Monday, April 20, 2015

Appomattox - April 12, 2015 - Auld Lang Syne

The final day of my Virginia trip, my last Civil War real time experience (The Grand Review Parade in May is off by over week) worked out better than I dreamed possible. One of the most iconic images of the end of the Army of Northern Virginia is the stacking of the arms under the supervision of respectful Union troops, commanded by Joshua Chamberlain, the former college professor, wounded six times and breveted to major general, who would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his action at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.

A reenactment of the stacking was done a couple of times a day after the ninth.  I was thinking that the Confederate reenactors must have been getting pretty tired of it.  I watched one of the stacking ceremonies on Saturday, but did not get any good pictures.

 I also watched a real time reenactment of the artillery surrender, which was beyond tedious (The artillery and cavalry were surrendered first, because the ANV men were allowed to keep their horses and they wanted to get them moved out to other areas where there might be more fodder.  At least that is what somebody told me.)

At any rate, the final stacking ceremony was a real time event (although actually the real event took all day) at 3:00 PM on the 12th.  Public participation was encouraged. You could choose to march with the surrendering Confederates or stand on the side of the road saluting.  As it worked out all the Union reenactors had taken off by then, so it was all civilians lining the road.  The surrendering Confederates had a goodly complement of reenactors intermingled with the civilians. Row by row roughly four "soldiers", then four "civilians".  I think my "brigade" had about twenty people in it.  

 That's right I had decided to be with the Confederates, which I suppose requires some explanation.  Even if it doesn't, I'm going to give it to you anyway.

At Gettysburg, the biggest real time event was Pickett's charge, which had the general public doing the long walk across the field led by rangers with some reenactors interspersed.

I thought I would be standing behind the wall wearing my blue keppe, but as I explained in this piece after watching a reenactment on private property on June 30, I decided I had to do the walk.  So I picked up a gray keppe at the sutlers.  I ended up forgetting it at the hotel and doing the walk hatless, but that is neither here nor there.

So mainly I was going with the Confederates so I would be doing something rather than standing around, but I also think that the gray hat had something to do with it.  Lost Cause historiography has a powerful grip on the American imagination, that is is not lost even on someone like me, who is much more interested in antebellum social reform movements and believes that the reeestablishment of white supremacy was an American tragedy, Reconstruction being a great missed opportunity to truly create an indivisible nation with liberty and justice for all.

It was a lucky choice because when I got into line, there was my friend Georg (that's how you spell it).

Georg is probably the champion real timer, at least when it comes to distance traveled.  He is a computer scientist from Germany, who has used his six week vacations to be at real time Civil War events beginning, I think with Bull Run .  We met at around 6:00 AM on September 17, 2012 as we walked from our cars to the Cornfield, where according to the park rangers the battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg commenced (Although a somewhat fanatical real timer told me the night before that it was actually elsewhere and earlier).  We spent the day sharing the events, telling one another our life stories and why we found the Late Unpleasantness so fascinating.  The final event of that day was at the cemetery where member of the public were invited to come up and read 10 of the names of men who died at the battle or of wounds received there.  Most of us went up a few times.  It took three hours.

Georg, a computer scientist, is one of the scary smart people whose interest in the Civil War began with playing complex strategy/tactical games.  He was born in 1971 and in the small town in Germany where he grew up there was not much information on the US Civil War.  He told me his mother, who fled Communism in Poland was very much pro-American in those final years of the Cold War.

Georg had some very interesting perspectives.  The midday event at Antietam included ceremonies of a patriotic nature with a strong military presence.  The overall theme of Antietam was mourning, as it was the deadliest day in American history.  At any rate, there were fellows from the Old Guard (The Third Infantry Regiment who inter alia do the burial ceremonies at Arlington) and a speech from a very modern major general (Appomattox had a similar event on the 9th).  Georg said that Germans did not go in for that type of display very much and he had a hard time understanding it and knowing how to behave.

One of the perennial themes of the sesquicentennial was a celebration of American nationalism.  D.W. Griffith's was at least right in that 1865 really was the Birth of A Nation

A couple of historians who spoke at different events pointed out that if the United States was not, you know, united, the history of Europe in the twentieth century would have been quite different as those West Point guys after an epic intramural war in which the Blue team won, but the Gray team put up a heck of a fight went on to a pretty strong century or so of successful war waging including the defeat of the Third Reich.

