Posts Tagged ‘Civil War Sites’

Shiloh Battlefield

Shiloh Battlefield

We visit Shiloh National Military Park, while staying at nearby Pickwick Landing State Park.  I don’t want to blog about Civil War Sites anymore.  They’re too painful to contemplate, and I can’t do any of it justice.  There’s been enough written about each of them, eloquently, by historians and others.  I think I’ve written posts in years past, somewhere in the jumble of this blog, where the heartache was fresh and I felt like I was learning something new at each battlefield.  Now, it just feels so old and so sad.

So I’m happy to see a new story at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, a branch of the Shiloh National Military Park in Mississippi. Along with the wartime suffering and death endured here, an amazing community was born, the Corinth Contraband Camp.  When the Federal forces occupied Corinth after May of 1862, many enslaved African Americans (first called, incredibly, “contraband of war”)  fled plantations and farms and came to Corinth for protection behind Union lines.  Here, over 1000 African American children and adults  learned how to read!  They built homes, a church, school and hospital.   Freedmen started a progressive cooperative farm program and sold cotton and vegetables at a healthy profit. What started as a tent city grew into a thriving community.  It’s exciting to think about the new lives and identities that were started here.

One more happy note about the Shiloh battlefields. A few years back a pair of American Eagles, named Hiram and Julia after General Grant and his wife (I have to google it –  U.S. Grant’s first name was Hiram, but he evidently didn’t want to go to West Point with the initials H.U.G) started nesting in a tree in a very visible part of the park.  Since then, they’ve returned each year to raise a pair of young eaglets.  We saw the huge nest and lots of photographers.  I thank them for the posted pictures.

Dinner's on the way

Dinner’s on the way

Photographers at the Shiloh Battlefield Nest

Photographers at the Shiloh Battlefield Nest


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Kirkland Memorial, Fredericksville

(The last post from the last trip -onto 2011!)

After visiting the Fredericksburg Visitor Center, watching the film, walking along the stone wall, the sunken road and visiting the cemetery on the hill, where unknown soldiers are buried in graves, with numbers indicating how many are resting in the same grave together, the # 5 is not uncommon, I’m emotionally exhausted.

And what a silly thing to say, as if being a tourist is too much. 100,ooo soldiers died in the battlefields in this area.  The waste of life is hard to contemplate.  I’m mad at Burnsides for sending wave after wave of Union soldiers into certain death here.  I thank God for Sgt. Richard Kirkland, the “Angel of the Battlefield”, a 19 year old Confederate who jumped over the stone wall and gave water to  dying and thirsty Union enemies.  And take some comfort in Theodore O’Hara’s “Bivouac of the Dead”, stanzas of which are posted at different parts of the cemetery.

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep shall here tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While fame her records keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

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“Oh, you should have been here last week” people say – or,  “You’re going to miss a big one next weekend”.  We’ve yet to be at the right site at the right time to experience a re-enactment.  This time, we violate the sanctity of the spontaneous RV lifestyle, and plan ahead by a day or two to be here at Cedar Creek Battlefield for a huge re-enactment weekend.

And I mean, huge.  There are thousands of Confederate and Union troops, camped in endless rows of small canvas tents, facing off across the far sides of the hilly battlefield.  Their respective camps are teeming with activity, costumed re-enactors are cooking over campfires, tending to horses, readying cannons and small weapons, napping, reading, talking and laughing. We walk among them and marvel.  The rule is everything has to be consistent with the time period and circumstances, so if any spectator takes a photo or video, nothing would appear out of place.  Did I mention, the historically accurate food and coffee smells really good?

It looks like so interesting and fun that I flirt with the idea of becoming a re-enactor in Wisconsin when we get home.  But after checking out possibilities on the internet, I realize that the opportunities are pretty limited, especially for women.

The battle itself is frighteningly realistic.  Spectators crowd the hillside overlooking the battle scene.  We hear that it’s one of the few re-enactments that takes place on the actual ground of the original battle. Calvary soldiers fight and “die” in front of us.  Custer is there and General Sheridan, who heard the thundering cannon from Winchester, VA, and arrives, amid cheers, to take command and rally the Union troops.

After the smoke clears and the crowds begin to disperse we head to Creekside Campground in nearby Edinburg for a two-day furlough along a gurgling creek.  An extremely friendly group of ducks waddle out of the water at our campsite;  I feed them all our hot dog buns and they lay down at my feet and take an after-dinner nap around my chair for about half an hour, occasionally raising their heads, quacking at me gently, then settling back to sleep.  I’m touched and enthralled by the whole thing.  The other big plus to staying here is that Sal’s Italian Restaurant is within easy walking distance, so we eat there both nights, and have abundant leftovers for lunch while we watch the Packer game.

Creekside Campground

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John Brown's Fort

In my high-school mind, Harper’s Ferry has always been pretty much synonymous with abolitionist John Brown’s Raid. This is definitely the spot, and there’s a major exhibit that deals with Brown and his companions, what they believed, their bloody attempt to seize the weapons at the arsenal here, and the historical aftermath. But almost every one of the historic buildings here houses a museum or exhibit on a different aspect – including the Civil War, African American History, the Lewis and Clark expedition, industry and transportation. So, it’s not just a relaxing stroll through a pretty town, though it is that too – if you don’t get too frantic.

We’re staying in the Harper’s Ferry KOA close to the park.  It’s a Halloween Weekend – we had no idea what that entailed.

Halloween at Harper's Ferry KOA

It’s a major encampment.  There are tents and campers, RV’s in every size and shape – and almost all of them with Halloween decorations.  LOTS of decorations. People go to elaborate lengths – this guy and his wife were putting up a pirate ship.  She said it would take them about 6 hours to get everything assembled.  There are dogs and kids and bikes and activity everywhere.

In the midst of all this modern day business is a line of Civil War trenches.  They’re official trenches, with official plaques. They just happen to be in the middle of this campground.  We walk along the ridges and read them, we watch other families do the same.

Once the sun sets, people gather around their campfires.  There’s the smell of wood smoke and food in the air, the sound of laughter, kids fooling around, dogs barking.

I think of the Civil War soldiers that lay in trenches here.  What would they make of all of this?  It might be overwhelming, but  I imagine they would find comfort in knowing that a place that was so hard and bleak for them could be transformed into such a scene.  Families, instead of soldiers, sitting by the campfire.  Making memories, not waging war.

I wish that they could join this encampment – maybe they do… it’s Halloween…

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3363936649_032449c483_mToday, it’s a peaceful place, a green rolling hill dotted with a few monuments and markers. But knowing what happened here in 1864-5, imagining what those human beings endured, the hellish conditions, will haunt me for a very long time.

45,000 Union soldiers were confined in a 26-acre stockade during the fourteen months this Civil War prison existed. Almost 13,000 died here. Overcrowded, living in filthy and unsanitary conditions, exposed to the elements, they died of starvation and disease, sometime at the rate of 100 a day.

This park is a tribute to them. You can walk or drive (audio tapes available for $2) the original prison site, with its rebuilt stockade wall sections and remnants of escape tunnels, as well as the Civil War Cemetery, their final resting place, within the larger National Cemetery. We found the two films at the Visitor Center to be a moving prelude to the visit.

The park also pays tribute to all POW’s from the American Revolution to the Iraq War, at the National Prisoner of War Museum. A fascinating tribute to the human spirit.

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