Tag Archives: Civil War

D.C. Road Trip – Protestors, Pasta and Thomas Jefferson’s DNA

22 Jul

On Wednesday, we packed up the vehicle and started toward the first historic site of the trip, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The route took us on an interesting stretch through Amherst, Colleen, Covesville and other little towns. It also took us near the Kappa Sigma Museum, which my nephew and his fraternity brothers would probably find fascinating.

Finally, we arrived at our destination. With time to wait before we could enter the house, we were able to watch have lunch, go through a small museum and watch a movie about the third president. It was in that movie that I first heard something that the tour guide would later repeat. According the DNA testing and most historians, Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemmings, one of his slaves.

That is a rumor that started during his Jefferson’s presidency and is something that I have told my students since I started teaching. However, here is what was surprising about the statement. It said “most historians.” Are there still historians out there who ignore DNA testing, the same testing that we use to convict people of murder, and deny his paternity?

Oh yeah, they also took great pains to let us know that the relationship between Thomas and Sally was long after his wife’s death.

After a while, we made it to the front porch of the house, where a kid warmed my heart. When asked what first comes to mind when we think of Thomas Jefferson, he shouted out the Louisiana Purchase. Now, that is a smart young man. When we walked through the front door, the entry hall was filled with artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Apparently, Jefferson thought that land deal was pretty important, too.

Monticello is not a huge house, and the tour did not take long. After, my family tried their hands at writing with quills.image-12

We also walked around the yard to take a few pictures.image-11

On the shuttle back to the visitor’s center, the tram stopped at Jefferson’s grave, and I jumped out to take a quick picture. When I turned around, the shuttle was gone. Apparently, the driver was in a huge and gigantic hurry.

Washington, D.C. and our lodging for the next few days were next on the agenda. However, we saw some neat stuff along the way. There was the nicest gas station we had ever seen. It looked like a bank more than an Exxon. There were horse farms with massive amounts of fencing and large houses. There was also an interesting question from my wife.

With several presidential homes and many Civil War battlefields in the area, how did those homes not get destroyed? It is a great question that leads to the complexity of who those presidents were.

I believe the homes were spared because those men – Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and James Monroe – represented to the United States government the ideals for which they were fighting. They were among the Founding Fathers who started a nation based on liberty and freedom.

For the Confederacy, those same men represented the plantation economy of slavery and agriculture that was being threatened by northern politicians. They were people who rose up against an oppressive government. In essence, both sides looked upon the owners of these homes as representative of what they were fighting for. As a result, neither side wanted to disrespect them by destroying their properties.

Of course, that could be totally wrong, and the houses could have been in locations that were not strategically important.

After many miles, we hit the interstate going into Washington, D.C., which looked like any other city until I realized that we were passing the Pentagon. My wife tried to explain to my stepdaughter about the building, but she said that she knew what it was. It is where they imprisoned Magneto in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Then, the Washington Monument suddenly appeared. Now, we knew that we were in a different kind of city.

After navigating through the traffic and the pedestrians, we made it to our downtown hotel, where I promptly parked in the wrong place. Coincidentally, the people we were meeting got there at the exact same time and parked in the exact same wrong place.

We unpacked. We rested. Then, we walked a few blocks to a great restaurant called Siroc, an Italian place that was out of this world. It was a lovely evening eating pasta and duck and all sorts of things on their sidewalk patio.

Once dinner was over, we strolled a few clocks over to the White House and acted like tourists. We took pictures of the house.image-10

We took pictures of the protestors supporting Palestine. We took pictures of the Andrew Jackson statue.image-8

I have now seen the ones in Washington, Nashville and New Orleans. Monty Pope would be proud.

Despite the White House and the statue, I, for some reason, was more interested in seeing the Blair House. Harry Truman lived in it for much of his presidency as the big house was being renovated, and I always thought that made it cool. While gawking at it, my wife discovered that the gardens were donated by Jack Massey, a Nashvillian who put three corporations on the New York Stock Exchange – Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hospital Corporation of America and Volunteer Capital Corporation.image-9

It seems that Andrew Jackson is not the only Tennessee connection sitting in front of the White House.

The Legacy of the Phoenix

13 Jun

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that we attended the Phoenix Ball, an annual fundraiser for Cumberland University. For decades, the Phoenix has been the symbol of our institution. It is represented on the uniforms of our teams and is etched in the stained glass of Baird Chapel.Baird Chapel

This is strange to a lot of people because we are called the Bulldogs. They always ask why we have a bird as a symbol if our mascot is a dog. Well, this is why.