Growing up in a country where there is still a good bit of unexploded ordnance from the Army Air Corps floating around makes Georg less sanguine about what a good thing American nationalism is.  That's why he was marching with the Confederates rather than standing along the road.  He just could not relate to starting a war to keep states in a country.

We formed up in the ranks of four.  The reenactors with us looked really good, although perhaps not quite ragged enough for real authenticity.

The march was pretty short and I thought all those people on the side of the road saluting was a really nice touch.  We halted, did a left face and stepped back two paces.  We civilians just stood at attention while the reenactors followed the generals orders to fix, bayonets, stack arms, remove accouterments  and unsling cartridge boxes.  The general then told the guys they had been defeated by superior force and should be proud of the jobs they had done as soldiers.

Thus began the next chapter in American history.  Professor David Blight of Yale had spoken earlier that day and told us that the guys from that era might be puzzled by the personal technology that we all carry around, but that the issues of federalism and race that are in our news all the time would have an eerie familiarity for them with some perhaps wondering why we had not yet sorted them out.

So what to do with that damn hat?  I had one of those impulses of generosity of a sort and gave to Georg to take back to Germany.  His insisted that I sign it and said he will cherish it. If only it were so easy to shed white privilege.

In 2013 Georg had not gone to Gettysburg.  He had been at Vicksburg which had a much lighter turnout and had been more or less adopted by Lincoln's Generals.  These guys are not reenactors, but rather historical interpreters. They splintered off from The Confederation of Union Generals.    So Georg and I headed back to the general's camp where he has a standing invitation to sit in General Grant;s tent

I hope Georg won't mind me stealing a comment from his facebook page to sum up our final hours together.

In the afternoon, the nominal highlight of the day took place: Every visitor who wanted was invited to participate at the surrender ceremony for the Confederate infantry - the stacking of arms and the folding of the flags - which did indeed happen on April 12th 1865. But the National Park Service managed to blow this event big time. While there were a couple of dozens Confederate reenactors still around, there was actually only a blue-clad brass band left over to receive the surrendering army, all other Federal reenactors had already left. So the other visitors who were not surrendering stepped into the breach. Thus we Confederates filed up the old stagecoach road to Appomattox Court House, while ordinary citizens were lining the road and saluting us while the band was playing "Auld lang syne". Somehow this was a very powerful scene. And I liked the idea to surrender to normal people instead to a conquering military.

Then there is this little scene: I had arbitrarily extended my "standing invitation" to Grant's Headquarter tent to Peter Reilly and the Korean theology student Isaac. Isaac told Peter that Lynchburg's Liberty University, where he is studying, is a _very_ evangelical university. Peter: "I mean no offense, but I want to ask a question: How old is the earth?" Isaac: "I take a biblical viewpoint on that." Peter: "So 6.000 years?" Isaac: "Yeah." Now if this little gem of a conversation is not absolutely worthy of General Grant's Headquarter tent in 1865 I don't know what is.

Auf wiedersehen.


I was really impressed that some of the Virginia mud made it back to Massachusetts.

Peter J Reilly CPA hopes to be the first tax blogger to give up his day job.

More pictures here and here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Appomattox - April 2015 - Prequel

April 7

I started the day with that great road trip anticipation as I stumbled around the house making sure all my stuff was organized.  I hit the road at 5:15.  About an hour into it going through Hartford I was starting to feel just a little like I had not gotten enough sleep.  So I switched from 84 to 6 just West of Hartford. Finally hit a convenience store.  A cup of black coffee, two bottles of Mountain Dew, two Kit-kats and a Dark Milky Way.  Just having that shit in your car will prevent you from dozing off.  I asked the clerk what town we were in - Bristol.

I started thinking that all these towns and cities I was passing through must have had boys in Virginia that they worrying about 150 years ago.  They are commemorated by monuments of greater or lesser grandiosity, probably an index of relative prosperity in the post war period.

Garmon was telling me to go to the George Washington Bridge.  Fuck that shit.  I crossed the Tappan Zee but had to trust the Garmon from there as I was headed to the Seacaucus Junction Train Station where I was meeting my travel companion Alan Jacobs.  That was the first crazy spontaneity of the trip, if you don't count the craziness of a tax geek taking off on April 7.

The way it happened was that I posted to Facebook about the trip and Alan commented "Can I come?".  In context, it was pretty clear that he was kidding, but then I thought.  Why the hell not?

