A sabbatical is not a vacation, and though I was not in the office or with you on Sundays, I was busy. My “Totidem Verbis” column in the 27 September Trumpet detailed the tentative schedule. Whether on the road or at home, the plan is for me to be doing a lot of writing, some of which is found in the travelog below.
The most interesting (to me) and potentially most important material to the ongoing cultural conversation about Civil War monuments is found in Week 3, Weeks 7 & 8, and Week 10. God willing, I would like some day to recast these observations into a curriculum piece for use with our various training programs in Anti-Racism.
All of what you see here is © 2016 by Mark Gatza.
Except * from The Hobbit, and maybe a line or two from elsewhere, and a picture or three that in this context constitute fair use, maybe.
Please be sure to click on the pictures to see the full size images.
The First Week
There is no better way to transition from one state of being to another than to get on the road and get away. So, on Friday, 23 September, I will pack up and head north to our family camp in Edinburg, New York. Alone in the woods seems like a good place to focus on writing. On Sunday, 25 September, I will preside and preach at the Church of the Transfiguration on Blue Mountain Lake, the only guest appearance I have planned during the sabbatical.
The first week will end with a quick trip through central New England. I will stop at Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA — my alma mater — specifically to tour a brand new building, the Kern Center. This new facility, widely described as the “greenest building” ever built, will generate all of its own power and recycle all of its own water and waste. It’s construction was equally green, leaving virtually no “carbon footprint” during the building process. All that plus the fact that it was designed by the Cambridge, MA, architectural firm Bruner/Cott & Associates, where my daughter Meg works as an office manager and executive assistant to the principals.
Finally, I will meet with the Rt. Rev’d Nicholas Knisely, the Bishop of Rhodes Island, to turn over to him a red stole that belonged to his late uncle, the Rev’d Joseph Knisely, that somehow became part of Emmanuel’s collection of vestments.
The Second Week
Saturday morning I flew out to Minneapolis/St. Paul to begin the second trip. From there I drove east to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to visit Christ Church Cathedral. (Some of you may have heard me mistakenly talk about visiting the Cathedral at Fond du Lac. That’s because I recently did a Tuesday sermon on the “Fond du Lac Circus” and we featured one of their bishops, Charles Grafton Chapman in the Trumpet recently.)
I was warmly greeted by the Dean and several of the dozen or so communicants at the 8:00 service. The Dean and I chatted briefly about Johannes Oertel, a name he had not heard before. He did share enough about the history of their cathedral building for me to understand that Oertel’s sons wrote their biography of their father before a new sanctuary was constructed between the world wars. The painting they describe no longer exists, but I was able to identify two Oertel carvings, brought to the new space from the old one. One is a Lectern and the other a Prayer Desk.
The Cathedral has an archivist, who has my contact information and will be back in touch with anything else she can find.
I have gone several times to the “Celebration of Biblical Preaching” conference at Luther Seminary in the past. Thanks to a Lilly Foundation grant, the format has changed, to include a new feature this year: a “master class” for experienced preachers. I was one of the lucky few to be able to enroll, and so spent a day with Professor Karoline Lewis from the seminary faculty and 11 other preachers. Each of us preached a sermon and received feedback from Dr. Lewis. It was grueling!! I have said that a part of the value of this sabbatical time will be for me to hear some sermons from other people, but 11 in one day is a significant challenge for anyone’s powers of attention and concentration. (I was the only one, by the way, who chose to play a recording of an actual sermon I had preached, rather than recreate one live for the group. You can hear it by clicking above on this year’s sermons and going to the recording for 11 September 2016.)
Tuesday and Wednesday we will return to the more usual format of the conference and hear four sermons by the keynote speakers, followed by descriptions and discussions about how their creative processes work.
UPDATE: On my way back I reflected on two facts: first, this year’s conference was the first where more than 50% of the registered attendees were not Lutherans. Something like 13 other denominations were represented, including (for the first time) Baptists! Second, as usual, about 50% of the attendees were women. As someone who remembers the struggles of the first ordained women to be accepted, that we have reached gender parity in the pulpit is a blessing beyond my expectations of 35 years ago.
The Third Week
Monday, 10 October — “Ask, and ye shall receive,” Jesus says.
My third week of sabbatical began with a little recreation. Jan and I flew to Houston and then drove 200 miles to spend a day and a couple of nights in San Antonio. Jan has never spent time in this part of the world, and SA is a pretty cool place to visit. The city is remarkably pretty, the Riverwalk is justly famous, the people are unfailingly friendly and welcoming, and a visit to the Alamo tells you all you need to know about why Texans are … different than you and me.
A restaurant on the Riverwalk is pretty much my favorite in the country (and I have eaten in 47 states so far!) Boudro’s is not Mexican or Tex-Mex or Southwestern or Creole. It is the best example of pure local cuisine I have ever had, and it was a great joy to share that with Jan.
As we finished and the waitress asked if we wanted anything else, I answered impulsively. “Can I buy an apron?”
Now, you know that I have an extensive mug collection representing my travels (including one from the Menger Hotel where we are staying) and my previous visits to Boudro’s indicated that their china pattern did not extend to monogrammed mugs. So I asked for an apron, expecting the answer to be “No, we can’t do that.”
Behold, I asked, and I received.
Tuesday, I will drop Jan off in Houston and head east to the Mississippi River north of New Orleans to visit the Whitney Plantation and the Laura Plantation to learn something about slavery in the South, prior to my November trip. San Antonio to Houston to New Orleans is about 550 miles — I haven’t driven that far in a day in a very long time!
Thursday, 13 October — I did indeed visit both plantations on Wednesday, and if I hadn’t been so well prepared (thanks to a conversation with The Rev’d Canon Angela Shepherd) it could have been a shocking experience. Laura Plantation is lovely and the history of the family that ran it is fascinating. The tour includes a stop in an original slave cabin, where the guide suggested that a single family or two might have lived, and how after emancipation many former slaves chose to stay on and live in them.
The picture of slavery offered at the Whitney Plantation — once one of America’s richest holdings — was entirely different. In identical cabins, the guide there explained, as many as a dozen people were housed, having to share a single bed or sleep on the floor. I will have pictures posted here soon. Suffice it to say that if you had only a passing notion of what the life of a slave was like, a tour through Whitney Plantation could be life changing.
Both plantation tours include stops at original slave cabins. At Laura, the guide talked about the fact that, after the Civil War was over, several freed slaves returned to their cabins and continued to work the sugar cane fields, this time for a salary. He barely hinted at the fact that the economy was so poor at that point they had no choice, and often were so often in debt that they could never leave to find better opportunities.
At Whitney, identical cabins held, not just a family or two, but as many as a dozen men and women in each half of the duplex shacks, each half about half the size of a standard hotel room, and each with just a single bed. Slaves newer to the plantation or with less important jobs slept on the floor.
The Fourth Week
I do a lot of writing for a pastor of a congregation. Where most clergy write for a monthly newsletter, ours comes out something like 24 times a year, almost always with a column by me under the heading “Totidem Verbi,” Latin for “in so many words.” In a standard issue of The Trumpet, the column runs to about 650 words. Typically, it takes somewhere between three and four hours to write one, depending on how much research I am doing while I write. I often wish for the services of a good editor, and wonder how much better they might be if I had some professional help in that regard. At any rate, I have learned how to sit down every other Monday and write — whether I have been particularly inspired or not.
I am trying to bring that same discipline to the first draft of my book project, especially during the weeks I am not traveling. The format I have chosen to use isn’t based on traditional chapters, but rather on bits of 600 to 1000 words each. I am trying to write at least most of one each day. That may not seem like much output, but I find myself writing and rewriting these “bits” over and over. I ask a bunch of questions each time: Is this going to ring true for people in other churches? Is my observation or advice helpful? Is there something in Scripture that justifies what I am trying to say? Is this really about the church or is it about me personally? Sometimes a bit gets rewritten after each question!
Here’s an example: your-building-and-your-values
The Fifth Week
Some of my clergy friends don’t go to church while away on vacation or traveling, but I just can’t do that. I am well aware of my need to hear other preachers preach, and especially from points of view that are different from mine. So the last couple of weeks I have worshiped with some Lutheran friends that I met thanks to our joint Ascension Day service, hosted by Emmanuel last spring. The pastors of both congregations are young women and recently ordained, and I was really interested in what they had to say, how they said it and in particular, how they prepared for it. I was not disappointed by their offerings! But what I noticed that was harder to wrap my head around was how different their services were, not only from ours, but from each others. Though it may not seem that way to us, there really isn’t much variation in our Prayerbook with respect to how we celebrate holy communion. Apparently that’s not true in the Lutheran book, at least based on what I have experienced. Both congregations used large loaves of bread for communion. At one, however, chalices were presented for communicants to use for dipping or “intincting” the bread, while at the other, small cups of wine were offered to sip from after the bread had been eaten. I am eager to see what other variations I will run into.
The writing continues apace. Out of an estimated 30 or so short chapters, I have completed 12 and worked seven additional pieces.
holy-communion-i Here is a very rough draft of one of the sections of the book on Holy Communion.
The Sixth Week – The Road Trip Begins
1 November – I have long planned to begin my southern swing on the Feast of All Souls, 2 November, but when I heard that an old friend and colleague was coming into town to preach at the institution of the new Rector of All Saints, Frederick, I got a head’s start. Those of you who were at Rock Spring Parish in the middle 1990’s may remember Andy Jones as the lead musician in the band there. He left us to go to seminary, was ordained and has been Rector of St. Andrew’s in Madison, Wisconsin, for the last decade. We had a delightful visit before the service, and I jumped in the car and headed south.
But not too far, as it turned out. I stopped for the night in Brunswick, on the north side of the Potomac and checked into a wonderfully peculiar place, the Oak Tree Inn, with Penny’s Diner sitting up front. If you detect a railroad theme you would be right. The OTI is not so much a motel as a dormitory, owned and operated by the CSX railroad. Brunswick. Besides something like 25 regular rooms, there was a classroom for training and something called the “Crew Cab,” a room for people to lounge for a couple of hours. Because crew members come and go at all hours (and I can attest to that!) Penny’s is open 24/7. And because the company is responsible for keeping its crews rested and ready, I can also attest to the fact that it was far and away the best room I have slept in for $50, if not the quietest.
2 November – I drove just about 500 miles today, beyond my goal of Bristol, VA to Johnson City, TN. I detoured to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Beuna Vista to Roanoke, hoping to get some lovely pictures of the middle Appalachians. Sadly, though the road ascends as high as 4000 feet, the fogs in the valleys and the mist to the east prevented any decent photography.