Cumberland University was founded in 1842 and quickly established itself as one of the best institutes of higher learning. Its claim to fame was having the first law school west of the Appalachian Mountains. However, problems arose in 1861 and the start of the Civil War. Most of the students and faculty enlisted in the armies of their states and made their way to the battlefields.

Eventually, the Civil War made its way to campus, and the original buildings were burned.Cumberland Original

Some say that the campus was burned by the Union army. Others say it was burned by the Confederates when they found out that the campus had been used to house African-American soldiers of the Union. It does not matter who did the deed. What matters is that Cumberland University no longer had a home.

When the war ended, the leadership of Cumberland University was determined that the school would continue. For years, classes were held in buildings around town. In 1892, the generosity of others allowed the university to purchase land for a new campus and build a new building. Memorial Hall was completed in 1896.Memorial Hall 2

The university was destroyed by fire and rose from the ashes. That is why the mythical Phoenix became the symbol of the university. However, the university has risen several times from the brink of disaster.

It survived the loss of support from both the Presbyterians and the Baptists.

It survived as students went off to more wars. In fact, it became the headquarters of the Tennessee Maneuvers that trained soldiers for the invasion of Europe in World War II.

It survived a tornado that ripped across Memorial Hall. The scars of its reconstruction can still be seen.

It survived the loss of its law school, which was renown for its graduates. One of those graduates was Cordell Hull, the Father of the United Nations.

It survived the move to become a junior college and returned to being a four-year institution in the 1980s.

Today, Cumberland University has the highest enrollment in its history. We offer undergraduate degrees in many disciplines. We also offer several graduate degrees.

As a graduate and faculty member at Cumberland University, I know the trials that the school has endured and its ability to survive and thrive. It is a special place with a long and proud history, and I can think of no better symbol than the Phoenix.

From Sports Illustrated to The Old Farmer’s Almanac

24 Dec

This is another one of those nights when I don’t have anything to write about. I thought about an expose on Duck Dynasty and the dangers of turning a real person into a television character, but I have heard enough about that topic. All I know is that I don’t agree with the opinions of most of the people around me.

Last night, my mind was running crazy with ideas to blog about. There was this movie character that I was going to compare to a person in my town. Then, I remembered how many people in my town read the blog. I also thought about writing about our dinner at a local establishment. In fact, that could be a future one.

Heck, I even thought about listing a bunch of stuff that I like. One day, I was driving down the road when I came upon a bridge. Out of the blue, I said, “I like bridges.” The lady who was with me said that I sounded like Forrest Gump. It’s true. I like bridges. That’s just the way it is.

As I sat down at the computer, I considered writing about the emails that we get from students when the semester is over, but I have already written about that. It’s usually over by down, but I am still getting emails about grades on Christmas Eve.

Of course, I could write about my current treadmill book. It is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. No Country for Old Men and The Road have already been scratched off my McCarthy list. They were both made into great movies, and I think this one would make a great movie, too. It would be one of the bloodiest and most realistic Westerns ever made. I am proud to say that McCarthy is a Tennessee guy.

Those are all things that could be written about, but I’m not going to do any of those. Instead, I am going to list some of the things that are on my desk.

There is the latest copy of Sports Illustrated.Sports Illustrated

Next to it is a box of dry erase markers.

A gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond is underneath there somewhere.

My grade book is out for those emails that I have been getting.

There is even a couple of VHS tapes.

There is a tape measure sitting on top of a book called John Henry: The Doc Holliday Story. It was written by Ben Traywick, native of Watertown, Tennessee and official historian of Tombstone, Arizona.

Sunglasses and a stapler are butted up against each other.

Beside them are a couple of lottery tickets that didn’t pay off.

My trusty iPhone is next to my trusty calculator. I know. The phone has a calculator, too. I don’t care because I like the old-fashioned kind.

There is a stack of bills and a newspaper clipping from the Civil War.

A little further away sits the 2014 issue of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.Almanac

If you want to get smarter, then you need to pick up a copy. It’s full of all kinds of great information. For example, November 25, my birthday, is one of the best days to set posts or pour concrete.

That’s the stuff that’s on my desk, and that’s also the reason my wife keeps telling me that I need to clean it.

History in the Buff

15 Jun

I started teaching history a little over ten years ago and have found out something in the intervening years. People want to talk to me about history. In and of itself, that is not a bad thing. It thrills me that people like history and want to discuss it, and I am happy to have a job that people find interesting. After all, I can’t imagine a plumber constantly being asked about fitting pipes or an accountant being asked about ledgers.

However, there is another side to the “let’s talk about history” coin, and I know it before it actually happens. It always begins with a question:

“You are a history buff aren’t you?”