Well the reason that a sane person would give is that, in reality, Alan and I don't know one another that well. There was a little back and forth in which I assured him that he could bail at any time without my feelings being hurt and that if non-stop Civil War for four solid days was too much he could just drop me at the site and tool around the countryside in my car.

Alan is about the coolest person that I know.  We talked about our youth as we were going through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.  It was pretty much across on 78 and down on 81.

I grew up in Fariview NJ and Alan grew up in Palisades Park.  Neither town had a high school so they fed Cliffside Park High School.  Alan is exactly six months older than me.  My birthday is half birthday and visa versa.  That put him a year ahead of me in school.

And of course I did not actually go to CPHS.  Like many of my classmates from St. John the Baptist elementary school I went to a Catholic High School, but rather a special one.  It was one of the five Jesuit high schools in the metro New York area and one of only two Jesuit high schools that had Junior ROTC (the other one is in New Orleans). So I was commuting to a high school in Manhattan, just north of Greenwich Village, in a military uniform everyday.  One of the nicknames of Xavier students was "subway commandos".

We had to get our hair cut every week.  There was this Brazilian barber in the Port Authority bus terminal that charged two bucks.  Anyway.  It's 1968.  Time to be a hippie.  And here I am looking like the ultimate anti-hippie.

Alan on the other hand was the epitome of hippiedom, at least in the narrow space that I moved in.  But how did we ever connect?  He starred in a school play and not some bullshit musical a real play - Rhinoceros by Ionesco.  Weird alternative shit. And wrote ironic poems.  How in the world did we ever connect?

Not all the St. Johns kids went to Catholic schools.  Quite a few took ninth grade at Lincoln School in Fairview and then went to CPHS.  Among the latter was Bobby Einhorn.  Bobby and I were both bright boys and we spent a good amount of time together.  It was an odd thing that there would be this variety of groups of kids that you would be a member of based on geography and activities.  I can't remember Einhorn being an altar boy or a Boy Scout or even playing Little League (although I think the latter is likely).  His parents let him have the run of their finished basement and I remember spending a good amount of time there.

We kept our connection in high school and he was my conduit to the alternative.  We used to go to the basement and listen to the Mothers of Invention.  There was a classic garage band called the Get Some Soon, although none of them seemed to have a garage.  Einhorn was lead guitar and Alex Dallesandro, part of the Roosevelt street crown, that I had kind of associate status in, was the drummer forget the other two guitar players.  I was their friend who had a tape recorder.

So I spent a bit of time hanging with Alan, despite my absurd haircut, because Einhorn vouched for me.

So the road trip to Appomattox was mainly reminiscing about growing up in New Jersey, which accounts for this post going up late and unfinished, but it is an important part of the story.

In the photo above Abraham Lincoln gets to meet the coolest kid in Southern Bergen County from the sixties.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Appomattox - April 11th - Freedom

The best anecdote about the Civil War I ever heard was one that I heard in Dublin. On our biggest vacation week ever, we went to the one Unitarian Church in Dublin, one of two in the Republic.  It was kind of homey as they used the gray hymnals adopted by the UUA in the United States and Canada.  It happened that there was a guest minister, who was an American, who lived in Spain - don't know what that is about.

The point of the service was for us to reflect on how people in the future might look back on us and see all sorts of moral blind spots.  To illustrate the story the minister spoke about his great grandfather who had been an officer in the Confederate Army - kind of a what was he thinking type of comment, but how he came by the attitude was the interesting part.  The minister grew up in the South and I'm guessing had about a decade or a bit more on me so the incident must have taken place in the early to mid fifties.

Boys in his neighborhood did not play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers.  They played Yanks and Rebs, with the preference being for the Rebs of course.  One time he came racing into the house with a Confederate flag and the family's black maid confronted him - "What are you doing with that redneck rag?  People shouldn't own other people.  That's just wrong."

In And About Lynchburg

Friday April 10, I kind of took the day off.  I brought my friend Alan to the Amtrak station.  His pretty spontaneous participation in the trip was a real plus, but I don't mind the solitary finish.  I wandered around Lynchburg just a bit making sure to locate the Unitarian Church I will be attending this morning.