Early last spring, Slate.com (an online politics and culture magazine) ran an “Academy” on the history of slavery. That is, they produced nine podcast episodes plus a couple of bonus pieces and uploaded them on their podcast feed. I downloaded all of them, but had not listened to any of them until today while driving. They already appear to be an interesting accompaniment to the visits I made last month to the Laura and Whitney plantations (see below). I have often mentioned the fact that slavery as recorded in the Bible — whether in the Jewish world or the Greco-Roman world — is a much different phenomenon that what we think of as slavery in 19th century America. It turns out that the institution of slavery evolved in America from its beginnings in 1621 into the “race-inherited” model that we think of as typical. I will get to learn more on the road to Lookout Mountain and Atlanta tomorrow.
3 November – One of the my hopes for this trip is that the monuments I visit would somehow speak for themselves, specifically answering these questions:
All of my thinking about this has been focused on issues surrounding slavery and the legacy that led to the Civil Rights movement. But on my very first “monument stop” today, at Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN, I was confronted by memories that I forgot to think about.
Lookout Mountain, as the picture below shows, commands an impressive 270° view of the city below and its river system. As U.S. Grant’s Union troops besieged and drove back the Confederate defenders of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain became their last defensive position. The Union attack up the steep bank you can imagine from the picture was the stuff of battlefield legend, but so too was the defense against overwhelming forces on the Southern side. The Rebels withdrew not so much in defeat as to rally defenses around Atlanta, about 100 miles away.
If you have been to a battlefield like Gettysburg or Antietam, you may be used to seeing monuments from Corps and Brigades and Regiments from both sides of the conflict. But atop Lookout Mountain, you will find only two. There is, now almost hidden in a bank of shrubbery, a knee-high granite marker which remembers the participation of a Brigade of troops from Wisconsin. And then there is the monument pictured above, and officially titled the “New York Peace” memorial. The life size figures on the top depict a Union and a Confederate soldier shaking hands. The huge bronze tablets in the Rotunda list Union forces by Corps, Divisions, and Regiments, the latter including the name of the commander, the dates a regiment mustered in, the dates of any transfer between Divisions (if any), the date they mustered out and the number of officers and soldiers present for duty on the 23 of November in 1863. The detail is not surprising given its source. The monument itself proclaims that it was “Erected by the State of New York, AD 1905, under the supervision of the Gettysburg and Chattanooga Monuments Commission.”
The man standing in the foreground of the picture is reading the much smaller plaque that indicates that there were some Confederate forces here actually defending the place.
After snapping some pictures and reading the texts, I wandered back to the Visitors Center with some questions and heard from a ranger an interesting story. The bronze figures at the top were made from cannons from both North and South, melted together. But the handshake is not what you would expect. When two equals shake hands, their palms are side by side, perpendicular to the ground. But when a superior shakes hands with an inferior (in 19th century etiquette) their palms are parallel to the ground with the former’s above and the latter’s below. That is the pose of the bronze soldiers. It is not a demonstration of reconciliation but an acknowledgement of defeat. And that is in keeping with the overwhelming size of the monument and (let’s be honest here) the demonstrative shape of it.
What is being remembered? The Union won a great victory here, on its way to even greater glory. Who is doing the remembering? New York, where the Yankiest of Yankees come from. Who is the remembering for? Anyone in the South who thinks rising up again in rebellion is a good idea. And there is no Confederate monument of any kind to offer the other side of the story.
That said, on the way back down the mountain, I couldn’t help but notice that the “Scenic Mountain Road” was lined with beautiful homes, including impossibly steep side streets also with homes dating from the 1830’s to recent construction. It is without question one of the most exclusive and exquisite neighborhoods I have ever driven through.
I’m sorry … who won what here?
The Seventh Week – On the Road
4 November – No preacher growing up in the late 20th century is uninfluenced by the witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., myself included. I could quote lines from his speeches and sermons long before I ever gave one of my own. So as this sabbatical plan came together, I knew that an extended visit in Atlanta would be a major part of it. And because Stone Mountain, with it’s vaunted bas relief carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson was so nearby, I figured that a contrast between memorial messages would be evident.
Well, yes and no. Neither site offered exactly what I had expected to find, though both were dramatic and inspiring in their own rights.
I spent Thursday in the Auburn Avenue Historic District in downtown Atlanta. Three distinct institutions live together in the three or four blocks of the district. There is the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, one of our National Parks. It consists of a typical NPS Visitors Center, with the ubiquitous orientation movie and a variety of interactive displays. Across the street you will find the Martin Luther King Center, which includes the reflecting pool which surrounds the sarcophagus of King and his wife, Coretta. Adjacent to that on the corner of the block is the original Ebeneezer Baptist Church, pastored by King’s father, whom he later joined in the church’s ministry.
I planned this pilgrimage around monuments and their messages, so my first task at the King memorial was to find his. That turned out to take some time and effort. I expected to find some kind of statue, set apart by some architectural design or at least some landscaping that would guide your eyes to the visual prize. Think of the Lincoln Memorial, on the mall in Washington, DC. You walk up the stairs, and there he is, in marble glory on a great throne. That’s an old fashioned monument.
That’s not what you get at the King site. Where you expect to find a statue of him, you find a surprise. Dead center in the exhibition space (can you see the main doors in the back of the picture?) is this depiction of marchers walking up an inclined road, as if it were the approach to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. There is no painting, no sculpture, no portrait photograph of King by himself. Instead, there are four video stations, each featuring films of King at work at particular moments and places. Except that the videos have less footage of King and more of the people who were foot soldiers in the Civil Rights movement, acting out the non-violent protests that were the heart of their activity.
Across the street, in the courtyard of the King Center, speakers surrounding the Kings’ tomb broadcast bits of his speeches and commentaries on his life from other Civil Rights leaders. And finally, in the sanctuary of the historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church (the congregation has moved to a new space across the street under the leadership of its current pastor, the Rev’d Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, formerly of Baltimore’s Douglas Memorial Church), audio tapes of King’s sermons play during visiting hours. I sat through an entire sermon, the one where King talks about the kind of funeral he would like to have, and at the end only one other person was still there. We looked at each other and without words understood that we were both preachers!
And that’s when it hit me. The monument to King that I was looking for was not to be found in stone, but in speech. What is being remembered? It was his words — so many of them recorded in sermons and speeches and interviews, and even in the letter from the Birmingham jail — that are his memorial. And it is not a memorial to him, personally, it is a memorial to his leadership. I think that message gets lost in a society that still doesn’t know how to talk about difficult things — as this political season has clearly shown. That’s why he received the Nobel Peace Prize: not because he was a good preacher, but because he understood leadership.
Who is doing the remembering? First and foremost, his local community: the place he grew up, the church he served, welcomed him back after his death. Second, the still growing community of leaders who understood his thirst for civil rights and who understand that there is still work to be done. And finally, as demonstrated by the National Park Service presence, the nation as a whole which recognizes the impact of his leadership, and celebrates it with America’s highest honor, a Monday holiday.
Who is the remembering for? Over the three hours I was in the historic district I was moved by how diverse the modest crowd was. Half the people there were African American, some obviously from the neighborhood just hanging out in the beautiful gardens. The rest were of all races from too many places to guess at. I recognized people speaking in Japanese and Korean, a couple of African languages and both Spanish and French from a few others. What struck me as most interesting as I walked around, was the fact that everyone there was paying attention, even the teenagers and younger kids had their cell phones in their pockets. It was as if they all knew they were supposed to pay attention.
5 November – When I looked up “Stone Mountain” on the internet, I did not find what I was expecting. I knew that there was this immense carving on its sheer wall commemorating Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, in figures larger than those of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt on Mt. Rushmore. I expected to find exhibits and galleries and celebrations of these heroes of the Confederate South. What the internet offered was golf, and restaurants, and a cable car ride, and the promise of a snowy mountain Christmas extravaganza.
And what I found when I got there was more like a theme park than a monument.
First of all, to get into the park you pay a $15 parking fee, $40 for a year’s parking pass. Then to get into the “attractions,” you need to buy a ticket that costs anywhere from $30 to $45, depending on whether you want to ride the “Duck boats” or eat dinner watching the laser light show. What is instantly clear is that this is a commercial enterprise, and that the “Stone Mountain Memorial Association” is not a “not-for-profit” enterprise. The land has always been privately owned and the management of the attractions is, shall we say, a complicated interplay of public and private interests.
The best views of the monument are to be found at the “Memorial Hall,” a museum with a few small galleries and a lawn looking up at the carving, pictured above. I shared the hour and a half I spent there with perhaps a dozen other people, most of speaking languages other than English. Much to their credit, the single (though large) display case on the Civil War itself gave equal space to Union and Confederate articles. However, the lion’s share of the display space was given over to the story of the artists and stone carvers themselves — a story which is fraught with disputes and disappointments and delays caused by war and depression. Though commissioned in 1915, the project was not completed until 1970, and the forlorn looks on the faces of the figures, and the fact that their hats are held over their hearts in mourning, may be a reflection of the realities of the present as well as the past.
In the Memorial Hall there are three small plaques describing the three figures in the carving. On the left is Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The plaque states, “To many, Davis symbolizes the tragic years of America’s Civil War. … His country was ill-equipped to fight the North, but Davis served the Confederacy well.” Also, when the end came, he “refused to seek amnesty or pardon …” Lee’s plaque describes him as coming from a prominent Virginia family and sacrificing much on his way to winning impressive victories “against a larger and better equipped” foe. He is lauded as a symbol for accepting defeat with dignity, and his post-war career as President of Washington College is duly noted.
I would love to be able to share the details of Stonewall Jackson’s plaque, but in this first week of November it was already blocked by the majestic purple throne that Santa Claus will occupy this Christmas Season. And the lovely picture I might have taken of the carving from Memorial Hall was blocked by the construction of Snowy Mountain, the mid-winter attraction at Stone Mountain which includes these sledding and skiing ramps which will be covered with artificial snow WHICH WAS ALREADY BEING MADE WHILE I WATCHED! In 73° weather!
I wandered around the rest of the park and took the “Scenic Railroad” (included in my admission) around the mountain. There were maybe 80 of us, in open cars to see the views around the mountain. But each car had 10 video screens (!) so that you wouldn’t miss what management thought was important. I drove a couple of miles around the mountain to the “Confederate Hall,” the newest facility there, specifically to view a film on the “Civil War in Georgia,” only to find that the Geology exhibit was both the largest and the best thing in the park. Stone Mountain is a “monadnock,” don’t you know, just like the one in Vermont I used to hike in college. On the way I passed six or eight parking lots full of cars near the trail heads of hiking and biking trails all around and up and down the mountain. Hundreds of cars.
Finally, inevitably in such places, you wander into the gift shop, and in a place like this one of many. 4000 square feet? You all know I collect souvenir mugs (a habit I need to break sooner than later) and I looked for one with the carved figures from the mountain, and couldn’t find one. All of the souvenir t-shirts and sweats and mugs had, like, college logos on them. Seeing someone in a Stone Mountain jacket would make you ask, where is that school?
