Spending Memorial Day at Fort Sumter where the Civil War began reminded me that the first celebrations of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day occurred shortly after at the end of the War, and one of the most remarkable was here in Charleston.
Late in the war Union prisoners were held on the infield of the race track at the Charleston Jockey Club. Over 200 died during the time and were buried in a mass grave behind the grandstands.
Between February, 1864 and the end of the Civil War Camp Sumter confined Union prisoners of war. Forty-five thousand came here, but only thirty-two thousand left. Thirteen-thousand died of malnutrition, exposure and rampant disease – a 29% death rate.
During the fourteen months Camp Sumter held prisoners, it was known as “Andersonville.”
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.
There are only two significant attacks by enemies on American soil — Pearl Harbor and 9/11. All of us are aware of the efforts to “get bin Laden” and its ultimate success, but not many know about the retribution for Pearl Harbor.
From the 1890’s to as recently as 1975 Ranchers have run cattle in Canyonlands. This is not pasture grazing – this is high desert. I imagine the cattle only survived. The cattle and the cowboys that tended them were surely tough. The cowboys lived in open air “bunkhouses” under the overhanging rock for months at a time. The black is the smoke deposits from the stove behind the bush. (No, the white box in the center is not a beer cooler!)
Medicine Bow is a really small town on the Lincoln Highway and the Oregon Trail, It’s history is as a bawdy town filled with bars, gunslingers and prostitutes. So much so that it inspired Owen Wister to write the novel, The Virginian, a story about western life, the Lincoln County Wars and the life of a ranch foreman he called The Virginian he placed it in Medicine Bow. I was able to gather much of Owen’s story from folks at the Medicine Bow museum. About 1884 Owen Wister suffered some sort of mental break resulting in vertigo, blinding headaches and hallucinations. His father had a friend in the “Wyoming Territory” and asked the friend if Owen could spend a summer on his ranch to recover, and all was arranged. Owen was met by the ranch foreman when he arrived on the train in Medicine Bow, and they proceeded north to the ranch somewhere near Jackson, Wyoming, a distance of maybe 200 miles. On the trip the foreman told Owen tales of the territory and the foreman’s adventures.
I leave in the next few days for another 3-4 month trip into the great west. The only thing I know about this trip so far is I will follow the Lincoln Highway west from Iowa. If you want to follow along, there is an interactive map and a lot of information at the Lincoln Highway Association.
The Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast route that started in Times Square and ended in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, passing through 14 states on the way.