I went to the museum, but I think I had been museumed out and hit a book store.  I saw an interesting book called Dominion, an alternate history set in an England, that had surrendered in 1940 and now it is 1952.  I was tempted to look it up on Kindle, but I felt duty bound to support the independent bookstore.  The shelves were pretty sparse, something that Alan had mentioned to me as he had done some Lynchburg time while I was over at the site.  The guy at the desk told me that they were transitioning away from new books.

The Third Space

As I was walking along Main Street I notices something that looked like a really messy antique shop, but was in fact a barber shop. There were three guys sitting around.  I went by it again on the way back and after walking a few blocks figured "What the hell?" and went back and got a haircut and then spent about fifteen or twenty minutes hanging around talking to the guys as I sipped a fifty cent Coke from the vending machine.

The barber, who has been there since 1959, told me that he hadn't raised the soda price in twenty years and that he now paid sixty cents a can.  He expected he would start making money on the soda once he got a bigger truck.  I tried the variation of that joke in which the solution to the profitability problem of selling below cost is solved by a presence on the web, but he didn't get it.

There was a picture of General Lee (Thomas Jessee) on the front page of the newspaper, but the sesquicentennial events had not made much of an impression on these three guys.  One of the guys was sitting in the other barber chair, not because he was waiting for a haircut - that's just where he sat.  While I was getting shorn we were talking about accents.  The other spectator, who looked just a bit like Tennessee Ernie Ford told a story about a New Yorker mocking his accent and then launching into an extreme version of a New York accent.  The guy in the other barber chair, who I suspect is more or less the executive officer to the barber who is in ultimate command, told a story about being in Las Vegas and having a black guy tell him that he must have spent a lot of time hanging around with black people, because of the way he spoke.

If America is a great river fed by many streams, way back near the source are Scotch-Irish who after resisting their own displacement for centuries started displacing other peoples and Africans taken into captivity.  Those two have been flowing together for a long time.

Tennessee Ernie got on the cell phone to track down a regular who was AWOL. They needed him to be able to resume an argument that they had been having the day before about whether the early form of Coca Cola had included cocaine.  The pervasiveness of he internet makes it harder to have arguments like that, but the barber shop had strategies to lessen its effect.  One of the guys had gotten an answer from Siri, but another had gotten a different answer by calling his grandson and having him look it up on "the computer".

They then got going on somebody who drove his truck a lot.  I didn't want to wear out my welcome, so I moved on after finishing my Coke.  I wonder if I might have provided some grist for their conversational mill.

It is worth noting that in Wikpedia, the example they give of the new urbanism concept of "third place" is a barbershop.

Lynchburg Night Life And The Lost Cause

I went to the restaurant that Alan and I had eaten at on Wednesday.  It was a lively place with a young crowd and live music.  I ate at the bar and chatted with a couple of guys.  Like almost all Lynchburg people I spoke with the sesquicentennial had not made much of an impression on them.

One of the guys was full bore "Lost Cause".  He asked me if the Ulysses Grant I met (E.C. Fields) had been drunk.  He went on to illustrate the superiority of the Southern cause, by noting that Lee had attended the meeting in a clean uniform, while Grant was all muddy.  I was enough of an idiot to point out that Grant had just ridden twenty miles and did not want to keep Lee waiting.

Lost Cause enthusiast then told me that he was a 13th generation Virginian, something that is just a bit mind boggling.  There are people in New England with that deep a heritage.  I was actually married to one, but it doesn't seem to be quite as compelling. We shook hands as he and his friend had to get home to their Southern belles.

On the bus from the parking lot on Saturday morning I chatted with some members of the Federal City Band.  They play period instruments which it can be rather a challenge to restore to playable condition. One of the guys was wistful about the instruments that are in museums, since in a sense they are no longer musical instruments, but rather display items.


One of the troubling things about Sesquicentennial events is that they are pretty white,which leaves out a lot of the history, so I was glad to see representation of United States Colored Troops reenactors.  USCT reenactors seem to fall into two classes.  They were either inspired to take up the hobby by the movie Glory or they were in the movie Glory.

My Cousins?

They were camped next to the 69th Pennsylvania, which was part of the Irish Brigade.

Lee and Grant were not the only generals on the scene.  Rufus Ingalls (Michael Trapasso of Lincoln's Generals) was on the scene.  He was the Quartermaster General who was probably one of the unsung heroes behind the victory.  The industrial might of the north would not have been that helpful had it not actually gotten to the troops on the line.

