Archive for Civil War

Every War Has Brought Us Here

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The times and experiences of today may differ, however, when we take a close look, they often easily add up to the situations we find ourselves in today.

The Revolutionary War was a victory for the obvious underdog-US-the United states of America. There were celebrations all along the East Coast of the Colonies, now States of a new Country. No doubt, the world found its self in a bit of shock. Citizens shouted that we were free. We were of one soul, one mind-freedom. We read the declaration of Independence, the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even with the knowledge that the fight was far from over, we felt victorious. But who among us, was really “free.”

Women? People of color? The poor, illiterate immigrant? No. On paper, we had freedom of (or from) religion, freedom of taxation without representation and so much more. The document that stated these things was beautifully written. Unfortunately, those old prejudices lived on. Many still do.

We had another war with Great Britain in 1812-again, the United States of America “won”.

About 85 years after the Revolutionary War,, we were fighting amongst ourselves. Was it about “states rights” or“slavery” . Most likely, it was about much more. A new and restless nation, part which had become a leader in world industry and another which had become an agrarian based society with little modern industry. It had found itself dependent on slave labor to make the growing and harvesting of it’s crops profitable. In Europe, such differences in culture and life-style generally produced a new “kingdom. Here, many saw the power of a nation of such size being “one country” as vital to being a world power. Among these men was Abraham Lincoln.

My great-grandfather spent three years without this “freedom”, as a Confederate Officer during the War between the States. He was called up to serve, went with quite a few family members to sing up and was later captured in what was written up as a cowardly surrender by his superior officer near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The letters that he wrote to his wife and children are still tucked in a drawer in my mother’s cedar chest.

This man did not have slaves, he fought for hearth and home, as the average Southern man did. He, in fact, went to court to support a “black” woman’s claim to freedom, and helped her win. He was not wealthy. Neither was the common Northerner who got caught up in this horrible tragedy. My Southern family had its homes burned, crops destroyed, women raped, cattle stolen. Does this make slavery right-absolutely not. Brothers were fighting cousins and uncles. Neighbors, who had gone to church together were suddenly enemies.

Over 500,00 Americans killed-still, we have to pay attention to the question that brought our country into being-are we free yet? The Civil War, The War Between the States, which ever one might call it, it was a tragedy that was not healed by the war, not necessary by any means and set our country back decades from what we should have been doing-upholding the constitution that we fought the British Empire to gain.

It is 1918. World war I has just ended. The Unitted States had tried to stay out of the war, sending supplies, money and support but not troops. Finally, seeing Great Britain and France falling, we were forced to enter this war with our troops. Then, as the war ended, our troops come home to confetti parades, electrically-light arches built in cities across the country to celebrate the end of “The War to End All Wars”. Were we “free” yet?

A terribly written and enforced “Peace Treaty”, The Treaty of Versailles” humiliated Germany, Italy and its neighbors, setting the stage for yet another unthinkably horrible war, only 30 years later. These people were ripe fr anyone who would help them regain their dignity and place in world power. Unfortunately, the “men” who showed up to help with this cause were those like Hitler and Mussolini.Even our “Allies”, such as Stalin were to become a scourge to freedom very soon after a war we fought on both sides of our country was ended in a most unthinkable way-the race for the creation of the atomic bomb. We “won.” Were we now “free?”

I think of slogans, some made popular in earlier wars, that each war fought was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”. Throughout history, the poor, the weak, slaves, simple farmers have fought and died while the wealthy, for the most part, sat it out, making plans that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

There were wars across the world, the Greek Revolution, the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union, the chill of the Korean war, the steaming jungles of Viet Nam, they all haunted the concept of freedom. The violence over human rights and dignity here at home have only gradually began to find some answers. We still have a long way to go. Again, the idea of freedom for all is more a hope than a reality, even in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”.

I look at the use of religious beliefs as a cause of war. It is not a topic that many like to address. Yet, it is true,historically, many battles have been fought over religion, many people tortured and killed for holding the “wrong” beliefs at that particular time. There are fanatics in every faith. That makes no sense. If we are Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Catholic, Judaic or any other in our belief, why can we not just live in peace and have respect fr the views of others? Will we every find this illusive “freedom” as long as fighting over just about any difference of opinion continues?

How many rows of graves, or ancient crypts will it take to obtain peace? This is a question without answer. I humbly remember and deeply respect all of those who gave their lives in the quest for what some leader demanded was necessary to finally procure “peace’. I will never understand how we can, “fight for peace”. What a horrible oxymoron. There has been so much loss, over and over. This essay may be too long, but it barely touches the history of war.

