagine how hot they must have been in those historically accurate, but scratchy, hot wool uniforms!! It was VERY hot and muggy!! All in all, one of our less favorite stops. Actually, Mississippi is not one of my favorite places - tied with Louisiana!!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


A healthy baby, in 1887 Helen Keller came down with a very high fever at 19 months old. The fever spared her life, but rendered her deaf and blind. Sad to think how today's miracle medicines might have changed her life! The docents make a real point of explaining how Helen's father would allow no discipline of her and was insistent that she always be in the center of any and all family activities. She was truly a wild child. That is until Annie Sullivan entered her life. We've all seen the movie, I hope!! The pictures below are of Ivy Green, the family home; the cottage where Ann and Helen lived while Ann worked to break through to her pupil; the famous pump where Helen finally connected the finger tip alphabet word and water and the family dining room where Ann struggled to teach Helen manners. Like so many other small towns we've been in, there are so many beautiful Victorian homes in Tuscumbia. Some well kept; some sadly neglected. Lots of empty storefronts on Main Street. Be sure to note the gorgeous old tree in front of the cottage. That's the other thing we enjoy looking at... the many stately old trees. The photo of Helen and Ann was just recently discovered and put on display. Pretty, isn't it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


While waiting at Red Bay, Alabama, for annual work to be done on the RV, we took a pretty hour's drive to Shiloh, TN, crossing from Alabama to Mississippi to Tennessee. We always start our battlefield tours at the Visitors' Center and watch whatever film about the place is offered. What is perplexing is the difference in quality of the film from place to place. One was really professionally done with narration by Richard Dreyfus. This was old and grainy. Nevertheless, that does not diminish the importance of the battle here at Shiloh. Like the Battle of Chattanooga, it was all about the railroads. I think these days we lose sight of the importance of the railroads in days past. The rail lines were the communication links and the means of supply. No modern highways with big rigs; no FedEx or UPS; no internet. The railroads were it!!

U.S. Grant came down the Tennessee River with his Army of the Tennessee and waited as ordered for Gen. Buell to arrive with his Army of the Ohio. The Confederate side was led by General Albert Johnston who decided to attack Grant before Buell got there. The attack on April 6, 1862, surprised Grant and caused great disarray. Bitter fighting ensued with the Federals gradually giving way. Some of the fiercest fighting was at the Hornet's Nest where Federal troops were implored to hold their ground at all cost. For most of the day, they did suffering great loss. At day's end, the Confederates stormed the line and took the survivors prisoner. Johnston's element of surprise helped the success of the battle, but soon the Confederate Army was as disorganized as the Federal Army. This was acerbated by the death of Johnston. Johnston was shot in the leg: the bullet severed a major artery and he bled to death. His command was taken over by General Beauregard.

The 2nd day saw more fierce fighting. Grant's Federal troops had been joined overnight by Buell's and totalled some 54,500 men. The Confederates were depleted to 34,000. The battle seesawed back and forth with the Confederates withdrawing to Shiloh Church and then to Corinth, TN. The Federals did not pursue them. At the end over 23,000 from both sides were killed, wounded or missing. At one point, the wounded of both sides made their way to a pond at the Peach Orchard where the water turned red from their blood. After the battle, Beauregard asked Grant for permission, under a flag of truce, to send out people to take the Confederate dead from the battlefield. Grant's reply was that he would but that, due to the heat, he had already buried them. There are 5 mass graves for the Confederate troops. The Federal troops were taken and buried at the National Cemetery at the park.

Both armies proceed on to Corinth, TN. There was no great battle here, but, when the Confederate Army withdrew the rail line of east-west communications to the western part of the Confederacy was severed. Battle loses here and in Kentucky and Virginia paved the way for U.S. Grant's assault on Vicksburg and control of the Mississippi. And, ultimately, the end of the war. In the midst of this is the present day Shiloh Church and Cemetery, both still active. Kind of a reminder that life & death go on, I guess.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Chickamauga, in September 1863 this beautiful and bucolic spot was the scene of some of the Civil War's most horrible fighting. The prize being fought over was control of Chattanooga and, thus, a key rail center and the gateway to the Confederacy. As with so many other Civil War battles, it was constant back & forth and desperate hand to hand combat. Some markers for CSA and Federal troops are next to each other as positions changed thru the day's fighting. Unlike other battles that were fought mainly in open fields (i.e. Pickets Charge/Gettysburg), this battle was fought in many small woods dotting the area. This made the confusion of battle even worse! Needless to say, command mistakes were made with disasterous results. For example Federal General Rosecrans was told BG Brannan had moved his troops and created a gap in the line. (He hadn't moved!) To correct this Rosecrans ordered BG Wood to fill where Brannan had supposedly moved from. This created a real gap that the Confederates quickly found. Ultimately, the Confederates routed the Federals who retreated toward Chattanooga. The pictures are of one of the many monuments, a replica of a house that was used as a field hospital and a deer in the woods. Lots of little critters here - rabbits, squirrels, birds. It is still very rural.

The Battle at Chickamauga was the site of some of the most deadly fighting of the Civil War. Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland was comprised of 70,000 men. Bragg, the Confederate General, started with some 43,000 men. Both sides were reinforced along the way to total 66,000 Confederate and 58,000 Union. Of those, the Confederate Army casualties (killed, wounded, missing) totaled 18,000 and the the Union, 16,000 men. Some of the names here will be at other major battles - specifically Ulysses S. Grant and Sherman.