There was a run though of the infantry stacking of the arms, the real time of which is today.  There was some great music.  While having my second pork meal of the day, I sat with a couple of Federal City Band guys.  One of their wives was portraying Abby Hutchinson and I thought she looked great.

Spirituals And A Sermon

The really big event of the day started at six at the main stage and it was unlike any sesquicentennial event that I have seen. The stage was filled with African Americans in period dress signing spirituals.  Like Gettysburg, the fighting at Appomattox had resulted in only one civilian casualty.  A slave woman named Hannah Reynolds, hit by a stray shell, who would live just long enough to be free for a couple of days.  After half an hour of spiritual singing we heard a sermon that might have been delivered at her funeral

There were some great lines one of which was that they might want to suppress their jubilation about now having their freedom while around the "white folks" that had lost fathers and sons in the war.  I think the preacher went easy on the dialect, perhaps sacrificing authenticity for comprehension.

I thought it was a prefect ending and it had a much better integrated audience than any sesquicentennial event I have seen.

On the way to the bus, I had a really pleasant surprise as I ran into Georg Snatzke, who was my first real time battle buddy.  I had met him in 2012 as we were walking from the parking lot toward the ceremony in the cornfield at Antietam, my first real time event.  He is from Germany and developed an interest in the Civil War from playing strategy board games.

On the bus ride to the car we listened to a woman name Audrey tell us about what it was like to grow up black in Detroit in the sixties, which in her view was pretty benign, but make adjustments as she stayed with her grandparents in Virginia in the summers.  Somehow it all fit.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blessed Are The Peacemakers - Appomattox Sesquicentenniial

Yesterday, although not technically the sesquicentennial of the last day of the Civil War, is recognized as such in popular imagination and not without reason.  150 years ago April 9th was Palm Sunday.  The day started with the Army of Northern Virginia attempting to break out as it was surrounded by the convergence of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James.  At the end of the day, there would be no Army of Northern Virginia.  The Confederates States of America having lost the embodiment of its national spirit would not last much longer.

I didn't get quite as early a start as I had hoped.  As usual I was facing the blogger's dilemma of having to choose between writing about material I already had or getting new material to not write about.  Rather than finish the great hobby loss case I am working on for, I wrote here about previous day's events which were capped by the Battle of Appomattox Station.

As planned yesterday, Alan Jacobs, my Appomattox battle buddy and the absolutely coolest kid I had known in my high school days, slept in.  I drove the 20 miles to the NPS site with Alan planning on taking one of the free shuttles that is running from Lynchburg for the next few days.

The short bus ride from the O'Brien Lot to the Courthouse brought up memories of another dangerous time in American history.  The fellow sitting next to me was wearing a hat indicating he was a US Navy veteran.  It turned out that he had been on the same ship as my brother during the same period of time, the early sixties when the USS Randolph patrolled the waters off Cuba intercepting Russian submarines and recovering Mercury astronauts. He was part of Helicopter Squadron 7 and my brother was part of the ship's company so they didn't know each other.  He did tell me a story of a midshipman wandering around the ship asking for something that didn't exist at the behest of the electronic technicians and it sounded like the kind of prank my brother would pull.

From the bus, it was a pretty simple matter to march to the sound of the guns.  People were along a long wooden fence next to the stagecoach road watching "the battle" in a field.  It was a not very complex affair with about fifty men on each side.  Infantry in the center of each line and cavalry on the wings. About that "men thing" - a couple of the Union Cavalry were girls who had not been left behind.  The troops were all white, an inaccuracy that would be discussed in a lecture at the end of the day.

I walked along no mans land looking for a good spot and when I came to a jog in the fence it seemed as good as it could get.  Not so much for the view of "the battle", which was actually getting a bit tedious as for the people I ran into.  Byron Jones is the epitome of a "real timer".  At Gettysburg and Chancellorsville I kept telling my covivant about real timers whose ranks I suppose I joined on the eve of Antietam, when I chatted up some fellows who were reminiscing about Bull Run and deciding exactly where they should be the next day, Park Service events be damned.

Byron retired at the age of 62 specifically to be able to be at significant places exactly 150 years after the event. He logged 18,000 miles and was at 150 different battle sites.  (If I remember rightly there were about 10,000 engagements during the whole war.  I don't know how many I could name but it is a lot less than the number Byron showed up at.)