Why can we not coexist-live in a world where everyone is free from war and hate? The first step is to simply live our lives in a way that is respectful of others, moral, and honest . To continue to repeat the mistakes of the past is entirely useless.

 

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The Art of Writing will Survive!

Throughout the summer, my friends and I have been lamenting the loss of real communication that has taken place within on the past fifteen years or so, when everyone, it seems, had email. One day, a group of relatives decided to have a lunch at my aunts home, with the theme of bringing along their favorite letter from the days when people actually wrote to each other, placed a stamp in the corner and mailed it.

 On that lovely spring day, we gathered at my aunts home, which our family had owned for five generations. We had a simple lunch of finer sandwiches, chips and home-made brownies, all of us anxious to bring out the letters we had brought.

 My aunt, being the hostess, got to show her keepsake first. She pulled out an old letter from her cousin, telling of her vacation to the Grand canyon. The letter was two folded, yellowed pages, filled with eloquently written descriptions of the places they had stopped and taken photographs. She promised to show her friend the pictures she had taken after she had sent them off to be developed.

 An elderly cousin pulled a postcard out of her purse she said had been handed down for generations. It has a ripped edge surrounding a matte-type photo of the Empire State Building. On the back was a description of the Empire State Buildings location and its history in tiny scripted type. To the left was a short note saying simply, “Having a marvelous time. I’ve never seen such tall buildings. Wish you were here!” It was signed, “Your cousin, Edith” and held a faded one cent stamp at its top edge.

 I believe the letter I brought was the favorite. My great-great grandfather had written it to his wife when he was a prisoner-of-war. It was dated November 20, 1963. He was a Captain in the North Carolina 62nd Battalion of Confederate Troop  and was being held at the Officers prison in Sandusky Bay, Ohio. I had been given the letter by a cousin when he found out I was majoring in History in college.

 The script was even and neatly written, The ink had faded to a pale brown. His grammar and writing skill were amazing. I never realized that men were taught to write with such style. It was difficult to fight the tears when he asked about a baby he had never met, mentioned to his “most loving and patient wife” to be sure and tell her sister that “no one else had died since he had last written.”. Everyone took a deep breath as I read the line where he said, with hope, “that they had heard negotiations had been going well and that with luck, the war be over soon and he and the other prisoners could return home” His writing became a big smaller as he said he was limited to one page.

 If we had not already been silenced by his words, the salutation would have done the job. “All of my love from an absent husband.” It said, with initials and last name ending the letter.

 “That was more than two and a half years before he was released.” I reminded my relatives. I brought out a photograph of he and his wife in their later years and passed it around.

 One of my aunts sighed as she said, “It’s shame that writing letters has gone out of style. I can imagine how tasteless and tacky a e-mail would have been.”

 A cousin laughed and reminded us that it might have been a month before the letter made it through enemy territory and miraculously got home to the mountains of North Carolina.

One of the older ladies at our dinner held the photograph in her hand. “My mother told me he had to walk a lot of the way home. There weren’t many trains in the rural south in those days.”

 I was surprised to hear one of the younger cousins speak up. She was holding a baby and was on maternity leave from her teaching job at the local high school. “I don’t think letter writing will ever go out of style.” she said. We heard last week that children are once again being made to know how to write in cursive by fourth grade and that they would be required to write an essay in longhand in middle school.”

 My aunt, who had hosted the event smiled. “Imagine,” she said, “what might have happened to our constitution, to the letters and speeches of Abraham Lincoln, or the hymns sung in churches a hundred and fifty years ago if the equipment to play them had become outdated, or the writers had felt that their words would never be lost on such modern equipment as the internet!”

 Another lady laughed, “My whole hard drive burned out last week, I lost every document I had not printed or saved on some other kind of contraption.”

 “I have an idea!” my aunt sang out, nearly jumping from her chair. “Let’s start a letter writing society.” “When we go on a trip or vacation, attend a special event or reunion, we have to write a real letter to at least one of the people in our group!”

 At first everyone looked around, a little dread in their eyes. Then the young teacher pulled out a tablet and said, “Let’s start collecting names right now. Every body here should try to add three people to our list, and for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to try to get men on the list.” Whoever gets the most new members will be honorary guest at our next meeting!”

 “Next meeting?” I said, “When is our next meeting?”

 “How about the last Thursday in each month?” said my aunt. We can take turns being hostesses and everyone can bring a favorite dish.”

 “I feel like I have woken up in the 1950’s.”smiled my elderly cousin. I can’t wait to go home and write my first letter-it will be about this wonderful meeting!”