It doesn’t take much thought to figure out why. Stone Mountain is not, any longer, a memorial to some glorious vision of the South, but a commercial enterprise. It’s point is to make ever dollar it can out of a complex of natural and humanly made resources. Of the thousands of people who must have been in the park with me today, only a handful spent any time looking at Davis and Lee and Jackson. Everyone else was hiking, biking, golfing, picnicking, or riding the Duck Boats around the park. And that “everyone” includes people of many races and backgrounds, not all of whom are interested in things that happened over 150 years ago — even if their families were in this country back then.
What is being remembered here? Not much, I’m afraid. And the truth is that it makes me feel a little sad that the effort so many people made — the artists, the quarry men, and especially the stone carvers — has become a kind of an afterthought in a commercial enterprise. I’m sure school groups come all the time and dutifully listen to the descriptions of the three Southern heroes. But how can they really pay attention when the “Dippin’ Dots” wagon is just outside the door?
Who is doing the remembering? Once upon a time it was the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who responded to editorials by William Terrell and John Temple Grace in 1914 to create the organization, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association in 1915. I am sure they represented the interests of a great many who then still felt the temporal effects of the Civil War. Today, with the commercial interests so obviously in the lead, it is hard to tell.
Who is the remembering for? I think the answer to this question has changed over time as the demographics of greater Atlanta have changed. In 1915, a memorial to the great leaders of the Southern cause would have served as a touchstone for families that still mourned kin that were lost and a way of life that could no longer exist. But a hundred years later, Atlanta, Georgia and the South are no longer what they once were. If the majority of the visitors to Stone Mountain are people of color — as they certainly seemed to me today — then to emphasize the greatness of the Confederacy is not a key to profitability. Hiking, biking, concerts, sledding in Georgia in midwinter and some half-way decent barbecue are a better bet.
I am sure that there are a few visitors each year — like yours truly — who come to be inspired by the men in the carving. But my guess is that we are few and far between.
6 November – After early church at St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta, I drove west hoping to get to the three points of Martin Luther King’s “Alabama Triangle:” Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham. I arrived in Montgomery just as services were concluding at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where King served as Pastor from 1954 to 1960. I was hoping to get inside, but was told by a prominent sign, and then by a gracious choir member, that on Sundays the church was closed to everyone but worshipers. I got it, but was a little disappointed. Pictured above is the crosswalk from the church across Dexter Avenue, looking at the Alabama State Capitol. I had not seen any reference to this in any of the research I have done along the way, and so it caught me up short when I noticed it and figured out what it was. On 25 March 1965 something like 25,000 people — many of whom had marched from Selma — crossed through this intersection on their way to the State Capitol to protest efforts to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. Hostility against the marchers resulted in so much violence that the action was started and stopped twice earlier that month and ultimately required President Johnson to send a military escort to maintain order. Later in the afternoon I drove the route backwards to Selma, and was struck by the fact that so much of the area was unsettled and isolated that many sorts mayhem might have happened on route without federal protection.
A block away is the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center (designed by Yale artist Maya Lin). Featuring an oft used quote from King’s sermonic repertoire based on Amos 5:4, the monument itself has to be studied up close to reveal its detail. Carved into the top of the conical fountain are the dates of key moments in the Civil Rights movement, beginning with the Brown V. Board of Education Decision and concluding with the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Amid the citations is one that should be close to the hearts of Episcopalians, the reference to the murder of Jonathon Myrick Daniels, a seminarian, who stepped in front of a black teenager when a sheriff’s deputy fired at her with a shotgun.
As I mentioned, after this visit to Montgomery, I drove to Selma, about 40 miles to the west. I didn’t think to stop and photograph them, but it was the first time that I had actually seen cotton fields, especially in the fields close to Selma. Some were harvested already, while some were white and ready for harvest. A couple of weeks ago, at the plantations I visited above New Orleans, I saw sugar cane fields in the same condition: some ready to chop, others already chopped with the shoots of next year’s crops already peaking up from the ground.
Entering Selma, you cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the march began and where the first violence occurred. Here is the citation about Edmund Pettus from Wikipedia: “Edmund Winston Pettus (July 6, 1821 – July 27, 1907) was an American lawyer, soldier, and legislator. He served as a Confederate general during the American Civil War, during which he was captured three times. After the war he was a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and a Democratic U.S. Senator.
There is a nearly finished National Park Service interpretative center across the bridge, and a couple of parking spaces. As I got to the relatively new plaque that described the march at the foot of the bridge, I noticed a younger (than me!) African American couple taking pictures of each other at the sign. They were grateful when I offered to take a picture of both of them together, and without another word spoken we walked together across the bridge, following in the footsteps of Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis and thousands of others over 50 years ago. They were the first people I had interacted with on a personal level on this pilgrimage. I left them on the other side and walked back by myself, taking the picture above in a moment without traffic. This is the image that became so famous during the march, as news photographers stood in about this place as the first walkers approached the waiting police lines.
On my way back to the car, I was greeted by a local resident — apparently one of a handful of people who welcome visitors to the bridge and offer suggestions about where else to visit in Selma. They are obviously aware that the broken down, burnt out condition of the downtown area might encourage people to beat a hasty retreat. But thanks to his directions, I was able to visit the memorial to the Rev’d James Reeb, a white Boston minister who was murdered by the KKK as the marching campaign was being planned, and Brown AME Church, where marchers prayed before beginning the march.
What is being remembered? If the King memorial site in Atlanta is about his leadership, the “monuments” in Selma and Montgomery are about the courage that his leadership inspired … courage that led to suffering in the hands of violent hatred and sometimes to death. Who is doing the remembering? The answer is that this is a work in process. The Maya Lin designed memorial was dedicated in 1986 as the Southern Poverty Law Center moved into its current headquarters (ironically surrounded by buildings owned by lobbying agencies, including The Alabama Center for Commerce and the Alabama Association of Realtors — which begs the question whether monitoring civil rights is reduced to just another form of lobbying!). But the National Park Service contributions — historical signs on the route of the marchers, a Visitors Center halfway on the route, and the new center in Selma — are very recent. Who is the remembering for? If the source of the remembering is a work in progress, so too is the audience. Civil Rights activists have always known and respected these places, but it is clear that an effort is being made to widen the audience. That would include me!
7 November – I visited the best two monuments I have seen thus far today, and so it is probably a good time to let you in on some of the preparation that went into this trip. I started by identifying a number of places that I wanted to visit, and then pared it down to a reasonable itinerary. When I decided to focus on the message of the monuments, I could have gone to my favorite internet search engine and looked at hundreds of them in advance. With some intentionality, I did not do that. I wanted to go to a place and find what was there with fresh eyes and an open mind. And I didn’t want my itinerary to be so tight that I wouldn’t have time to wander a bit and see what’s around.
So on my way from Birmingham to the battlefield at Shiloh, Tennessee, I saw signs pointing to a Civil War Interpretive Center at Corinth, Mississippi. I remembered the descriptions of the fighting at Corinth from Shelby Foote’s great narrative of the Civil War, and so pulled in. It’s a decent little museum with a couple of better than average museum films. And as you finish in the gallery, you are ushered to a garden with this remarkable “water feature.” It is at once beautiful, but as you look at it longer, you realize that it tells a story.
Beginning at the far end, the waters represent the final creation of the Nation in 1790 when Rhodes Island ratified the constitution. as the waters travel through time they are disturbed by moments of national confusion and compromise until they are divided by conflict. Each of the blocks that divide the stream into Northern and Southern branches represents a battle, and the size of the block represents the number of casualties suffered by both sides. The waters reunite under the three slate stones that stand for the Constitutional Amendments that emerged from the war. Sunken in the final pool, is a statement — or perhaps a question: “The Civil War was fought over issues of Liberty: The cost was high, and many issues remain to be resolved.”
There is much more to it — so much more that the Park Service published an 850 word, illustrated description of the other details. After I had taken in as much as I could, I asked the Park Ranger who had designed it. I did not see an artist’s signature or the inevitable plaque that marks “art by committee.” He beamed when he told me that it was designed by a Park Ranger who had served there for years as the site was developed. Not a committee, not an artist, but an enthusiast who had the dream job of telling people the story of one of our nation’s most painful moments.
What is being remembered? The pain of our national division, represented by the thousands of men who died it’s battles. Who is doing the remembering? One amazingly passionate man with the vision to share this story in a remarkably graphic way. Who is the remembering for? You have to be a real Civil War buff to find you way to Corinth (unless, like me, you are looking for Shiloh coming from Central Alabama!). So the chances of thousands of studious pilgrims contemplating this monument is still pretty small. And why depict the scope of a hundred years at a battlefield that saw limited (though catastrophically bloody) action in a couple of skirmishes in 1862? I confess, I am making this up: I imagine that school children from scores of elementary, middle and high school students get to come to Corinth each year on a field trip. “Here children, pay attention: this is our local battlefield.” I remember trips like that to Gettysburg in fifth and eleventh grade. And if I were the ranger charged with holding their attention and trying to teach them something valuable, this is exactly the kind of tool that would do the trick. Just a guess, mind you, but I would have loved to have been a fifth grade visitor to Corinth.
Having spent more time than I expected at Corinth, I arrived at Shiloh with about an hour and a half of daylight left. (Note to self: do not cross into another time zone on the same day as the end of Daylight Savings Time!) Since I am so clearly focused on monuments, it took only a couple of moments for the Shiloh Park Ranger to outline a tour around the battlefield to let me see, appreciate, and photograph the most revealing examples.
What I most expected — and what I saw the most of — were commemorations like this one from Missouri. At Shiloh, Divisions from Missouri fought on both sides. The larger list of regiments that sided with the North stands above a smaller list of regiments that fought for the south.
On the reverse, there is an inscription that answers, briefly, the questions I bring to each monument. (Be sure to click on it to expand it so that you can read it.) Most of the state monuments at Shiloh say pretty much the same thing, the exception being the memorial to those who fought from Tennessee, who were not just fighting for the cause of the South but who were simultaneously defending “hearth and home.”
But at the heart of the “Military Park,” there is a “Confederate Monument.” It is notable for having no words, no inscription whatsoever. This is not to say that it does not convey a detailed message; it just does so in an iconographic language that would have been well known in 1917 when it was fabricated and installed. Sadly, that language has fallen out of use since, and so the Park Service has provided a handy translation.
I know this language very well, since it is the same language used by Johannes Oertel, the artist responsible for so many of the carvings at Emmanuel Church. Besides the work that we know in Harford County, Oertel’s work can be found from New York City to Eau Claire, WI, to Sewanee, TN.
The figures in the central column represent the Lady of the Confederacy, in the center, death on the left and everlasting night on the right. Figures like them were common in art of this era, with death’s face hidden (we never know how we will die) and Night’s hooded head raised and looking up and out into the distant future.