It kept getting better.  Fritzi Pisarski was watching her husband out on the field. They are with Company H of the 119th New York Volunteers.  She lives in Levittown on Long Island and has a passion for authenticity. It is OK to have canned goods in camp, as long as you remove the labels, but you best have a period can opener.  She told me that she met Mort Kunstler once and told him that he needed to do more paintings with women in them.  The result was Moonlight and Magnolias.

The women's history discussion drew in another lady with a Seneca Falls sweatshirt. Neither one of them had heard of Margaret Fuller.  Well they have now.

But then it got ridiculously better.  General Lee (Thomas Lee Jessee) was there in his baseball cap and windbreaker.  He filled me in a little more on his background.  He is northern  by birth and southern by the grace of God.  He taught astronomy and one time gave his students a "Skies of the Civil War" lesson setting the planetarium to show the stars as you might have seen them if you were laying wounded on the battlefield at Fredericksburg or something like that.

That's tough to top, but meeting John Griffiths dressed as one of Grant's staff officers might have done it.  John is a great great grandson of Ulysses Grant.  He was on the ground floor of reenacting starting in 1956 when there were no replica weapons available, but originals were still pretty affordable.

The arthritis makes it hard for him to do the manual of arms, so he is happy being a staff officer.  Reminds me of somebody I met at Gettysburg who switched to making believe he was a civil war doctor, which involves a lot less time in the sun.

After they finally came over with the white flag I started heading over to the next event and ran into a chaplain reenactor.  Father Bruce Hennington is a retired priest from the Catholic Diocese of Madison WI. He had also served as a chaplain for the Coast Guard Reserve on the Great Lakes.

The main ceremony had a band and a lot of speeches by descendants, historians and politicians.  The 3rd Infantry Old Guard was there, as they had been at Antietam to present the colors, fire a 21 gun salute and play taps.  The speeches emphasized a few things.  It was really good for the rest of the world that the United States of America is, you know, United, because a balkanized America could probably not have rescued Europe from Fascism or faced down the Soviet Union.  The magnanimity of Grant's terms of surrender was a really good way to end a civil war, with the defeated general telling his boys to go home and try to be as good citizens as they had been soldiers (Confederate generals in other areas were a little less upbeat about their men, implying that they would have been better leaders if they had some decent followers.  One said that he hoped the boys would make better citizens than they had soldiers.)  And the end of slavery was a really big deal, which probably had not been adequately covered in the centennial.

It was a very moving ceremony actually with the crowd spontaneously singing the national anthem.  When the very modern major general spoke he mentioned that he had grown up in the area and was descended from a slave owner, but that now he worked in the Pentagon and his CIC was a black man and the crowd spontaneously applauded (or maybe they were all following my lead).

Alan and I finally connected after the ceremony.  It took us about five minutes talking on the cell phone to find one another.  As we headed over to the McClean house for the big event, we ran into Abraham Lincoln.  We talked a bit about his psychiatric diagnosis, which Alan and Abe had as depression, but I'm still thinking bipolar.

There were more speeches as we stood outside the house for an hour and a half.  Finally they came out around 3:00.  Lee riding away on his horse while Union soldiers lined the road and Grant and his staff officers removing their hats to show respect.

The bell ringing ceremony - one minute for every year of the war was supposed to be followed by bells ringing across the country.  Nobody I have talked to on the phone has heard them.  Love if you would comment if you did.

As noted above there were not that many black soldiers on the scene.  There were three guys floating around who are affiliated with Company H of  the 54th Mass which is based on DC.  Taking to them I got the impression that reenacting by African Americans mostly got started after the movie Glory.  The lecture I stayed on for after Alan bailed was about the USCT troops that were on the scene on the final day - 7 regiments - around 5,500 men.  A ranger had been doing research on their backgrounds and what happened to them.  In May when the Grand Review took place in Washington they were mostly down by the
Rio Grande.

The large number of African Americans that served the Union was one of those inconvenient truths that complicated the Lost Cause narrative of a war that was about something really important, but since it was all settled we don't need to consider it anymore.

All in all, it was a great day.  I just dropped Alan at Amtrak and I'm thinking I'll catch up on some writing and explore Lynchburg a bit. At breakfast I met a retired British tank officer dressed as Union private. He told me that he had a bit part in Gettysburg and also in a Bridge Too Far

 The big day is Sunday when the ANV infantry stacks arms and Joshua Chamberlain makes his grand gesture.