Well, I’m not really a history buff. I am more like a historian, someone who makes their living studying history and providing that information to others. That question always leads to the next one:

“Can you tell me the real story about (fill in the blank)?

When this question comes out of their mouth, I know that I am in a real bind. You see, they don’t want to hear what I think or know. They want me to reinforce what they think they know. Invariably, I have to ask myself a few more questions:

“Do I tell them what the latest research says?” Or,:

“Do I let them continue to think what they want because I am not going to change their mind anyway?”

They are the true history buffs, and they can fall into several categories.

Civil War Buffs – In these parts, this is the worst bunch to deal with. They can be the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daughters of the Confederacy, or just someone who is obsessed with the Civil War. I can promise you that they know more about the actual “war” than I do. They know regiments, weapons, troop movements, generals, the names of the horses of generals, and a lot more minute information. There is no way I can talk to them about that stuff. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that is not what they ask about. The question is always:

“What was the Civil War really about?”

This is a no win situation. They have convinced themselves that it is about state rights, and have conveniently left out the part about states having the right to keep slavery legal. It was also about the need to spread slavery into the western territories. In short, it was all about slavery, but I can talk until I am blue in the face and they will not have their minds changed.

A few years ago, a member of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans offered our department a sizable donation if we taught the Civil War the “right” way. We turned it down.

Old West Buffs – This category covers several groups: people who like westerns; people who compete in rodeos; people who live in the West; people who wear cowboy hats and cowboy boots. It goes on and on. However, I will use a conversation I had with a Montana rancher to illustrate my point.

Through the years, the rancher has bought cattle from my dad and invited us to see his place. It was a cool experience, but I knew I was in trouble when he found out that I was a historian of the West. I tried to stick with the fun stuff, but he asked:

“What do you think about the way things went with the Indians? Look at them. They don’t work, and they stay drunk. Useless.”

Now, how am I suppose to answer that? I am sitting at a table full of Montana ranchers who make their living off of land that Native Americans were run off from. For all I knew, their ancestors could have fought each other. Was I supposed to say that Native Americans got the biggest screwing ever? Was I supposed to say that they would be drunk too if someone took everything away from them?

I played politician and stayed away from a straight answer. After all, these are people who still believe in the myth of Custer’s Last Stand.

People who play cowboy in the east are almost as bad. They want to hear about the lone cowboy riding across the prairie and living a lifestyle of freedom. They don’t want to hear that it was a job for people who couldn’t anything else. They definitely don’t want to hear that a great many were minorities. And, they would flip upon hearing that cowboys on the trail sometimes found sexual comfort with each other.

Instead, I tell them that it is hard to be a real cowboy without any cows.

Antique Buffs – A lot of people, including old ladies, love to collect antiques. That’s great for them and the pieces they collect. It allows them to hold on to a physical piece of nostalgia, and it protects objects that would otherwise be lost. However, that doesn’t mean I am interested in their collection of dishes.

When an antique person (in interest, not age) finds out my job, they immediately start in with:

“Oh, I should show you my collection. I’m sure you would find it interesting.”

Actually, I wouldn’t.

Old House Buffs – This group is closely related to the prior group. In fact, I could have put them together. These are people who either live in an old home or are involved in the protection of an old home. Now, this is a noble cause because older homes should be protected. I wouldn’t live in one, but I am glad other people do. However, just because a home is old does not mean that it is historic.

Last year, I spoke at a meeting of a group that protects an old home in Nashville. They were nice people who listened intently, but when I was finished they just wanted to talk about how important this place was. Others showed off the work they had been doing on the old places they lived in. I am not an expert on historic preservation and could not do anything except show feigned interest. However, I know that just because a place is old does not mean it is important.

Local History Buffs – These are great people who work in archives and libraries and provide a wealth of information for researchers. However, they tend to place more importance on their local history than is realistic. Not every town has an interesting story to tell or has enough interest to attract tourists. A lot of place have that, but most do not. I am happy that it interests you, but it does not interest me (unless they had a local whorehouse).

For example, my town has pumped up a Civil War battle that was not much bigger than a bar brawl. A sign has been installed to commemorate the event, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans got mad because the map was wrong. Apparently, it had the bar on the wrong side of the square.

Now that I have ranted about people interested in history, I will finish by saying that it is better than the opposite – people who know absolutely nothing. Several years ago, I had the following conversation with a local official. It took place during a meeting about drawing tourism into our community. She began with:

“I don’t see how we can draw people here. We don’t have any history.”

