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.

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