Peter J Reilly CPA, who hopes to become the first tax blogger to give up his day job, has established himself as something of a Sesquicentennial real timer, without being crazy about it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Appomattox Gearing Up For Surrender

150 years ago yesterday, the prospects of the Army of Northern Virginia got even dimmer.  Its second to last battle was fought in the evening as cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer captured the train loaded with rations that had made it to Appomattox Station,  General Grant had responded to General Lee's inquiry about surrender terms.  Grant indicated that the officers and men would be "disqualified from taking up arms against the United States" and sent home.

Alan and I did not get quite the early start we had planned, but it was early enough. In the breakfast nook, a woman named Barbara chatted me up when she saw my T-Shirt. I was wearing the Prince of Wales flag shirt.  It tells the story of Colonel Corcoran's refusal to have the 69th New York State Militia parade to honor a "sovereign under whose reign Ireland was made a desert and her sons forced into exile".

Barbara was a teacher from Staten Island whose great great grandfather had been in the 61st New York.  She told me her brother was more the historian.  This may have been one of the sources of Alan's observation that we were descending into geezeerhood.

Things were pretty random at Appomattox Courthouse.  In a talk in the early afternoon, we heard explained some confusion about the name. If you go to Appomattox and find the court house, you have not found the place where the surrender took place. He told us that if you see the word courthouse it is part of the name of a town, whereas "court house" is the, you know, court house.

The NPS site is at the place where the village of Appomattox Courthouse was.  It had been important as one of the stops on the stagecoach road between Richmond and Lynchburg. The stagecoach road was the dirt track we were sitting next to as we were listening, with the actual road being a few hundred yards away. He told us that when he was growing up in Appomattox, there were really three places, the depot, "the court house" and the "surrender grounds", which is where we were.  What had happened was that when the railroad was built it was a couple of miles from the old "court house" which burned down and was replaced with a new "court house" closer to the train station and making the old stagecoach stop less of a go to spot.

I ran into General Grant (Curt Fields) who was putting on a really good portrayal.  He said he had been selected by the Park Service three years ago to be the guy.  General Grant is not impersonated quite as much as Elvis, but there are a few.  As we were standing there General Lee (Thomas Jesse) came up wearing a baseball cap and a windbreaker.  He told Grant that he didn't think they were supposed to be in uniform today.

General Chamberlain, also in mufti, was setting up his own tent.  He was the same Chamberlain that I had met at the Gettysburg address, whose name, not coincidentally is Chamberlain. I had met others at Little Round Top and Chancellorsville.  The Chancellorsville guy really needed to work on his Maine accent.

There were some Union cavalry riding around doing a demonstration.  Across the field a solo bugler started playing some of the classics in their honor such as the "Girl He Left Behind" One of the horse troopers was a girl who hadn't been left behind.  I love the 21st century.

A TV reporter was standing alone while his cameraman was still working the tents.  He was feeling dejected because one of the "officers" had yelled at him for referring to his uniform as a costume.  Alan was kind of amazed to meet an on screen TV personality who was so self-deprecating.

We decided to head over to the Museum of the Confederacy.  I heard one of the senior staff there grumbling that MOC because of a merger that brought in a lot of money is not so much the Museum of the Confederacy anymore.  In my exploratory tour I had stopped at MOC and was amazed at the obvious neo-abolitionist influence.  Apparently before the merger they had more of a "Lost Cause" focus.

Confederates were camped next to the Parking lot, the cavalry and artillery that we would see in action a few hours later.  Some of those guys really identify with their units.  One of the artillery guys told me that his unit from SC did not surrender.  They buried the tubes in a graveyard and burned the wagon wheels and casissons and walked home.  He said his guys were going to burn some wagon wheels on Saturday.

We went to the Liberty Baptist church which was packed to hear a lecture from the Park historian who had identified exactly where the battle we were going to witness had been sited.  I kind of dozed off.

At the battle scene there were about a thousand spectators and a TV truck.  I talked to one of the organizers who is in charge of economic development.  I was wondering what type of boon this was to the town which has very little lodging.  He said that people were buying meals and gas.  A drugstore had a sign that reenactors "in costume" got a 10% discount. I wonder if that was offensive.

Watching the affair we once again learn that cannons are loud and reenactors are safety conscious, which is a good thing.