“What do you mean we don’t have any history? We have a university that was founded in 1842 and educated a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. We have the homes of three governors. We have a home that Paul McCartney used to live in. We are the home of Cracker Barrel. We have all kinds of things.”

“Well, we don’t have a presidential home like Nashville does.”

“There have only been 40-something presidents. No many counties have one of those. You go with what you have.”

“Well, I say we don’t have anything.”

With that in mind, if you fit in one of the categories that I bitched about above. I will give you this. At least you have something.

The Smell of Cape Jasmine

23 Jan

As a historian, I have never been interested in studying the past of my region, the South. I have heard about the Civil War and other aspects of its history all of my life and never really wanted to go behind the scenes of the stories and anecdotes of my childhood. However, this does not mean that I have turned my back on the South. As written in other posts, I have traveled throughout the United States, but I have never considered living anywhere but here. It is my home and everything that is associated with that word. Family. Friends. Familiarity. The “Three F’s” I suppose. I study the West, but I am a child of the South. But, like many others, I am not sure what it means to be a southerner.

Does it mean that I should be ashamed of a heritage of slavery and rebellion? Or, does it mean that I should be proud of a heritage of southern Founding Fathers like Washington and Jefferson? Does it mean that I should be proud of being raised in the Bible Belt? Or, does it mean I should be ashamed to be a native of a region that still argues over teaching the theory of evolution? Before answering those questions, I should explain what being a southerner is all about (at least for me).

It is eating black eyes peas and hog jaw on New Year’s Day for good luck.

It is going to college football games on Saturday’s in the fall.

It is visiting family on Sunday afternoon.

It is watching “Smokey and the Bandit” and realizing that you know a sheriff just like that.

It is going for a ride on a country road.

It is pulling over to pay respects to a passing funeral procession.

It is saying hello to a stranger that you pass on a sidewalk.

It is having a meal of fried chicken and turnip greens.

It is going to the National Walking Horse Celebration and wondering why the federal government won’t leave them alone.

It is being baptized when you are eleven years old because that’s what you are supposed to do.

It is wishing that people in other parts of the country would understand that you are not stupid because you talk differently.

It is thinking that people in New England talk funny.

It is being proud that Blues, Country, Rock ‘n Roll, Southern Rock, Bluegrass, Gospel and just about every other genre of music came from the South.

It is knowing that not all southerners would make this same list because we all don’t fit into the southern stereotype.

Notice that the list does not include driving a pickup truck; hunting or fishing; flying a rebel flag; drinking beer in a field; being a racist; having no teeth or shoes; or handling snakes in church. Of course, there are people who fit those descriptions. Just like there are people all over the country that fit those descriptions (except for maybe the snake handling). I am proud to be from the South and accept its good and bad qualities, but I have never known how to explain that pride. Maybe this post has done it. If not, then I will finish by writing about a song that I have always liked. It is country (which is strange for me), but I feel a connection to it. I will try to explain why.

“Good Ole Boys Like Me” by Don Williams

When I was a kid, Uncle Remus he put me to bed

With a picture of Stonewall Jackson above my head.

Then daddy came in to kiss his little man

With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand.

He talked about honor and things I should know.

Then, he’d stagger a little as he went out the door.

(Uncle Remus is a collection of stories that were passed down from the days of slavery. They are mostly fables and tales that teach lessons. However, they are racist in the way they present Uncle Remus, a docile African-American man. Disney made a movie based on the stories which has faced a racist backlash as time has passed. I never heard these stories when I was a kid, but I was told plenty of stories along the same lines, namely the story of Little Black Sambo. Despite this experience, I did not grow up to be a racist or a member of the Klan.)

(Stonewall Jackson was a Civil War hero for the confederacy. While most southerners did not have pictures of Civil War officers hanging in their houses, this line aims at the importance many southerners still place on that terrible time in our history. Southerners have tended to forget what the war was about and focus on the fact that the South lost. For generations, this created a sense of inferiority. Of course, the economic conditions didn’t help. I once read an article with the theory that the debacle of the Vietnam War did not affect the South as it did other parts of the nation because the South already knew how it felt not to win.)

(My dad does not drink, but he is very religious. He has been a deacon in the church and complains about why I don’t go. However, this line hits home because I still call him “daddy”. I saw George Carlin (my favorite comedian of all time) in concert, and he made fun of grown southern men using this word. It may be dumb, but we still do it. It is not a childish act but an act of respect. The gin and Bible part is very southern because both play an important role in southern society. Honor is also an important part of southern ideology and society. Heck, that was one of the arguments for the Civil War – the north was challenging southern honor. There is a reason that dueling was legal in the South longer that it was anywhere else. And, it is still important in the South. It isn’t polite to air your dirty laundry in public.)