What is being remembered? Without question, the statue represents the presumed ultimate fall of the South, apparent in the Pyrrhic victory that was the Battle of Shiloh. Who is doing the remembering? “The United Daughters of the Confederacy” commissioned the work. (They have a website, http://www.hqudc.org/ — though I wonder how their mission has changed over the last hundred years.) Who is the remembering for? There is a sadness, perhaps even great pain, which is obvious in the work. This memorial seems to me to be dedicated to those who, even so many years later, feel keenly the sense of loss represented by the largest role of casualties in the war.
8 November – Plan A for my full day in Memphis fell apart but it didn’t take long for a Plan B to come together.
But before all that, my first stop was at “Medical Arts Park,” once upon a time “Forrest Park,” to look at the monumental statue of Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the leading Confederate Calvary officer in the western department of the Civil War. There is no more controversial figure both during and after the conflict, to say nothing of his career as a slave trader before the war began. You can look up this up yourself — though please remember that sources like Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, regardless of credentials. You will find a great deal about his role in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, and if you look deeply, also about what some consider his repudiation of the organization as it developed. You will also find conflicting stories about his leadership in the Battle of Pillow Fort, where regiments of African-American troops were slaughtered while trying to surrender. My focus is on the message of the monuments, and at face value the word here is very narrowly cast.
The text on the base of the statue is hard to read in this photo (it was a rainy, gray morning) but it reads “ERECTED BY HIS COUNTRYMAN IN HONOR OF THE MILITARY GENIUS OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST CONFEDERATE STATES ARMY 1861-1865.”
What is being remembered? The text makes it clear: military genius, plain and simple. Whatever the war was fought for, partisans who could not uphold their mission were not only useless to their leaders, but cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers. Forrest is remembered for being good at what he did. There is something to that, even in warfare. Who is doing the remembering? I am not sure who “his countrymen” are. In this part of Tennessee, sympathies ran more Southern than in the eastern part of the state. Historic plaques nearby describe his efforts to establish a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which, apart from any ancillary association with organizations like the KKK, served a variety of missions, including the care of veterans who needed social services. Who is the remembering for? This seems like a local community making the best show it can of a local hero. It reminded me of a bronze statue of Cal Ripkin, Jr., that once stood at a prominent intersection in Aberdeen, MD. Yay, to honor a local hero, but it seemed a bit too big for its location. I think that holds here too, though if you are going to include a horse, its probably got to be that big. That said, the renaming of the park in which this statue stands is significant. It is now “Medical Arts Park” because it once housed a hospital. Forrest survived the waves of Yellow Fever Epidemics that plagued Memphis in the 1870’s, only to die from complications from diabetes (according to Wikipedia). It seems clear that his post-war career was devoted to civic duties of a variety of sorts and that he was a significant benefactor for more than the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
There has been much controversy about this statue and the graves of Forrest and his wife buried beneath it. Legislation was passed over a year ago to remove them to a privately owned location, or to at least return their remains to the Elmwood Cemetery where they first laid to rest. Quickly, documentation was found that showed that the legislation violated previously adopted legal codes, not the least of which is the definition of a burial ground. Thus this hastily posted citation from Tennessee code.
Here’s a take-away: History is not always easy. And the answer to difficult history is more history. I am nagged by the feeling that I am trying to do in two weeks what should take a lifetime to understand.
Plan B. I wanted to spend most of the day at the Civil Rights Museum that occupies the motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It turned out that it was closed! I couldn’t tell whether it was closed for Election Day (duh!) or whether they had moved to a seasonal schedule that I didn’t catch in my planning. Good news: I can stop in there for a while on Wednesday on my way to Vicksburg.
So — and you know this is how my brain works if you have heard me preach or answer a hard question — about a second after I realized Plan A was gone, I remembered that there were other cool things/people that Episcopalians might be interested in about Memphis. Yellow Fever, for example! And not just because Nathan Bedford Forrest survived it.
Plan B. Look up the “Martyrs of Memphis” on your favorite internet browser and you will find stories of selfless and heroic action in the face of a virulent plague. During the 1870’s, something like 90% of the population of Memphis either fled or was overcome by wave after wave of epidemic disease. In this age of GPS driven directions, I still like maps, and picked one up on my way into Tennessee. Evidently, I noticed a place on the Mississippi River bank a place called “Martyrs Park,” and when I needed it, that popped back into my mind. GPS found it for me, and there I found a lovely memorial to those who stayed in Memphis to care for the sick and dying, almost all of whom contracted the contagious disease and died themselves. This memorial recalls the souls of those who have died rising to their eternal reward, standing (as it were) on the shoulders of those who cared for them in their last hours. It made for several fruitful moments of reflection on the relationship between civil rights and human rights, including the right for compassion in the face of death.
It was raining, and the photograph I took of the ground level tablet at the monument is too hard to read. I think it answers my questions without additional comment.
“In grateful memory of the sacrifices of the heroes and heroines of Memphis in the 1870’s who gave their lives serving the victims of Yellow Fever. Thousands died and thousands fled during several epidemics. The last one, in 1879, devastated the city, leaving few survivors. The acts of love and courage, beyond the call of duty, merited the gratitude and admiration of the citizens of Memphis, and of the world, as history revealed the story.
‘Greater love that this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends.’ John 15:13
January 3, 1971
Dr. Aaron Boom; Rev. Monseigneur Joseph E. Leppart; A. M. Sommers; Fred P. Gattas; Mrs. Robert W. Shafer; Mrs., Louis A. Klitzman; Judge Harry C. Pierotti.”
Episcopalians should know that a significant portion of the pastoral care delivered to Memphis during these waves of Yellow Fever infestation were offered by an order of Nuns headquartered at St. Mary’s Cathedral, our Episcopal headquarters in West Tennessee. I found monuments to them at the aforementioned Elmwood Cemetery, whose tag line is “Memphis at rest since 1852.”
This is the grave marker of two Episcopal priests who ministered to the afflicted. On the one side, The Rev’d Carroll Parsons is remembered, who served Memphis for many years. At the news of his death, and with no priest to comfort the increasing number of victims, The Rev’d Louis Schuyler left his parish in Hoboken, NJ, and traveled west to be of service. He lasted barely two weeks before the disease sent him to his heavenly reward. They are buried, head to head, with this marker between them.
Similarly buried head to head are four nuns of St. Mary’s who are commemorated on the Episcopal calendar of Saints as “Constance and her companions.” As there are four of them, their plot creates a Greek Cross, with a single marker at their heads. The plot belongs to St. Mary’s Cathedral, and so there are a couple of other graves, of later nuns and even of Cathedral Canons, which lie at the foot of these saints, their granite markers visible in this picture.
I have traveled to England and Ireland and visited the graves of many of our historic Anglican saints, but I can’t recall ever standing at the grave of an American saint (or saints!) before. So I stood there for a long time and let it sink in. God, I hate artificial flowers!!!!!!!!!!!!
Elmwood Cemetery is, without question, a national treasure — and the keepers of it are aware of that awesome responsibility. (Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore is equal to it.) When I have the time to render a fuller account of this pilgrimage, I will no doubt reflect on the monument to the “Confederates at Rest,” and the misunderstanding behind the headstone to the “Mary Magdalene of Memphis.” And don’t you want to know the gory details of Alma Theede and the three husbands she shot, and Grace Toof, whose wonderful mansion ended up being sold to Elvis Presley, and the special place reserved for people who donate their bodies to science for the local medical college?
And then there is this extraordinary monument. On a rough, unhewn boulder that looks like it has been sitting there for ages is this plaque that reads:
“Monument to the Slaves: Final resting place of more than 300 slaves buried between 1852 and 1865 – For a life of toil and bondage only a nameless grave awaited thousands of slaves throughout the south. ‘Oh freedom. And before I be a slave I’d be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.'” When I asked the staff about it, the best they could guess was that it was put there in the 1980’s but by whom and for what reason, they couldn’t say. We all ended up more curious than when I asked the question.
But for now, and in the context of this pilgrimage, my questions stand.
The Eighth Week – “The Road Goes Ever On and On”*
A word about accommodations. At this point I am getting pretty good at reading the “code” from websites that search for hotels and the like. And I am discovering that websites really do know what you have been browsing for — which you may take for a warning, as I do. I have been trying to target rooms at around $60 a night, which is pretty cheap by today’s standards. But some rooms at that price point are old and musty while others are on the way up. The last couple of places I have stayed were, not too long ago, relegated to the old and musty category. But apparently the hotel business is so hot right now that folks are buying up old and musty and completely redoing them to keep up with the market demand. It feels to me a lot like the supermarket business, where profit margins are very low, but the demands to upgrade appearances and amenities are very strong indeed. So, it’s been weeks now since I’ve brushed my teeth at a sink that wasn’t encased in fine marble; new carpet and new flooring are the norm; everything is newly painted; and even WIFI has been upgraded in most places, allowing me not only to upload these posts but to email and download pictures from my phone to illustrate them. Oh, and hotel beds are way better than they used to be, Thank You Jesus! I have done my booking through two particular sites, and the reward is that one of my nights in Mobile this weekend is on the house.
9 November – The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is located in a cluster of buildings near the famous Beale Street corridor, famous for its music scene. The Lorraine Motel was an upscale establishment that provided easy access to music venues for African Americans, who — in the 1960’s — were prohibited from staying in white motels. When Martin Luther King, Jr., accepted the invitation to address striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he must have been honored that his hosts had arranged for such accommodations. This old sign is the first thing you see as you approach from the parking lot, and my first reaction was to smile and think how cool! The sign is a classic example of a style of architecture of which I am a great fan: Googie (in the West) or Doo Wop (on the East Coast). It is rare to find it in middle America, and to know that King stayed in such a place made me feel more connected to him personally than I had before. In late July, Jan and I stayed at the StarLux motel in Wildwood, NJ, a restored motel in that classic 1950’s style.
But things get pretty somber as you walk past the sign. Marked by a bunting wreath is the balcony of room 306 where King was standing when he was fatally shot. Just below it is a memorial plaque, which quotes from the Genesis story of Joseph. In the story Joseph’s many brothers plot to sell him into slavery, jealous over the attention their father paid the youngest of them. The reference to Joseph as “the dreamer” clearly pays homage to King’s often used sermon/speech illustration of his dream of a society where his children would be judged, not by the color of their skin but the content of their character.
Inside, a visitor is greeted by a very large contemporary sculpture in two blocks, about 12 feet tall. From the bottom to the top there are the small figures of hundreds of people struggling to reach the summit. The road beneath their feet is difficult; some have fallen, some have reached down to help others up. Titled “We Shall Overcome,” it shows the not only how difficult it is to reach the top, but how many need to work together to achieve it. The exhibits describe and illustrate elements and events of the Civil Rights Movement that I am now starting to find familiar. At the King Center in Atlanta, this history is presented mostly through sound and video. In Memphis the exhibits are considerably more tangible, many of them allowing the visitor to place themselves in the action, as it were. Some of the same speeches and sermons played here as in Atlanta, and indeed as we hear almost every year on King’s memorial day in January. So I applied a little of the same discipline to listening as I do during our clergy bible studies on Tuesdays. I have heard the Gospel lessons over and over again for decades. But each week I make myself listen again, carefully, hoping to hear something fresh and new. So it is with several of King’s orations. I am now starting to hear when he goes “off script” from one of his standard memes to speak to a particular audience or situation. (Of course, it helps that I have been collecting the published versions of these works as I find them in museum gift shops, so I have textual as well as audial evidence to work with.)