I've got to get going for the big day.  I'm driving over early and Alan will be sleeping in and taking the Lynchburg shuttle which will be running for the next three days.

The Army of Northern Virginia with its ration train captured, surrounded by superior forces will fight one more battle this morning before the two West Point graduates meet at the McClean House to start the process of ending the biggest intramural war ever.

Peter J Reilly CPA, who hopes to be the first tax blogger to give up his day job, fancies himself an amateur historian. He is the descendant of a Civil War veteran who served in the least distinguished regiment of the Army of The Potomac. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Still Some More Blood To Effuse

Lynchburg VA
April 8, 2015

150 years ago yesterday Ulysses Grant wrote Robert E Lee indicating that he thought maybe that recent events should have indicated that the Army of Northern Virginia was finished and that they should try to avoid further effusion of blood.  Lee wrote back that he still did not think the cause was hopeless, but just for talking purposes what would the terms be.

Today Grant would respond that that his only requirement was that the men and officers surrendered be disqualified from taking up arms against the United States until properly exchanged,

My friend Alan Jacobs and I are at the Travel Inn in Lynchburg and will be heading over to the national park, which is about twenty miles away.  Lynchburg was the next goal of AVN, but it would not make it.

Tomorrow the big day there will be shuttle service to Appomattox.  Coming in to Lynchburg yesterday, we did not note any hints of the Sesquicentennial.  As I was driving through the towns and cities of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey on the way to pick up Alan at the train station in Seacaucus  I was thinking that 150 years ago those towns and cities all had boys in Virginia they were worried about.  

Alan and I spent most of the time from New Jersey to Virginia, which was lovely hassle free drive, talking about high school days.  His taking the trip was a kind of crazy spontaneous thing.  When I posted on Facebook that I was going, he commented obviously jokingly "Can I come?" and I thought "Why the hell not?"

Alan and I generally traveled in very different circles growing up in Fairview and Palisades Park NJ, but we had a mutual friend who had a penchant for connecting people that shared some ineffable quality despite outward appearances.  

Alan was about the hippest person I knew back then.  When he starred in a school play it was not some candy ass musical, but a deep play - Rhinoceros by Ionesco. Everything about him was alternative or so it seemed.  

So when I stumbled on him on Facebook a couple of years ago I was not surprised to learn he lived in Greenwich Village.  I visited him in New York a couple of times, but this current trip will probably more than double the lifespan we have shared.

I hope to have some interviews for my next post.  We'll see how it goes.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Real Timing Appomattox During Tax Season

So for the first time in over thirty years I'm playing major hooky in tax season.  I'm hitting the road tomorrow to head to Appomattox.  The famous conference between Grant and Lee took place on the ninth and the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was spread over the next three days.  The 12th was the big day when the infantry stacked arms.

This will be my fourth real time sesquicentennial event and I am going to try to do some live blogging.  We'll see how it goes.  Here is a round-up of my previous real time coverage.


Gettysburg Interlude - Understanding Historiography


September 17 Remember America's Bloodiest Day


Searching For A Little Piece Of New Jersey In Virginia


Gettysburg Braces For Invasion

Hopes Of Our Country Were On Our Bayonets

Did Doris Kearns Goodwin Blow It At Gettysburg?

Gettysburg Day 1 - First Shot - Where Fate Meets History

Gettysburg Day 1 - Passing Into Legend And History With The Iron Brigade

Gettysburg Day 1 - Through The Streets To Cemetery Hill

Gettysburg Day 2 - Heading Into Action

Gettysburg Day 2 - Worst Ground I Ever Seen

Gettysburg Day 2 - The Advantage Of Moving Down The Hill

Walking In Armistead's Footsteps 150 Years Later - Gettysburg Day 3 - Pickett's Charge

The Most Glorious Fourth

Gettysburg 150 Thank You National Park Service

Live From Gettysburg Address Sesquicentennial

Justice Antonin Scalia Led High Point Of Gettysburg Ceremonies

At Antietam I ran into some guys who called themselves real timers.  They were trying to be at as many key events as possible and were swapping stories about Bull Run.  I did not run into any of them at Chancellorsville, where frankly I was not really real time or Gettysburg, which I covered about as well as is humanly possible.  They must have all been at Vicksburg.

Anyway, my covivant concluded that I am actually the only real timer, but I'm sure its not true.