Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Big word. Means 150th anniversary and today is the Sesquicentennial of the start of the American Civil War. About 600,000 Americans died during the period 1861 to 1865, until the end at Appomattox. The losses were roughly equal on each side, mostly due to illness, Cholera frequently, poor sanitation.
As a kid, I was always curious about why we Texans, a special subset of Southerners, didn’t think too highly of Yankees. Yes, there was that Civil War business, but that was a long time ago. We did have one Yankee family move in next to us when I was about 10; the boy was younger, pasty-looking and talked funny…not much fun as a playmate. His mom yelled at us running across her lawn—the same lawn we had been running across long before she moved in!
And then there were the firecrackers…she bitched at that, too. Just to break her in, late one night I lit a time delay (fuse in a cigarette) cherry bomb and set it on her bedroom window sill. When it went off later I was in the shower, my alibi secure.
We moved to the East Side shortly after that and I continued growing up there. Our American History classes whizzed by the Civil War, taking no more than a week to set some names and dates in our heads for the weekly tests, then it was on to Reconstruction. For most of my life the Civil War was just a huge conflagration about which I knew little and until the arrival of the Internet I never had much interest in the topic.
Dad told me that great grandpa had fought in it, been in 14-battles, sired 19-children, and was deemed a “substantial citizen” of his County. He got that information from a couple of pages in a circa 1950 compilation of old local newspaper articles where great grandpa got a 2-page spread. Later, I discovered that the 2-page spread was actually his obituary and that his newspaperman cousin had written it. His cousin had served with great grandpa in the same Company—46-years earlier. That knowledge came later.
The only picture of great grandpa that found its way down our family branch was the old man above on the right. His younger picture and those of his families came from a distant (Internet) cousin in whose family branch more information had descended. She sent them to me, and the hunt was on…what exactly had he done during the Civil War?
Part of my youthful curiosity about why, to this day, Southerners and Northerners thought and acted so differently from one another was stimulated by why my ggrandpa gone to war at all. He worked on a farm, owned no slaves, nor did his family, and lived far enough West that very little of his every day life was impacted in any substantial way by the Argument. Yet, 4-months after the day we mark today, he was part of a Regiment organized in northern Arkansas tasked with opposing any Yankee thrust that might come from St. Louis or Springfield.
He never left a single word about his experience in his own hand, but others told the story in different works. Putting things together has been my challenge and pleasure. And in the effort, a far better understanding of at least the part of the Civil War my folks participated in has been the result.
Generally, I believe that ggrandpa and his mates saw the Union Army advancing on them from Springfield as an invasion of their country. Great grandpa’s grandfather had been a frontier soldier of the Revolution and had lived in the neighborhood until great grandpa was about 15. The old man’s frontier tales were a staple of my great grandfather’s childhood and were written down by a cousin, also a resident of the same neighborhood.
I am reminded of George Harrison’s lost verse.