What is being remembered? If Atlanta’s King Center complex recalls his leadership, Memphis enshrines his death and the end of that leadership. In an way that I am still trying to fathom, the Lorraine Motel feels more sacred than even the site of King’s tomb or the Ebenezer Baptist Church sanctuary. I am reminded of a polite difference of opinion about the celebration of King’s life and work. Our Book of Common Prayer offers us two choices: we can join the rest of America and celebrate the Monday closest to King’s birthday — which conveniently falls in a month that didn’t have a Monday holiday; or we can follow ancient Christian practice which commemorates a saint on the anniversary of his or her death, in King’s case April 4th. The Church’s reasoning runs something like this: all of us are born, but it is how we live out the message of the Gospel in our lives that makes some of us examples worthy of special recollection.
Who is doing the remembering? Formally, the National Civil Rights Museum is a non-profit corporation run by a Board of Directors. This gives them the ability to raise funds from a variety of public and private sources to create and maintain a truly world-class facility. Yay for non-profits! Just weeks ago, the NCRM became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution — that’s about the time that the Museum of African American History opened on the mall in Washington, and it will be interesting to see if there is much exchange between the two.
Who is the remembering for? The King Center in Atlanta is pretty much free; the NCRM charges a modest fee, but a fee nonetheless. The experience was indeed richer for it, but it made me think for just a few seconds about how important it is to fund our experience of history to make it accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it. That said, if this museum had existed 15 years ago when my children were young, I would have invested in the drive to Memphis to see it. More so than Atlanta, this is a place where a young person, sitting on a city bus or at a lunch counter stool, could really learn something.
10 November – Vicksburg, and the National Military Park that surrounds the city, have been a part of my plan from the very beginning. The campaign to take the city, and the siege that ultimately resulted in its surrender, coincide with General Robert E. Lee’s advance into Pennsylvania and the ultimate battle at Gettysburg that decided so much of the course of the war in the Eastern theater. Both were concluded on 4 July 1863. And there has always been a bit of a competition between the battlefields with respect to grand monuments. The debate concerning who has the biggest or the best or the most regimental markers continues to this day. I came to Vicksburg wondering how the Southern states would remember their defeat, here on their own soil. (As I write this, it occurs to me that I may have to return to Gettysburg to look more closely at monuments there, which I did not plan to be part of this investigation.)
By and large, the monuments at Vicksburg are larger by my eye than those at Gettysburg. The US Navy memorial obelisk, commemorating the cooperation of the “Brown Water Navy” with Grant’s strategy, is so tall that I could not get to a vantage point to photograph its entire height. Interestingly, they are also set back farther from the road, and usually up one of the many small hills that make up the battlefield terrain, so that they are hard to view and harder to read.
Many of the monuments explicitly answer my three questions, as the photographs reveal. Here, for example, is the state monument from Tennessee, obverse and reverse.
Click on the picture of the reverse side and read the poem. What is being remembered is the character of the men called to serve. The remembering is sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, as are many of the monuments in the South. And the remembering is for the friends and families of those brave souls who come seeking some solace for their loss in the face of defeat.
That theme turns out to be a typical one, related to the nobility of the South’s “Lost Cause.” The seceded states did not have the economic might or the numbers of young men to call on to ever win the Civil War, but their valiant efforts in battle and their determination to see it to the end prove the worth of their character, and (in extreme expositions of this notion) the worthiness of their cause in the first place. Below you will find reference to the Slate.com “academy” podcasts, and I would urge you to find episode 8 and listen to Jamelle Bouie’s reflections on this notion.
Two of the monuments at Vicksburg recognize the fact that soldiers from these states fought on opposite sides of the war. The Kansas state memorial — a latecomer to the battlefield — does this in an explicit way artistically. It is hard to see until you get right up close, and even though the iconography is evident to “monument readers,” they provide an explicit description of what the art is conveying: “The bottom circle represents the unity of the pre-Civil War era. The broken circle in the center represents the Union torn asunder by the conflict of 1861-1865. The perfect circle at the top depicts the regained unity of the post-war era. The eagle atop all typifies the glorious majesty of our country.
This plaque erected 1973 by the Kansas Department of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.”
The New York state monument reiterates the “grateful commonwealth” theme that I saw at Lookout Mountain (below), though it is a fraction of the size.
Two of the monuments are unusual in that there are no inscriptions on them at all, save the name of their states, Alabama and Mississippi. Where many of the monuments at Vicksburg include some message, either in text or in iconography, of reconciliation and peace, neither of these do. In fact, the sculptured images continue to fight. It is Alabama, personified in the figure of the central woman, who urges the troops on in their monument. The Mississippi monument, when first installed, had no figures, but featured a tall marble column. Decades later, bronze scenarios of battle were added, including some of the most violent images in the part, with cannons, muskets, and hand guns all pointed at the Northern battle lines. The woman depicted above the fray is Clio, one of the classic Muses, her charge being history. Like her sisters, she sits with … (wait for it!) … a bemused smile on her face, as if she knows more about what is to come than those battling beneath her. Long after the battle was over and the surrender secured, the message of this monument is that the Sons of Mississippi are prepared to hold the line again when the time comes.
The question of who is doing the remembering is really important when you visit such a place. I have already noted the prominence of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and many of the monuments are the product of state legislatures spending state approved funds. That said, when you find inscriptions on the monuments, you can bet that the sentiment has some weighty sanction.
“Iowa’s memorial to her soldiers who served in the campaign and siege of Vicksburg.”
There are many others like this with similar sentiments. For the most part the basic notion is this: We were divided by the sword of violence in the Civil War; we are reunited at the Altar of Faith in its aftermath. So far as I can tell, that “Altar of Faith” is not in a church but in a recognition of the power of the Constitution.
Finally, another of the newer monuments is worth noting. Recognition of the role of African American soldiers fighting for the Union cause is slowly receiving its due attention. Just a year before Vicksburg, at the battle for Corinth, MS, near Shiloh, enslaved persons who had been liberated by Union soldiers had the chance to work for pay, begin to educate themselves, and to begin to create new social norms for blacks in America. Almost the very first thing that many did was to volunteer to fight for their rights to be free. Both chronologically and geographically, the battle at Vicksburg was one of their first chances to prove that they were a valuable “asset” to Union leaders. And so there is a monument to their action in the campaign. Three former enslaved men, helping each other through the hard times. The powers that be want you to see this statue from the perspective of military order and discipline, and so the plaque with the dress uniforms and soldiers at attention.
You know me, right? You know that I am not going to look at things from just one point of view, right? So you could pretty well guess that I was going to go to the backside of the sculpture (as I had done with all of these and the ones I looked at but haven’t posted) and see what message might be found there.
Here it is. They may be beaten up and wounded by their participation in battle, and they may need to grab each other and help each other when the day’s fighting is done. But look what they have left behind. The shovel and the pick, tools of their toil as enslaved men, lay forgotten behind them. Whatever pain they suffer now is hardly comparable.
What is being remembered? The willingness of those who have been freed to turn and sacrifice for the freedom of others. Who is doing the remembering? Hard to say. The National Park Service does not often have the funds to spend on things like monuments, when what the taxpayers want is bigger gift shops and better bathrooms. Still, this has the feel of a government project — and one where they got more bang for their buck than usually. Who is the remembering for? This one’s for all of us.
Sidebar: Road Food
The itinerary of my sabbatical travels has been dictated by the specific tasks that I wanted to accomplish at every step along the way. That said, a man’s gotta eat, and I am pleased to say that I have checked in to some old favorites along the way as well as tried some new things. The old Rachel Ray television program “$40 a Day” was based on the amount of money that most businesses would allow employees to expense while traveling, and though that figure has been out of date a decade or more, I have tried to keep that as my budget.
However, I do cheat a bit when I can. Most (though not all) of the places I have stayed have offered a free breakfast, and all of those have had those nifty rotating waffle bakers. A fresh waffle, a piece of fruit and a cup of yogurt (stashed in my pocket for later) and I can generally skip lunch. I’ve been keeping a bag of jerky in the car for an extra protein shot when I need one, and as a result I have taken to stopping for gas a smaller, more locally oriented gas stations rather than the big chain stops (Loves seems to have a big market around the south) because I am likely to find some locally made product. I have drawn the line, thus far, at “Gator Jerky.” At any rate, with these habits I can save my budget for dinner. But I have rules.
- Do the homework. Use TripAdvisor and Zagat (I’m not a fan of Yelp!) to make some preliminary decisions, and then go to the restaurant’s own website. And I check carefully the places visited by Jane and Michael Stern and the Roadfood.com site they have run for years, as well as the places Guy Fieri has visited on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. For this trip, I have also consulted the Southern Foodways Alliance website, and the sage advice of John T. Edge.
- Always favor locally owned, locally provisioned establishments when possible. But please note that a place that is part of a local chain of three to six outlets probably got to that point because the original put out a pretty good product. But once you get much bigger, economies of scale diminish the quality.
- If the appetizers are more interesting than the entrees, order two of them instead.
- Try new things, especially if they are local.
- Ask a lot of questions of the server, especially if fish is involved.
- Other considerations aside, Mexican food is generally a better value than other options.
- Tip well, 20% at least.
I used to do a lot of food writing, when Elizabeth Large was the restaurant critic at the Baltimore Sun and curated a magnificent blog that gave room for many of her fans to make substantial contributions. In particular, in the days when I traveled widely for Diocesan business, I would order crab cakes in places like Omaha or Kansas City (always called “Maryland Crab Cakes,” by the way) and then characterize their faults to the faithful back home: too much bread filler, red and/or green bell peppers, funky side sauces. I still do the occasional review for TripAdvisor or Zagat, especially if I think a place has been over- or under-rated by other diners. And you can get a decent crab cake in West Palm Beach, FL, but only because the chef grew up in Glen Burnie.
Early in the planning stage I knew that I was going to be able to settle one question I have born for many years once and for all. Can I tell the difference between pizza baked in a coal fired oven verses a wood fired oven? I knew that I could stop at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, where the ovens have been fired by coal for about a century during my first week, and then a week later eat at Punch Pizza, in Minneapolis, which has the best wood fired pizza I have had. At both places, the ovens keep a temperature of about 850°, so a pizza bakes in about 90 seconds. The answer to my question was, “Yes,” and Pepe’s wins hands down.
I have already described the visit Jan and I paid to Boudro’s in San Antonio, and though I have had some pretty good meals since, notably at Kingfish in New Orleans where I put rule number three to good use. As much as I would have loved the molasses cured duck breast, for about half the price I got an order of Boudin sausage balls and BBQ shrimp on a grits cake from the appetizer list. Without question, the front of the house staff there was the best I have experienced.