 “You know,” I though to myself as I put my album and letters in the car. “People like to communicate, to tell the stories of their lives, see the lovely script of a handwritten letter.” “Having a “like” on your blog will never have the same feeling as writing a letter to someone we actually know about an even that really matters to the reader.

 With all my heart I believe the art of writing a letter will not only come back, it will thrive as we tire of hurried, impersonal and lonely lives that computers have brought us to. It may have a slow start, bu I imagine getting a handwritten letter out of the mailbox on a cold winter day will hold the same joy to my great-grandchild as it did to my great-grandmother!

https://beebeesworld.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/rhe-art-of-writing-will-survive/

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Unnatural Fireworks

Unnatural Fireworks

July 5, 2013 | Leave a comment

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The noisy booms from the sky, streaks of color lighting the clouds,

Yes, it’s the fourth of July, but Mother natures rules this year.

The tiny creek is a raging river, littered with trees, bird feeders, toys.

Our grave driveway is underneath the water that blocks the road.

My dad worked at the Tennessee Valley Authority when I was a kid.

Their job was to try to manage flood control. Where there were floods,

We went to photograph, special phone numbers told river levels.

We filled out charts in the days when a main frame took up a room-did one thing.

It’s in my blood. Two of my sons son and two friends sloshed up the road.

The water running down what used to be roads, way to deep to be safe.

Taking videos, pictures, laughing, giving up on umbrellas, soaked to the skin.

Though we laughed, it was muted, somber. We knew why the yards of mud came.

Our mountain city is obsessed with getting rich people from other places to come here.

Strip the vegetation so they can “see” from houses we couldn’t dream of.

We shout to no one, “GO HOME!” CLEAN UP THIS MESS!” But they keep coming.

The collapsed retaining wall and 8 feet of lost land are somehow “our” problem.

I know how the native Americans felt. For “white folks” we’ve been here a long time.

The 1780 US Census lists us in this county, by 1840, we were on this road.

We have lived in this house 5 generations and now my kids can’t afford to live her.

Something is really wrong with this. It used to be a quiet farming community.

I can’t help it, I am mad. I know good people have come here too.

For all the greedy developers, mostly bankrupt before to long, I have one message,”Go the heck home, glare down on your “lessers”, ruin their land, build mansions, ruin the land,

and don’t forget to take pictures of w=what life was like before you ruined it for them.

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Message from the Past

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Twenty years must have passed since Miriam had walked up that rail to the old Mill. It had been her “Thinking Place” as a teenager, a place where she could go and ponder over things that only the very young or very old have time to contemplate. It was an early April day after a brutally cold winter in the Southern Appalachians. Many of the mountain roads had been impassable for months, so the access road that wound around the mountain had been closed most of the winter.

The thought came to Miriam that it wasn’t really safe to ramble alone in this area, largely abandoned since the turn of the century. She had heard that black bears had been driven to the area by the influx of wealthy retirees from Florida and new England. But memories of the old grist mill, the rusting wheel, still upright within it’s stone walls, the heavy mill stone, encircled with metal, kept her moving.

She had not doubt that they would still be there, but wondered about their condition. How many people were still alive who even remembered the mill? How many of them would bother to go there? She sat on a lichen encrusted stone and closed her eyes to rest. Thoughts of her grandfather telling her about the mill filled her mind. Even in his days, it had been a relic. His grandfather had taken grain there not long after the Civil War. She heard her grandfather’s voice correct her.“War between the States.” he had said. “No use in talkin’ like them Yankees.”

She crossed rivulets of water that cascaded down the creases in the forest floor as they made their way to the larger stream where the mill had operated. Wagon tracks were still visible where animals had walked and horses had strode from the stable that now sat about a mile below the old mill. The early spring flowers huddled under oak trees and thrust their heads up to catch the brief rays of sun that shadowed the forest floor before the leaves began to shade it again.

At last, she heard the rushing of the stream as it spilled over stones lining the river by the old mill. She picked up her step as she came close to the mill wheel. The moss-covered rocks that surrounded the old wheel had always fascinated her, and the vibrant sounds of rushing water made her heart fill with memories of her grandfather’s tales and her prized “Thinkin Place.”

Carefully, she dodged the briars that had gown up around the area where the mill house once stood. She tried to imagine the men lined up along the road, smoking homegrown tobacco in hand carved pipes. She could hear their horses whinny and stomp as they waited impatiently in front of the wagons of corn and grain. Miriam turned as she heard a rustle up the pat, but it was only a squirrel shuffling winter’s collection of leaves. She placed her hands gently on the remains of the wall around the mill wheel and turned, with her legs facing the ancient wheel.