What makes this National Park really outstanding is that the majority of the 1400 monuments were placed around the battle field by survivors of both sides who came together in 1895. It was also the 1st of 4 national military parks authorized by Congress in 1898-1899. The other 3 are Shiloh, Gettysburg and Vicksburg. We were at Gettysburg last fall and will head to Shiloh next. Vicksburg is still pending.

Our next stop today was Lookout Mountain. It is so gorgeous up here and had to imagine troops fighting here. Just the climb up should have killed them! (We drove!) The Confederates used this point to lay siege to the Union troops at Chattanooga. Unfortunately, there was a huge tactical mistake made. The Confederates used the geographic crest as their battle front, not the military crest. Difference - remember my "driver" is a USMA graduate - is that, from the geographic crest the Confederates were unable to see or fire at the Federals scaling the mountain until the enemy was right "in their face." Had the Confederates situated their guns and troops down lower at the military crest they would have seen and been able to hit the Federals coming up the sides of the mountain. The pictures to the left I think show the problem of being at the geographic crest. And, the beautiful Tennessee River. The monument is the New York State Monument. It is huge and exceptional in that it a Union and Confederate soldier are shaking hands. Not sure of the date of the monument, but it was close enough to the end of the war to make the "handshake" extended to the South by New York an exception for the times. (Sorry for the blurry picture. Had to use a photo from elsewhere as I couldn't find ours.)

Friday, June 5, 2009


A visit I have long wanted to make....Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson!! One of my heroes! Years ago I read Dumas Malone's multi-volume biography of him and the Fawn Brodie. Finally I get to go to Monticello!! And, guess what, it poured!!! We could not tour the grounds to see his gardens or the outlying buildings. Gee, we'll have to go back! Actually it is a very interesting place and, with all the different displays at the Visitor Center, can take days. He had over 6000 books!! And, in several languages. He received a classical education which meant learning Greek and Latin and being able to read in those languages plus, as Ambassador to France, he was fluent in French. The docent handled the Sally Hemmings question very deftly by saying there is no actual proof, but a good probability that Jefferson fathered all her children. Actually DNA studies show Sally's descendants carry Jefferson DNA, but, since Thomas Jefferson did not have any male offspring, the studies cannot show which brother sired the children. If I recall correctly, it is on that basis that Jefferson's descendants have denied any of Sally's from being buried in the family cemetery at Monticello. (Center photo) After our tour we headed to Michie Tavern (c. 1784) for a tour and lunch. Interesting...can you imagine sleeping in a bed with ropes for springs and a "mattress" made of corn husks and then sharing the space with a stranger!! The Southern fried chicken was very good.... Don't know if it was authentic Colonial US fare.

After lunch we headed a few miles down the road to Ash Lawn Plantation, home of President James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth... best friends to Thomas Jefferson. Luckily the rain had let up! Jefferson found the site for Monroe, selected the site for the house and sent his gardeners to start the orchards. Frequent guests at both Monticello and Ash Lawn were James and Dolley Madison. It is a lovely home and was "home." You can tell it was lived in and enjoyed by both the Monroes and the family that owned it afterward and gave it to College of William and Mary, Monroe's alma mater. The tree in the photo below was a gift to Monroe from Jefferson. It is magnificent!! Its size; its shape; its age!! In the bottom right photo the path in the hedge leads to a statue of Monroe. Really pretty house and setting...

Did you know Virginia was home to 8 Presidents? Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor & Wilson! Pretty impressive...must be the balmy weather.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


First, the Battles of Manassas are also known as "BULL RUN". In Ole Virginny parlance, a run is a creek. Bull Run is the creek at Manassas.

The first battle (July 18 - July 21, 1861) was supposed to be the only battle of the Civil War. All of Washington DC and the North expected to easily rout the upstart Confederate Army. The Union Army 35,000 strong was comprised mainly of troops who had volunteered for 90-days service! No training! No discipline!! No clue as to the nature of war!!! The National Parks info explains how the 1st day's march was only 5 miles - because the troops stopped to pick blackberries and fill canteens along the way. Easy pickings for the 22,000 man Confederate Army waiting for them at Bull Run! Over about 4 days, the expected victory became a Union Army retreat. That retreat became a rout as the retreating men were blocked by fleeing Washingtonians who had gone out to Manassas/Centerville by carriages with picnic baskets to watch the battle! The 1st day alone saw close to 900 Union & Confederate dead! In all, by the war's end, over 600,000 died.

The area that was the stage for this 1st battle is very pretty with rolling hills surrounded by groves of trees. A large part of this battle was fought around the Judith Henry farmhouse. She was bedridden and could not be moved and was wounded by a stray bullet and killed during the battle. She is still there in a small family plot. This is also where Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson earned his sobriquet. (Arrow shows Jackson's wall of cannon.)

The 2nd battle in August 1862 was a battle between seasoned veterans and covered 3 days. In this 3 day period over 3,300 troops were killed! The Confederate victory here set up Lee's march north and ultimately to Gettysburg! The battle this time ranged over a wider area of countryside. The beautiful Stone House survived both battles serving as a field hospital both times. The stories about the medical care received by both sides is just horrifying! Piles of amputated limbs!! Hard to imagine today. Just as it had to imagine troops marching down the bucolic roads around this area; markers interspersed here and there telling the story and fragrant honeysuckle twinning around the trees. One particularly poignant site is the Groveton Confederate Cemetery. Of the more than 260 soldiers buried there, only 2 have ever been identified and have markers! The finally day of the 2nd battle was at Stone Bridge where Union troops slipped away in the dark and headed to Washington. The 2nd Battle of Manassas established the reputation of Robert E. Lee as a bold and brilliant leader.