A lot of the places I go are decidedly off the beaten track. Near the University of Minnesota there is a hole-in-the-wall Korean take-out joint that is halfway down a dark alley that looks like many burnt out streets from West Baltimore. But the bulgogi is incredible — assuming there is a Korean student there who can translate your order to the folks behind the counter so you get what you want and not stir-fried beef tendon! And yet three blocks away there The Tea House, the most elegant and authentic Asian restaurant I have ever eaten at (judging by the number of tables which start with the appetizer of “Looed Chicken Feet”). Yesterday, for a very quick and late lunch after a day on the Vicksburg Battlefield, I managed to find Solly’s Hot Tamales. You could get them to cook you a burger if you really needed one, but it would disrupt them from making the hundreds of tamales they sell each week. Cute story, when I asked for iced tea, I specifically asked for it “unsweetened.” The women at the counter handed it to me with three packs of “Sweet & Low.” When I handed them back to her and said I really didn’t want it sweet, she asked me where I was from, and pointed to the pin map of America next to the window. I told her “Maryland,” and she said most people she knew from Maryland loved the sweet tea, and anyway the people who order the unsweetened tea are diabetics and so we give them the packets.
Tonight (Friday, 11 November) I discovered that a RoadFood.com favorite was just blocks away, and so I walked to Wintzell’s Oyster House, on Mobile’s famous Dauphin Avenue (equal to Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Beale Street in Memphis). It’s not just bars that have happy hours. A dozen raw oysters were $7.49, which, with a little West Indies crab salad, a side of collards, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc kept me well below budget tonight. Here’s a shot I took of the oyster bar. What you cannot see is the tally board for their ongoing contest to see who can eat the most oysters in an hour. The current record stands at 421. If you can beat it, the oysters are free and you get a check for $25, the prize established by the original owner in the 1950’s. Looking forward tomorrow for my fist “Conecuh” burger, maybe after a good bowl of French Onion Soup.
12 November – The last battle on my planned list did not happen in a field, but on the waters where Mobile Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico. It is a place hard to resist visiting when one is in the neighborhood of Southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. Attempting to cut off the last important open port of the Confederacy, Admiral David Farragut conceived a bold plan to run a small fleet between two fortified islands, only to discover that they harbor was also guarded by “torpedoes,” which you and I now would call mines. When the first of his ships was sunk by hitting one, others slowed down and were imperiled by cannon fire from the two forts on either side. Knowing that avoiding that fire was of the essence, Admiral Farragut famously ordered “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.” With enfilading fire from left and right and with the danger of the torpedoes, this monument in downtown Mobile proclaims it “one of the fiercest and most decisive battles in naval history.” I found it steps away from my hotel, and about an hour north of where the action took place.
As with many of these commemorations, there is what happened and then there is the story. According to eyewitness accounts, the din of exploding cannon shot was so loud no one could hear anything. When the first US Navy ship went down after hitting a torpedo (what you and I would call a mine) it is doubtful that anyone could hear anything. Farragut probably waved his arms frantically to direct his ships, which had slowed down to avoid setting off other mines. Like other decisive moments in the war, the risky move proved fruitful, and the defending forts, Gaines to the West on Dauphin Island and Morgan to the East on the peninsula know known as Gulf Shores, were vulnerable to attack from the bayside.
Neither of the forts is in the hands of the National Park Service. Fort Gaines is privately owned; Fort Morgan is owned by the State of Alabama. Knowing this, I wondered if the monuments there would be any more expressive than the typically reserved sentiments one finds at places like Gettysburg or Vicksburg.
I visited Fort Gaines, the western guardian first. It took an hour, more or less to tour the entire complex, even with a few brief conversations with some battlefield reenactors who were there for the day. Unfortunately for me, they were reenacting life from World War II — a reminder that these forts were active military installations through the 1950’s, serving as shoreline defenses against German attacks, particularly by submarine.
The closest thing I could find to a monument at Fort Gaines was the massive anchor, said to be from Farragut’s flagship, the USS Hartford. I am not generally a skeptical person, but it struck me as odd that the anchor would be here. And when I asked the folks in the gift shop (the only staff present at all in this private exhibition) they had no clue how it got there. The Hartford was hit several times by cannon fire, and badly damaged, but held together enough to host the surrender meeting. There is nothing to indicate that it lost its anchor at some point and that someone found it.
As I ran through the litany of my questions walking around the fortifications, I realized that none of them made much sense here. If anything, what is remembered here is the technology of 19th century warfare, preserved in the structure of the fort. Who is doing the remembering? The owners of the property! Who is the remembering for? Anyone willing to pay the $8.00 admission fee.
The easiest way to get to the companion fort on the east side of the bay is by ferry. I love ferry boats, and this ride was as good as the Lewes-Cape May transit, maybe better since the boat only holds 18 cars and you are closer to the water. What the family at the bow are looking at is an oil drilling rig, one of about 40 that you can see (I had my binoculars!) from the two forts and the ferry between them. I found it interesting that as we sailed by, I could see no one anywhere outside, almost as if they were automated. I have no idea what any of that means.
The first is at the entrance to “sally port,” the main entrance to the fortification. It is placed there “In Remembrance of the men of the armies and navies of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America who valiantly fought each other August 5-23 1864 during the Battle of Mobile Bay and the Siege of Fort Morgan. May their bravery and sacrifices be long remembered and venerated throughout the ages.” After a list of the regiments involved, a quote at the bottom from the Captain of the USS Brooklyn, James Alden, summarizes the sentiment: “Immortal Fame is Theirs: Peace to their Names.” Courage and fortitude are being remembered here, by the State of Alabama, for all who wish to come and meditate, wandering the complex (and that is the word for it!) maze of fortifications. That they chose to quote a Yankee captain is fascinating: to the victor go the spoils, but also the luxury of poetic reflection on the events that transpired, I guess.
Thanks to the helpful docent at the museum, I was able to find another monument, some distance from actual 18th-19th century fort (again recalling that this was an active military installation through the 1950’s). Three side of the obelisk tell the history of military action and preparedness here, going back to the Revolutionary War and through WWII. One side included a memorial inscription. With the sun behind my iPhone couldn’t get a good picture, but it reads: “TRIBUTE DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF OUR SOLDIERS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE DEFENSE OF OUR COUNTRY HERE AT FORT MORGAN. HERE LIES THE PRIDE OF SEVEN FLAGS, ENTOMBED IN OUR ANCESTOR’S WORTH, WHO HEARD THE THUNDER OF THE FRAY BREAK O’ER THE FIELD BENEATH KNEW THE WATCHWORD OF THE DAY WAS “VICTORY OR DEATH.” The seven flags fly at the entrance of the visitor’s center, representing each of the national, state and regimental authorities which held authority over the fort over its active lifetime.
You might want to fire up your favorite internet search engine and check out the flags of the Confederacy. The notorious “Stars and Bars” battle flag in hard to find in these parts these days, surprisingly enough. Almost every official site I have visited has flown the lesser known but earlier CSA flag with a circle of nine stars on blue in the upper left corner and just three wide bars of red and white. I found myself pleased to see this representation of the Confederacy, rather than the more typical flag. I think the reason is that the “Stars and Bars” has been displayed … I think the word I want to use is “aggressively.” It has lost its historical meaning. The flag above has only historical meaning, which means it can play a role in my imagined scheme that the only way to deal with difficult history is with more history.
There was one more monument on the fort’s grounds that I found that moved me very deeply. It was this gravestone, marking the burial of Hatchett Chandler, “Author, Historian and Custodian of Fort Morgan for 23 years.” First of all, ya gotta love the name! But reflect with me. Most of us will be buried with or near at least a few of our kinfolks, of whatever relation. However it came to be, when the time came to lay Mr. Chandler to rest, it was not near family or friends, but in a place that he apparently loved so dearly that it became his life’s work. Scroll back up to the picture of the monument and look at the small shadow behind it. In late afternoon sun, that is the shadow of his gravestone. I imagine that the memorial obelisk was part of his vision for this obviously sacred spot.
“Custodian” is a great word, and it was once a great honor to be the custodian of a building or a place, which is why, once upon a time, it was granted to the person who took care of one of our most precious institutions: our public schools. In elementary school in Massachusetts, every kid knew the custodian and said “hi” and “thank you” to him a lot. By the time I was through high school, all that had changed, and who knows why? We had no “custodian,” only a couple of “janitors.” In elementary school, our custodian had an office; in high school, janitors had closets. I stood there for quite a while thinking about how things like this change. I am not, by nature, a person who displays emotions very well in public. So I am glad, standing at this grave, that I was alone.
Oh, and a conecuh burger is a hamburger with a local brand of Cajun sausage inside. Tasty, but I don’t need to eat another one!
13 November – After services at Christ Church Cathedral in Mobile, I turned north to head home. On the way I wanted to make one last stop to see one last monument. I was not expecting to find four! Episcopal seminarian and VMI graduate, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, was part of a group of students who answered the call to leave their homes in the north and help with the organizing efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights movement. Along with several others, he was arrested and spent some time in jail before being released in Haynesville, AL. (One of the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., that I read recently included his exhortation that protestors should not fear jail cells, but transform them by prayer and witness to non-violence.) The short version of his final moments include walking with a Roman Catholic priest and two young black women from the courthouse a block or so to the Cash store to get sodas. They were met by an entourage including a “special county deputy,” Tom Coleman, who was armed with a shotgun. When he leveled it at one of the women, Ruby Sales, Daniels stepped in front of her and took the brunt of the shot, which killed him. Despite the eyewitness testimony of those present, Coleman was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter charges by a jury of 12 white men. Jesus said that greater love has no man than that he would give his life for another, and Daniels’ witness (in Greek, martyr) has been widely recognized in the Episcopal Church, including a commemoration of him in our Calendar of Saints.
Last summer, on the 50th anniversary of what this marker calls his murder, a monument was dedicated in the town square, in front of the courthouse. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I got there that the Daniels memorial wasn’t the first thing I saw. In the center of the square (with the courthouse behind in this picture), there is this memorial to the soldiers from Lowndes County who died in the Civil War. With inscriptions including “To Devotion and Honor” and “From Hearts Faithful to Faithful Hearts,” the key feature of the monument is the name of every soldier and the campaign or battle that cost them their lives. I haven’t seen many of these sorts of memorials, probably because they are so emotionally devastating. It’s all about death, both of the individuals who fought and also of the cause they fought for. Only slightly more uplifting are the monuments which list all of the participants in a campaign, such as he Illinois Memorial at Vicksburg, which recalls how many men (and women!) had to devote a significant portion of their life to the cause regardless of outcome. For what’s its worth, the shrubs around the Confederate stone have been allowed to grow up so that they obscure a great many of the inscribed names. That raises a question that hadn’t occurred to me until today. In a National Military Park, or at a State or privately owned facility, it is easy to understand how upkeep and repairs are funded. But in a town of about 900 people (and declining, according to Wikipedia) how will this monument be cared for?
