This trip has been for planned two years. It was originally set for 2021, but Covid closed all the national parks and many campgrounds, so I headed west that summer.
I had visited the Civil War “Western Front” in 2020 — along the Tennessee, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers — Forts Donelson and Henry, Shiloh, Corinth and Vicksburg. This trip will pass through the Eastern front with stops at battlefields from Savannah to Gettysburg.
A Bit of Background
My maternal grandfather was born in the summer of 1863 in Louisiana. His father, a confederate soldier, was home on a 30-day furlough in 1862, and the following summer, while great-grandfather was fighting at Vicksburg, grandfather was born.
After the war, Congress passed a law giving 160 acres of land to all who would commit to improve it. Great-grandfather chose land in a bend of the Ouachita River south of Columbia Louisiana. There he raised his family, and the land was passed to grandfather, who raised his family there, one being my mother. Although grandpa died in 1933, grandma Betty raised the children and continued to manage the farm. She lived there until 1983.
So, although I am certainly a Yankee, I am also a son of the South. From this dichotomy grew an intense curiosity about lives and times of the Civil War.
Twenty-five years ago in Ken Burns award winning Civil War documentary, Shelby Foote, a noted author Civil War Historian, said, “the Civil War was a defining time in America, and you cannot understand America without understanding the Civil War.” Today, unfortunately, I believe very few people have any understanding of the Civil war, and in fact, many have decided to re-write that piece of history to align with their personal political views.
The Civil War changed many things, but most importantly it was a unifying event. It was declared to force the confederate states back into the Union, and in that aspect it was a success. Before the war, references to the U.S. were “The United States are…” After the war it became “The United States is…”
About midway through the war, Lincoln finally decided to abolish slavery in the seceded states for the primary political reason to prevent Europe from supporting the Confederacy. Slavery was still legal in the north. After the war the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments legally ended involuntary servitude in the U.S., but lack of funds and a southern re-construction manipulated by whites still kept blacks in several states subservient to their former masters — and to a systemic poverty.
The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places — at Big Bend, Big Sandy, the Big Sunflower River; Bunker Hill, West Virginia, Black Jack Kansas, Blue Springs, Tennessee, Cairo, Illinois, Golgotha Church, Georgia Christianburg, Kentucky; Citrus Point on the Cimarron River, along Cowskin Bottom; Pebbly Run La Glorieta Pass, Gettysburg, Murfreesboro, Chambersburg, Dranesville, Opelousas; Apache Canyon, St. Augustine, Paducah, Brandy Station; the Red River, the Rappahannock, the Rapidan; across the Susquehanna the Monongahela; from Mount Ida Mount Olive to Mount Zion; from Ninevah Nickajack Gap to New Berne, New Carthage, New Iberia, New Lisbon, New Hope; from the Yazoo Delta to the Chickasaw Bluffs, and Yokohama Japan.
3.5 million men went to war. 620,000 men died in four years — as many as all other America’s wars combined. Two percent of the American population had died. By 1865, one quarter of the south’s white men of military age were dead.
And so I begin this exploration, first at Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga near Chattanooga, then north to Gettysburg, stopping at Charleston, Richmond, Antietam, Manassas, Harper’s Ferry along the way.