I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees.

And those Williams boys, they still mean a lot to me –

Hank and Tennessee.

I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be.

So, what do you do with good ole boys like me?

(Live oak does not mean that the tree is not dead. This is an iconic tree throughout the South and is the state tree of Georgia. Any picture of an old plantation has live oak’s in it. There is a reason that Twelve Oaks is one of the plantations in “Gone With the Wind”. While this may be a natural symbol of the region, it actually has a varied geography – mountains, river bottoms, swamps, hills.)

(The Williams boys shows the variety that the South has offered to American culture. Hank Williams was a legend in the world of country music and a songwriting genius. Tragically, he drank to excess and died in his 20s, but his music continues to inspire musicians and singers. One of the great writers of the 20th Century, Tennessee Williams provided us with plays and literary works that delve into the psyche and soul. “The Glass Menagerie”. “A Streetcar Named Desire”. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. The list goes on and on. The South may have produced rednecks, but it also produced artistic geniuses. These are but two.)

And nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does.

But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was.

The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen.

John R. and the Wolfman kept me company

By the light of the radio by my bed

With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head.

(The wind is blowing now, and it is one of my favorite sounds. However, that is not a southern thing. Being washed in the blood is. Baptism is a rite of passage in this part of the world. It is something that everyone I know was expected to go through. Each denomination has a different way of doing things, but most have similarities. At the end of the church service, the preacher asks for those who want to accept Christ to come to the front. If you feel the spirit, then you go to the front. Once the singing stops, the preachers announces to the congregation that you have made a decision to join the church and asks them to affirm it. At some point, you are baptized. In my church, this meant a full immersion under water. There you go – afterlife insurance. I joined at 11. My dad joined at 5. Neither one of us knew what we were doing, but we were saved nonetheless.)

(Cape Jasmine is a white flower known for its fragrance. It is called Cape because people thought it came from the Cape of Good Hope. It actually originated in Asia. There are all sorts of flowers and plants throughout the South due to the warm climate. Some, such as the Cape Jasmine, have brought beauty and an air of social standing. Lots of flower clubs exist around here for the uppity women of the South. This is probably left over from the days of plantations that fancied themselves as cousins of British aristocracy. Other plants, like cotton and tobacco have brought fortune but also infamy.)

(John R. and the Wolfman are my favorite names in this song. John R. was a Nashville legend as lead disc jockey on WLAC-AM, a clear channel station that reached 28 states. He played rhythm and blues and introduced southern African-American performers to listeners throughout his range. John R. became so popular with African-American audiences that they thought he was African-American as well. Wolfman Jack was a more famous disc jockey and gained this fame on the most powerful signal in North America, XERF-AM out of Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.)

(Thomas Wolfe, from Asheville, North Carolina, was a great southern novelist. I believe he is referenced in this song for his 1940 work, “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Once you have grown and left your surroundings, you can never go by to that “idyllic” lifestyle again. I put idyllic in quotations because once we look back we realize that it was never as good as we imagined. People often talk of the good old days, but they were never that good. Southerners, especially of the white variety, may think times were simpler then, but were they really? Segregation. No air conditioning. Many without electricity. Few well-paying jobs to be found. A great distance between the wealthy and the non-wealthy, both white and black. We can go home again physically, but we can never return intellectually and emotionally.)

When I was a kid I ran with a kid down the street,

And I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed.

But, I was smarter than most, and I could choose.

Learned to talk like the man on the six o’clock news.

When I was eighteen lord, I hit the road,

But it really doesn’t matter how far I go.

(Much of this song is more appropriate for the experiences of generations before mine. However, this part remains true to today. Several of the people I grew up with and played with as a child have become town drunks that waste their time in the bars a beer joints around town. I realize this happens all over the world, but I know that they never had aspirations of becoming the “town drunk”. Unlike the song, I didn’t leave. I found opportunity in the area and went with it. That makes me lucky. But, it makes me sad to see people with the same opportunity go down another path.)

So, what was this post? I am not sure myself. It is a defense of a region and a critique of the same region. Maybe it’s like family. I can talk about them all day long, but I’ll defend them if someone else says the same. That’s what being from the South is like. We can talk about each other and realize that we have issues. But, other people had better not join the discussion. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what the people who seceded from the country thought too.

The post is also an excuse to analyze one of my favorite songs (even though it’s country). So, if you made it this far I hope that you learned something. I learned that some questions don’t have answers. So, what do you do with good ole boys like me?