The Daniels memorial is in a corner as far from the center of the square as it can be, and blocked from a view of the older monument by one of the only large trees on the property. It is almost as if everyone was aware of the contradictory sentiments between the two, and wanted to keep them separated. As I stood in the park thinking about that, it ended up feeling a little ironic. Ultimately, their monuments remember very similar personal characteristics. Daniels in the 20th century demonstrated the same selflessness as did the men of Lowndes County a hundred years earlier. Facing the prospect of death, they all stood up and looked beyond their fears to the greater good that self-sacrifice requires, the protection of those who were threatened. Many, maybe most of the monuments I have seen on this trip give tribute to the bravery and faithfulness of the men (and the few but notable women) who served, regardless of the ultimate evaluation of the cause espoused by their leaders, either military or political.
But there was a fourth monument that I found in Haynesville, perhaps in some ways closer to the hearts of people who have lived there most recently. “Dedicated to the Memory of Fallen Law Enforcement Officers in Lowndes County, May 6, 2006. One name is listed below, that of Johnny I. Shaner and the date 2005. My hunch — and also my hope — is that his memorial is rooted in the same values and character of those others who are remembered on the town square.
What is being remembered here — and probably in a more general way in most of the places I have visited — is personal character marked by loving one’s neighbor before oneself (an acceptable translation of Jesus’ rendering of the Great Commandments in the Gospels). On the town square the are a number of voices doing the remembering. I could not see because of the shrubbery, but my guess is that the central monument is the product of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Daniels memorial is clearly the product of a group effort, including VMI, the Episcopal Divinity School and some named individuals who may be family. The county government is responsible for the last monument. And, as we have seen before, where there are several rememberers, there are likewise several audiences. And that begs the question, how many people are there, like me, who stop and spend time looking at all of them in one visit? I’m not making this up, but I also don’t know if there is anything to this but my imagination. There was a loud but friendly conversation going on at the gas pumps across from the park at the convenience store. By the time I had taken pictures of all four sides of the Confederate monument, the conversation was silent. I heard nothing more as I went to photograph the Daniels memorial, and then nothing as I crossed to the other side of the square to investigate the sheriff’s stone. As I pulled around the block to head back to the highway, the men at the pumps were still standing there, but the conversation had not resumed.
A thought occurred that I will struggle to articulate in this first draft. I was aware during my hour’s stay in Haynesville, that I saw no other white faces, either at the convenience store or in any of the cars I passed entering or leaving. I have been in such situations before and hardly ever think of it. But here, with tangible signs of some of the most difficult moments in our nation’s history surrounding me, I couldn’t help but wonder if the folks at the gas pumps weren’t puzzled about what I was doing. Was I the only person in the community that day trying to remember what the monuments were saying?
Still Week 8 — Still on the Road
I had a couple of things to read during down time, including What If We’re Wrong? Thinking about the Present as if it were the Past (yes, the cover is printed upside down!) and Ten Restaurants that Changed America by Yale Historian Paul Freedman.
14 November – Marble melts, thanks to the acid rain that is one of the results of the causes of global climate change. Gravestones that I could read in 1990 when I became Rector of Christ Church, Rock Spring Parish, were illegible a dozen years later. No matter how durable they look when first erected, the historic markers on the sides of highways will have their paint weathered and flaked off, and then rust — unless some car or truck does them in first. Granite and bronze will last longer than these, but even these will erode over time. Economic, social and political currents will ebb and flow and places that seem worth preserving now will, no doubt, eventually fall into forgotten disrepair. We have, therefore, a short window of opportunity to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the messages these monuments have for us. So, I was glad that — at least in all the public parks and monuments — I was not the only person there trying to remember, something I wondered about, since November is not peak travel season for most folks.
The notes jotted here are, for me, an outline that I hope to return to someday to fill in and give some better structure to what I have learned. In all but a few places, what I have looked at and pondered points to a monument’s power to illustrate character, rather than ego. I would not have been able to say that two months ago, but I see the truth in it now.
The work ahead for me is to apply the Gospel message to the inscriptions I have seen and figure out how it all preaches — because I think it will. There is an element of the Christian life that, I think, I have not paid sufficient attention to, the one that sits between belief and the good deeds that derive from it. There is a filter, something very much like character, that must be present to mediate and motivate the relationship between the two. I am eager to discover what that looks like.
15 November – Drove home yesterday from Chattanooga, TN, 658 miles altogether. The final travel tally looks like this:
- Total Miles = 3419.2
- Gas Used = 130.1 gallons
- MPG – 26.4 (The math doesn’t actually work, but this is what the “Trip Computer says”)
- States along the Way – 9: Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi.
- Average MPH = 10.95
That last number means that even as I was sacked out at night, I was still moving at an average speed of almost 11 MPH. This statistic was something a number of us made up as we traveled from meeting to meeting around the country as an informal measure of stress. (A couple of time during those days I broke 60 MPH, and even though I wasn’t driving, the higher the index the more stressful the activity. At least that’s what we used to say to each other.)
- Souvenir Mugs = 3 (only!): one from the King Center, one from the Civil Rights Museum and one from the Vicksburg Military Park. (The other two in the picture are from the Whitney and Laura plantations which I visited in October.)
- Other souvenirs = T-shirt from the Civil Rights Museum, Audio tour CD and bound tour book from the Vicksburg Military Park, bag of groceries from the South Asian market in Decatur, GA, three books (including reprint of the Confederate Prayerbook prepared by the Diocese of Virginia), two hand blown glasses: one from a Virginia craftsman and the other a craftsman from Mobile — purchased, on Dauphin Street, and a jar of peaches preserved in Tennessee moonshine. The books in the back row include two collection of speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr., a study of the Confederate prison in Chicago.
- Speaking of Dauphin Street, it did not occur to me that my travels would take me to three of the premier music streets in the country. In New Orleans a couple of weeks ago I spent two nights half a block from Bourbon Street. I did spend an evening walking up and down the blocked off street, choosing to listen to music from the door until the bouncers chased me away. I did the same on Dauphin street (where they were not so vigorous in their attempts to get the $25 cover fee from me), and to a lesser extent on Beale Street in Memphis. Could write a lot about this, but my overall conclusion is that the Dauphin Street is cleaner and more friendly than the other two.
Week 9 — Back in the Study & A Change in Plans
Needless to say, it took a couple of days to recover from the long trip. But I am back in the study and the writing continues. Out of an anticipated 30 chapters, I have 20 complete and two others in draft form. Here is another sample, my bit on bread.
And just for kicks, here is a YouTube video that illustrates how communion wafers are made.
On my way back and forth through the south I drove through Harper’s Ferry, realizing as I did that I have never stopped there to contemplate John Brown and his raid. I have been to his homestead and his grave, which are near Lake Placid, NY and within sight of the Olympic Ski Jump towers there. So I fired up my favorite search engine and discovered an interesting monument there that fanned the flames of my interest.
It is a memorial to the first person killed during Brown’s uprising, ironically, a negro porter on the train that pulled into the station there from the east as the raid began. What fascinated me about it is the inscription: “This boulder is erected here by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes who, under many temptations throughout the subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people and an everlasting heritage to the best in both races.” I can’t remember reading something which was so carefully coded, and wish I had that kind of literary skill to call on.
I have been on retreat many times in my career as a priest, but it occurs to me that the notion of “striking while the iron is hot” has some merit. At this point I am thinking about postponing my ecclesiastical retreat for some other time and returning to the road for a couple of more days, spending time in Harper’s Ferry, Antietam and then a quick review of Gettysburg, looking for monuments with the questions that inspired my long trip to begin with.
I’ll let you know what happens.
Week 10 — Still Writing
I have been really focused on the writing still, and have 25 out of and expanded plan of 35 chapters done. Here are two more to share, including the title essay and something a little more topical for the weeks ahead. I am still planning a swing to Harper’s Ferry, Antietam and Gettysburg for next week.
Week 10 — On the Road Again
5 December 2016 –A wounded man has the right to prompt care to assist in his recovery, even when a doctor is not close at hand. And a dying man has the right to care and comfort in his final hour. Such were the thoughts that inspired Clara Barton to leave her elegant and comfortable home in suburban Washington, DC, and travel to Antietam to be with United States soldiers at the battle. All of the tour literature tells this story of her: tending a wounded man at this spot in the middle of the early morning’s fighting, as she was giving him a drink, she felt the sleeve of her blouse shiver. Instantly the man in her arms collapsed in a spasm as the bullet which had passed through her sleeve tore into him shoulder to shoulder, killing him instantly. Her monument marks the spot where this happened. Undeterred, she moved on to the next casualty. What is being remembered? Her dedication to a duty and a calling that was newly forming as the war raged on. Who is doing the remembering? The monument itself gives only the slightest clue. At its base there is a small bronze plaque over-topping a cross made of red bricks from the home in which she was born. A Red Cross. Who is the remembering for? It does not say exactly, just as you have to infer some things about the bricks. But I saw something today — that I am not making up! — that was not just a little wonderful. While I was parked, listening to the recorded battlefield tour, a couple of women of a certain age drove up in a car with Pennsylvania plates. They got out and wandered around and took pictures of each other standing next to the monument (with large and impressive cameras, such that I demurred of any hope of offering to take one of both of them). And then they each put a penny on the base, where you see many others. A very brief search of the internet revealed that Clara Barton allowed the Universalist Church to which she belonged to collect funds to purchase bandages and other medical supplies — a penny at a time.
Most of the monuments I have investigated are meant to be viewed from a public or park road, and many have parking spaces just a few feet away. That is decidedly not the case for the North Carolina state monument, which is not at the Sharpsburg battlefield, but 20 minutes by car up a narrow winding road to Fox’s Gap on South Mountain and then 15 minutes on foot up a rocky trail. The State of North Carolina is remembering a very particular set of circumstances and the leadership of General Samuel Garland, who was killed in action in the preliminary skirmishes leading up to the battle for Antietam Creek. Markers and plaques around the site make it very clear that Garland chose to lead from the front, not from a cozy farmhouse miles away, and that his presence turned a retreating band of Confederate soldiers into an effective counteraction, though one that cost him his life. Like the Barton memorial above, it seems really important to mark, as close as can be done, the actual place where something important happened: where a regiment held a battle line, where a general officer died, where a tide was turned. Such places were already recognized as “holy” even as the events themselves continued to unfold by the participant, sometimes survivors, present. And there is a way, even over time and distance, where the markers seem to inform and support each other. Facing the image of a dying Tar Heel foot soldier, I immediately thought of the faces on Stone Mountain, their jaws set and their hats held in mourning over their hearts.
