5 Great Books About Civil War Soldiers

Since you all know I love history and historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well.Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

THE STORY THE SOLDIERS WOULDN’T TELL

CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS

THE LIFE OF BILLY YANK

HARDTACK & COFFEE

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (and series)

The Indian Wars: 5 Great Books About General George Crook

Since you all know I love history and writing historical fiction, I thought I’d share some lists of my favorite books by topic that I used when writing THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES. I hope research geeks will use these posts as a good place to start on the subjects I will feature and that readers of my fiction who have had their appetites whetted for the time period will enjoy the lists as well. Yes, I will put my own books on the lists — 😉

Happy reading and make sure to add your favorites on the subject in the comments below!

GENERAL GEORGE CROOK AUTOBIOGRAPHY

GENERAL CROOK AND THE WESTERN FRONTIER

ON THE BORDER WITH CROOK

WOLVES FOR BLUE SOLDIERS

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD

Family Histories: An Unexpected Trip

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today BRIAN from EQUINOXIO shares a secret story from his mother who served in the French Women’s Army Corps at the end of  World War II:

The photograph came in the post. In a manila envelope, with a note from my brother:

“Here’s a picture of the family star. You’ve probably seen it before. I had it enlarged. Ask her the story behind it. I hope it lifts her spirits. Hugs. Richard.”

My brother’s handwriting was as bad as usual. But decipherable. I looked at the photo. A black & white blow-up of a picture I had indeed seen before in a much smaller format. The enlarged pic was good. My brother had been a photographer before shifting to flea market vendor of old furniture. Had he enlarged the photo himself?

One could easily recognize my mother, early twenties maybe, in an army uniform. With a cap daintily placed on her combed back dark curly hair. She wore a French W.A.C. uniform (Women’s Army Corps). What the French called a P.F.A.T: Personnel Féminin de l’Armée de Terre. Army Female Personnel. Or so I thought. On close look there were wings on her cap. So she was Air Force Auxiliary Personnel. A P.F.A.A, pronounced “Péfa”. There was tall grass in the foreground, trees in the background. It looked like the picture was taken in a garden or a field. Maybe at my grandfather’s house in Rennes? I remembered the house, on the outskirts of the city. It opened up on fields all the way to the horizon.

I’d never asked my mother ‘why the uniform?’ I’d assumed she’d joined the Armed forces at the end of the war as so many had, when France had been liberated. But I had no details. I only knew she’d met my father in Air France in the Fall of ’45, in Paris.

I put the photo and note back in the envelope. I’d give it to her in the evening when I dropped by my parent’s house on my way back from the office.

F Berlin

My mother was in bed. She was mostly bed-ridden then with the cancer that would eventually claim her life. Though always a fighter, she still tried her best to walk a few steps every morning and afternoon in her room. She would say a phrase I will always remember:

“Bon! Ne mollissons pas.” ‘Let’s not get soft’. She would swing her feet to the side of her bed, maybe ask for a helping arm, walk a few steps in the room to a nearby armchair. Rest for a while. Chat. Get up, walk a few more steps and climb back in bed.

She was in good spirits as I kissed her cheek. Later, in the last weeks of the “crab”, she stopped talking. She’d once said that before her mother died in ’44, of a cardiac condition and the privations of the war, she’d spent the last weeks without a word, or a complaint, never whining. Neither were whiners.

I showed her my brother’s envelope. She smiled. Read the note. Said: “your brother’s handwriting is getting worse every day.” Looked at the picture and said:

“Hah! Of course. I remember that picture. That was in Rennes (Brittany) outside your grandfather’s garden.”

“When was that?” I asked. “Do you remember?”

“Summer of ’45, I think. I joined the Air Force after my mother died, that must have been late ’44 or early ’45. There was nothing else to do. Not many jobs. Brittany, Paris, and most of France had been liberated but the war was still on. The Germans were fighting back very hard. Remember the Ardennes?”

“Yes”, I said, “The German counter-offensive that took the Allies by surprise. In the winter of ’44-’45? Were it not for Patton, the outcome of the war could have been very different. So, you were stationed in Rennes?”

“Yes. I lived in Rennes, so I signed up there. I wanted to go to Paris. I’d never left Brittany, and Paris sounded like a promise of liberty. The Air Force was as good an option as anything else.”

My mother never finished high school. Between a working-class background, blue-collar to a fault, the war, her mother’s illness, she had to drop-out. As a typist. At least she had a trade. She even taught my sister and I shorthand. Which I forgot, of course. Quite fun, it was like writing in code.

“I was a typist at the military command for Brittany,” my mother went on. “I asked the Colonel several times for a transfer to Paris. Which he always refused. I was getting desperate to move out of Brittany.”

“What did you do then?” I asked.

She laughed: “I sneaked into the Colonel’s office one day while he was out somewhere. Probably in the loo. And I stole a few “ordres de mission” forms that were lying on his desk. Orders and transportation forms. I filled them with my name, destination Paris, assignment: typist at the Ministry of War, Paris, forged the Colonel’s signature, and hopped on the first train to Paris.” Smile. She was pleased with herself. And I was not surprised. She could cut corners.

“I remember those trains,” I said, “when I was in the Army, stationed near Rennes. Took them back and forth to Paris for a full year! The train back to Paris was always a train to freedom. And nobody noticed? That your orders were forged?”