She noticed that on of the square stones across from her seemed to have worked its self out a bit from the others. Curious, she cautiously worked her way down the slope, holding the wheel for support as she walked. She held onto saplings and pulled herself up to the other side. The moss-covered rocks were cool and damp as she placed her hands against them for support.

Miriam looked around for something to loosen the protruding rock with and found a rusted piece of metal, crooked at one end and a small hole drilled in the other. Just for a second, she found her mind wondering what it had been, but the protruding stone regained her attention. She knelt and worked the metal scrap back into the moss that filled the cracks. With a jolt, the stone moved out a bit more and Miriam excitedly worked the metal scrap in a little further.

With a little work, the rock slid out into her hand. It was heavier than she had imagined, but she carefully laid it down beside her feet. Holding to the top of the wall, she bent down and peered inside the opening where the rock had been. Amidst an indention lined with rotting wood, she saw the shape of what looked like a metal box. She gently worked the rotted wood away from the space it had protected all of these years and lifted out a rusted box, complete with a padlock of equally poor condition.

Carefully, she sat the box on the top of the rock wall. Struggled up the mossy side and held her tiny treasure. “What was in the box,: she thought as she rushed through the empty blackberry vines as they grabbed at her sweater. As she reached the top of the trail, she saw him, breathless, wordless staring at her. Hiding the box beneath her sweater, she whispered a breathless “Hi.” Not knowing what to do, she awaited an answer. None came.

He held out his hand to her and smiled, “Let me help you.” Heart pounding, she held out her free hand and he pulled her to the trail way. “Haven’t seen a brown and white hound dog, have you?” He said. With relief, she shook her head. “Sorry, I sure haven’t.” “Went huntin last night and my best dog didn’t come back to the road this mornin.” he said. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“That’s ok.” she sighed as she regained her composure. “I’m Aaron,.” the young man said. Live down on the horse farm in the cove. Still guarding her treasure box, she looked at him and smiled. “Miriam” she told him. “Just thinking about my younger days, visiting places my grandpa told me about.” “Come by the farm sometime.” He shouted, as he walked on down the path, we’ll go on a horse ride together sometime.”
“I’ll do that, she said, waving as she went back up the mountain. For a moment, her fear had made her forget the treasure box. She made her way on up the hill, anxious to get back to her truck.

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The Silence was Deafening

I took my two teens to see “Lincoln“, the new Steven Speilberg movie today and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves history and appreciates a well made and researched movie.  I had an experience there that I had never had at a movie theater.  When the movie ended, and the list of actors came up with the movie theme in the background, the entire audience, sat quietly and watched and listened.  The silence was deafening.  Always before, the minute the movie ended, the theater has been filled with noise and chatter, people quickly leaving their seats and going home. Everyone there seems to be spellbound by the impact of the movie.  It was quite impressive!

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The Old Carver Place

Everyone had heard of the “Old Carver Place”. Indeed, most everyone knew it was said to be haunted.
My friends and I had always wanted to go there and see why. Halloween seemed like the perfect night.
As if in a script, the wind howled and trees groaned as we headed up the old wagon road.

A light seemed to shine from the attic window revealing the shadow of a woman with a child in her arms.
The window creaked as she pushed it open and looked down at us. “Finally” she sighed. “Someone was kind enough to help us.”

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Vance Birthplace, Weaverville, North carolina

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Inside Vance Birthplace Historical Site, near Weaverville, N.C.

Zebulon Vance was the Civil War Governor of North Carolina

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The slave cabin at Vance Birthplace, near Weaverville, North Carolina

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Inside the upstairs bedrooms at the restored Vance Cabin,

Weaverville, North Carolina

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Legacy

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My grandfather taught me the importance of leaving a legacy. As we spent time together nearly every day of my life, I came to know his stories and experiences, his most joyful moments and his most compelling sorrows. I will always remember the somber look on his face as he took my hand and quietly told me, “Sister, as long as someone remembers who you were, what you stood for, you will never die.”

Those words have stayed with me through the years.  It was his joy of telling me of his ancestry, his life, and thus of my own, that lead me to major in Public History Research in college.  Because my grandparents lived next door to me as a child and I have raised my family in the home where members of my family have lived for five generations, I feel a sense of duty in carrying on the legacy of love, values, struggles and strengths that were passed on the me by my grandparents.