Very occasionally, the sacral nature of warfare is acknowledged in a public way. In terms of killed, wounded and missing in action, Antietam is rightly understood to be the bloodiest single day of combat in the Civil War, and in fact the costliest battle since Carchemish between the Egyptians and Syrians versus the Babylonians and Medes in 605 BC. That soldiers are willing to make such sacrifices has distinct religious connotations, and they are what lie behind the design — unique in the course of my journeys this fall — of the monument placed by the State of Massachusetts. It is evidently an altar — an altar of sacrifice.
Oh and … see, I told you! On the right is the Antietam monument from Georgia, identical to the Gettysburg one on the left. You have to check out the backgrounds of these images to tell that they are from different battlefields. I am sorry I didn’t have time to stop at Kennesaw Mountain to see the fourth in the set. Though I have consistently resisted the temptation to talk to park rangers and other docents about the monuments I am visiting, I nevertheless did ask the rangers this morning about the text, which you will find quoted below. Both had never really thought about it, and were quite intrigued when I pointed it out.
4 December 2016 — Oh those frugal Georgians! In the last years of the 19th century, as pressure from the remaining Civil War veterans to commemorate their actions increased with their advancing ages, committees both public and private began to raise and spend money on the monuments that I have been so engaged with this season. So it was that the State of Georgia spent $20,000 in 1895 to erect a 60 foot stone column decorated with larger than life size bronze statues to commemorate the bravery of their soldiers at Chattanooga and Chickamauga. I haven’t taken the time to investigate thoroughly, but it seems like there was some political fallout from this expenditure. The evidence for this can be seen in the monuments they sponsored for other battlefields: they are all identical! Scroll about a third of the way back up this post and you will find my picture of the Georgia monument at Vicksburg. Here is my picture from today of the Georgia monument at Gettysburg. And I will take one tomorrow at Antietam, which will also look exactly like it and have the same inscription. So does the monument at Kennesaw Mountain. There may be more than these, but you get my point. And importantly, they each cost around $5000, a quarter of the price of the earlier memorial. I’m still pondering the inscription: “Georgia Confederate Soldiers. We sleep here in obedience to the law. When duty called, we came. When country called, we died.”
Nearby on Gettysburg’s Confederate Avenue is the most explicit answer to my monument questions that I have seen yet. It is found on the South Carolina state monument. The inscription reads: “That men of honor might forever know the responsibilities of freedom. Dedicated South Carolinians stood and were counted for their heritage and convictions. Abiding faith in the sacredness of States Rights provided their creed. Here many earned eternal glory.”
More typical is the language that is found on the Florida monument: “Like all Floridians who participated in the Civil War, they fought with courage and devotion for the ideals in which they believed. By their noble example of bravery and endurance, they enable us to meet with confidence any sacrifice which confronts us as Americans.”
But the sentiment from South Carolina is unambiguous, as was their vote to be the first state to secede from the Union in December, 1860.
A significant premise of this sabbatical travel plan is to match Civil War sites with Civil Rights sites, and there are none closer to each other than at Gettysburg. Just a couple of miles as the crow flies from the fine monuments on Confederate Avenue is the National Cemetery which Abraham Lincoln helped to dedicate just five months after the battle. He opened his remarks with a reflection on an action he had already signed, the Emancipation Proclamation: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Are all men created equal, or does each state have the right to decide who is equal and who is not?
Week 11 — Wrapping Up
7 December 2016 — Here’s a tip: If you go to a National Historic Park on a very cold, very wet December morning, you may get the whole place to yourself! That was my experience visiting Harper’s Ferry yesterday. For the three hours I was there I was the only visitor, as I was told repeatedly by park staff. As lunch time approached I wandered up the hill from the park exhibits to a row of shops and restaurants, only to find that none of them bothered to open that day. That was a little surprising, since the parking lot for the commuter rail line that runs from there to Washington,DC, was absolutely full. And as I entered the bookstore — my last stop before taking the shuttle to the parking area — one of the staff exclaimed, “Oh good, we were hoping you would stop in!”
In some ways, I should have started my long journey here. Harper’s Ferry was, of course, the site of John Brown’s ill fated raid on the US Government munitions factory and armory in October 1859, one of many sparks that eventually touched off the Civil War. I wanted to see for myself the monument to Heyward Shepherd, the first casualty of that action — and at six feet high, it was much larger than I was expecting. (I wrote a little of his story below.) I knew also that the town changed hands several times during the Civil War and that the railroad bridges over the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers were burned and rebuilt and burned again and rebuilt. What I did not know was how revered Brown’s attempt was in the slave community at the time and in successive waves of Civil Rites activities since. Shortly after the war, Storer College was founded in Harper’s Ferry with the explicit mission of educating any person who enrolled — black or white, male or female. The Niagara Movement, a progressive Civil Rights effort beginning shortly after the turn of he 20th century, met several times at Harper’s Ferry. It’s activity is highlighted in a permanent exhibit on the park grounds, and features photographs and quotations from the movements leaders, notably W.E.B. DuBois. Other exhibits describe stories of local slaves, descriptions and artifacts from the Battle of Harper’s Ferry in 1862, and equipment from the revolutionary industrial practices made possible by harnessing the immense water power of the two rivers and stories of the devastating floods which have done great damage. What is being remembered here? The place itself, which has risen to extraordinary challenges and adapted many times to political and economic changes. Who is doing the remembering? The National Park Service, which has done a really comprehensive job of documenting and displaying its rich and varied history. Who is the remembering for? As I got on the shuttle to return to the Visitor’s Center, it occurred to me that anyone who thinks their little town has had it rough should come visit Harper’s Ferry. Waves of industrial boom and bust, a revolt, a Civil war, floods every 40 years of so, and the town is still hanging in there.
The last stop on my journey was the Monocacy Battlefield, just outside of Frederick and literally behind the Francis Scott Key mall. Developed in 2007, it is one of the most recent National Battlefield Parks in the system. This last series of monuments I visited marks an engagement that saved Washington, DC, from an end run in July 1864 by troops led by General Jubal Early. Inexperienced Union troops, composed at least in part of home guards from Baltimore, managed to hold off Early’s Confederates long enough for reinforcements to arrive to block his approach to the capital. The text on the bronze plaque reads:
This boulder overlooks the Monocacy Battlefield
and is in memory of The Southern Soldiers who fell in the battle
fought July 9, 1864 which resulted in a Confederate victory.
Erected July 9, 1914 by the Fitzhugh Lee Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy
of Frederick, Maryland.
Jubal Early’s tactic was intended at the very least to force General U.S. Grant to send some of his soldiers — currently attempting to put Richmond into siege — back north to defend Washington. It was a desperate plan, permitted by General Robert E. Lee who was running out of options as well as the materiel of war, a last chance in the face of a lost cause.
The “Lost Cause” mythology that grew up in the South following the Civil War praises the heroic efforts of rebel leaders and especially soldiers against overwhelming odds, inspired in part by Jubal Early’s post-war writings. By every measure, the resources that the Union had available outmatched what the South could bring to bear, and this gap only grew larger the longer the conflict continued. And yet, General Officer and private alike continued to fight on. This monument gives voice to that sentiment, if not explicitly to the myth’s chief proponent. Though Early was confident of his ability to accomplish his mission, and his soldiers had a strong loyalty to him, in the larger picture neither the size of the force nor the plan of his attack offered much hope of success. The Confederate victory that the monument references was short lived. Early actually made it close enough to attack Washington with his artillery, but the delay at the Monocacy allowed reinforcements to gather in the capital, eventually driving his outnumbered troops back into Virginia.
Jesus said, “Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:31 NRSV)
10 December 2016 — At every stop on my recent sabbatical trips I thought to myself how much I love art and design and craftsmanship. Almost every one of the monuments I looked at showed great skill in all of these, combined with a sense of purpose and an appreciation of history. A multiplicity of influences has inspired this love – too many to list here – but at least one of them was a feature of a portion of my childhood.
It was a monument, just three minutes by bicycle or ten or so if I walked from my house in Malvern, PA, near the ball fields where I played Little League baseball. From 4th grade until sometime in high school the monument was so overgrown with shrubbery that you could barely tell that there were actual cannons at the gate of a substantial brick wall that surrounded it. Two or three times I was with a bunch of kids that climbed under the hedge and then over the wall, only to discover a pretty plane marble obelisk whose carved inscription was just barely legible. There wasn’t enough room do anything in that courtyard, and the rumor – which turned out to be fact – that there were dead bodies buried there did not encourage more than the briefest stay.
The monument – the second oldest in the country marking a “battle” during the Revolutionary War, having been placed there in 1817 – hallows the spot of the Paoli Massacre, where 53 American troops under the command of General Anthony Wayne were attacked at night, most of them asleep in their tents. The horror of the attack stemmed from the fact that the English commander, General Grey, directed his soldiers to use bayonets instead of musket balls — a strategy which was anathema to American troops. Wayne somehow escaped and gained enough fame for the Jr. High School that I attended to be named in his honor – though students and faculty alike referred to it as “Mad Anthony Wayne” Jr. High. Our marching band faithfully participated in the annual Memorial Day commemorations held there each year, though I was never close enough (or, fact is, interested enough) to hear and pay attention to why we were there or what was said by the person in the blue uniform.
(FWIW, I had probably seen the oldest Revolutionary War monument before seeing this one. It is in Lexington, MA, and marks the spot of the first action of that war in April, 1775. It was close to West Newton, MA, where we lived before moving to Malvern, PA.)
Twice in the last couple of years I have driven through Malvern and stopped by and was pleased to see that the battlefield itself has been cleaned up and studded with historic markers and that the monument and it’s walled cemetery have been preserved and protected, the former encased with plexiglass to prevent further damage from acid rain. Who is being remembered? General Anthony Wayne and his willingness to defend the Patriot rear in the face of overwhelming and unethical force. Who is doing the remembering? The history of the monument is interesting in that it was purchased and dedicated by a group of veterans from the War of 1812, who felt that their victory (!) repaid the British for their action on that field. Who is the remembering for? The monument became the site of one of the earliest public commemorations of what we now call Memorial Day. In fact, one of the markers details the history of local “Decoration Day” parades in the area, and the fact the graves inside the stone walls have been honored since the days after the Civil War.
The reason I stopped by the battlefield had to do with my choice of church this week. Though I opted to postpone my “religious” retreat for a visit to four more battlefields, I did want to at least “check in” at the Daylesford Abbey. So Sunday, I drove the two hours to be present for their main service at 10:30.
The worship space is still one of the most impressive I have been in, and not just because it was the one I attended through high school. 40 years ago the pews were filled each week with something like 450 worshipers; this particular Sunday there were considerably less than half that. I hung around for a few minutes afterwards and talked to the choir director about the music that we did there in the 1970’s and to a couple of the religious brothers about the comings and goings of folks I knew back in the day. FWIW, there wasn’t a strong feeling of nostalgia, just another worship experience to add to the Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations that I have visited.
The rest of this week I will be back in the study continuing to write and edit.
I’ll see you all again this weekend!