These are my mothers parents, both who lived into their 90’s.  They were married 72 years. I treasure the stories they told and I recorded, the maps my grandfather and I made that showed how our community looked and how people lived well over a century ago. With those gifts along with letters, mementos and keepsakes, I feel as if I truly “know” people that died before I was born. I have  photo albums overflowing with pictures (along with copies of pictures) dating back over one hundred years. Because my grandparents lived such a long life and were close by, we were able to label and identify many of the people, places and events that would have been lost to history without my interest and their willingness and joy in sharing their stories with me.

I don’t think of myself as a legacy, though I have written my thoughts and feelings most of my life. I think of myself as the keeper of a legacy, a link in a legacy that I have tried to pass down to my children and to their children.  I have a double-page in one of my old albums that speaks volumes to me about the importance of knowing who we are, and having the courage to share that knowledge with others.  On these pages, there is a photo of my son, myself, my mother, her father, (my grandfather), his father (my great-grandfather) and HIS father (my great-great grandfather.  We all look so much alike that it takes my breath away.

My grandpa always called me, “Sister” because I looked so much like his own sisters.  I can see myself sewing  dresses with his sister, as I read in the 1910 census that she was listed as a “seamstress”. My aunt still wells up with tears when she sees me because I look so much like my mom, (her sister) who has now passed away.  There is something magic about seeing myself in my ancestors.  It is so easy to imagine myself being in that photograph of my great-great grandfathers’ cabin in Kentucky in the 1890’s.

I think of what was sacrificed so that I could be here, in this beautiful valley in the Appalachians. One of my great-great grandfathers  was a prisoner of war for nearly three years.  Every one of my great-great grandfathers that I have researched was a Confederate soldier during this time.  It was a matter of hearth and home, and often not a matter of choice. I have photographs of most of these men and their families. We have stories of family members wounded at Gettysburg, and pictures of them. My grandmother told me stories about her grandfather and uncles going to Sutter’s Creek, California during the Gold Rush in 1849. They brought gold back around the Horn of South America, invested it in the Confederacy and subsequently lost it.  We have old Bibles, letters and records to prove it. My grandmother remembered playing with cousins in trunks full of then-worthless Confederate money.

I feel compelled to share some of the more difficult stories of my heritage-the family name that took years to connect to our first ancestor in America because it was a woman, not a man. She had given birth to a child out-of-wedlock and the fact was long-buried in the annuals of history. Another family member was difficult to find because his mother had remarried when he was a young child and he was listed by his name on a ship record along with his mother and step father who had a different name. They came to Pennsylvania on one of William Penn’s ships in the 1700’s.  William Penn had a lot of ships, I learned. This doesn’t mean my ancestor was even an acquaintance of Mr. Penn himself. Still, it is a fact worth preserving.

Then there are the rich or famous that we find among our ancestors. We have articles about my grandma’s cousin being Babe Ruth’s  second wife. Her name was Clara, but she was called “Claire”. Claire Merritt Ruth if you want to look it up. She met him when she was dancing with the Ziegfeld Follies in New York.

The records do not end with stories of old.  My father and uncles fought in World War II, some of them under the most heinous of conditions. My father and his brother were raised by a single father after their mother died when they were very young. I trudged my way through a four-year university in three years while I worked and raised two kids by myself.  I lost a son at age 15, he was just playing baseball and collapsed.

Each of us has a legacy, whether we want to or not, whether we share it or not.  I take pride in claiming every one who came before me, for their struggles, their triumphs and yes, even their failures.  That is who I am, it is who we are as a nation, as a people. To each of you who took the time to read this lengthy, yet, in honesty, extremely condensed history of one woman’s  family, I encourage you to take the time to preserve the story of who you are, where your family came from and to fill up that now-empty page with what the future holds.

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From a Yankee Prison Camp, with Love

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My Beloved  Wife:

It is with some hope that I write you today. We have heard rumors that a treaty may be in the works for a prisoner exchange. We have heard this before, but hope gets us through the frigid cold here in this God-forsaken prison camp. You can write me here under my name and rank at Sandusky Bay Officers Prison, Sandusky, Ohio. I image it will take a month or more to receive a card, but please write. Tell my sister that Jeb sends his love to her and the baby. No one else has died this month. I am limited to this page.

With the love of an absent husband,  John

 

 

My Dearest John:

It was with great joy that I received your postcard. Papa picked it up on the way home from the cattle market in Atlanta.  I find myself feeling childish, but things are not as favorable here as when you left to join our troops last summer. There are no supplies, no men to do the hard labor, food is scare. I do hope you will soon be released and can return to us here on the farm. Amalie and little Josie send their undying love to Jeb. Maybe you should write me at Papa’s address, as we may all have to go there for our safety and to share what provisions we still have.

With my fondest love,  Elizabeth

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