“No. You must remember this was the war. People moving around, stationed here, moved there, the Colonel probably never even noticed I was gone!”

She was smiling at the good trick she’d played. Got her way as she had always done and would always do. I can imagine the young, pretty Breton girl having the time of her life in Paris.

“If you left for Paris around April or early May, you were, what? Barely 18, or 19?” (My mother was from May 18th, 1926)

“Yes. I was 19. Barely, but old enough to know I wanted a different life.”

“I can imagine. And how was work at the Ministère de la Défense?”

“Mostly boring. I was at the typing pool. Memos and memos, in 4 or 5 copies, with carbon paper. In early May 1945, the race was on between the Allies and the Russians to see who would deal the final blow to the Germans. We all knew it was a matter of days.”

“Hitler shot himself on April 30th in the Bunker in Berlin. Goebbels and his wife killed their six children before killing themselves as well. The Soviets were rushing West, the Allies running East at full speed.”

“Yes”, she said, “the thing was: who would get to Berlin first?”

“The Russians did, right?”

The Soviet Army under Joukov (Zhukov in English) and the first US Army corps under Hodges make their junction on the river Elbe at Torgau on April 25, 1945. The Reichstag is destroyed by the Soviets on April 30th, the red flag hoisted over the ruins. On May 2nd, the German troops in Berlin surrender to the Russians. On May 7th, the Germans surrender in Reims to the Allied troops (British, US, French). On May 8th, Keitel signs unconditional capitulation of the Reich in front of all four Allies including the Soviet generals. A third of Berlin has been completely destroyed, up to 70% in the centre of the city.

“Yes, the Russians got there first,” my mother said. “And then, on May 8th, the war was over. Celebration everywhere, Blue, White, and Red flags in all the streets of Paris, and every village. Japan was still fighting in the Pacific, but for us, in Europe, it was over…”

“And then what?”

“Nobody knew what was going to happen. Many cities in France had been destroyed: Le Havre, Rouen and others. France was basically in ruins. I didn’t know what would happen to my job at the Ministry. If the war was over, there wasn’t really much need in the War Office for a small typist from Brittany. Until…” She paused. My mother always had the knack to pause at the right moment.

“Until what?! What happened? Don’t ‘pause’ me!”

“One morning, I can’t remember when exactly, a few weeks after the capitulation of the Germans, a young and dapper Air Force Captain came to the typing pool. We all suddenly pretended to type something.” Smile. “Work had been slow after the 8th.” She smiled at me again with one of her damn pauses. I kept silent. I could play the game. She went on:

“The Captain asked: ‘Who’s the one who speaks English here?’”

“No! You must be joking!”

“Nope! I kept my eyes glued to my keyboard. See, I’d not… exactly… lied, but let’s say I ‘d ‘exaggerated’ a tad when I joined the Air Force as an auxiliary. On the sign-up form, I’d ticked the box next to ‘Foreign languages spoken’ and written ‘English’ ”.

My mother’s English was flawless but that was after 8 years in India, and 25 years abroad. After the war. I wasn’t sure of the quality of her English in 1945…

“English?” I asked. “In Brittany, during the war, in German-occupied France?”

She laughed. “Well, you could almost be executed for speaking English. ‘Suspected intelligence with the British enemy’ and all that. But I had a self-learning book. Well hidden in the house. And I knew a few people in the Resistance who spoke some English and gave me classes. So, I managed. Not very well, but better than many of our dear compatriots, as you know…”

“I know. English is still not their forte. And the Captain?”

“The Captain repeated: ‘Which one of you speaks English? Come on! I haven’t got all day!’ I lifted my eyes from the keyboard. Raised my hand.”

My mother went on: “The Captain said: ‘Ah! It’s you! Get up. Come with me.’ I took my notepad and my French-English dictionary, just in case. Maybe he wanted to draft a memo in English. I rushed after him. He turned around and told me: ‘Meet me in an hour at Villacoublay. Here are your orders.’ “

“Villacoublay?” I said. “The Air Force base, south of Paris?”

“Yes. I was dumbfounded. But what could I say? I was just a small typist, a WAC. He was a Captain. So, I went along. Then he looked at me. Up and down. And said:

‘Make it an hour and half. You can’t go in that sorry uniform of yours. Give me your notepad.’

“He took out a gold-tipped fountain pen from a breast-pocket under a bunch of ribbons.  He looked young but had certainly earned his share of medals. He scribbled and signed a note, handed the pad back to me. ‘Here. Take this note to the store, get a pair of new uniforms. Yours is a disgrace. And shoes too. Then take any Jeep to Villacoublay. Show them your orders. Meet me there in an hour and half sharp.’ “

It was my turn to be “dumbfounded”. What did the Captain want? Villacoublay? The Air Force base? Another uniform?

“Why another uniform?” I asked my mother.

“Again, think ‘WAR’. France had been occupied, bombed and ransacked for 5 years. There was shortage of everything. Even decent clothes. My uniform was coarse, thick wool. My shoes were practically cardboard! So I went to the Air Force store in the basement. They handed me two brand new uniforms, of the finest, most delicate, softest wool I’d ever seen. Fitted me like a glove. And the shoes! I couldn’t believe it. ‘Des mocassins en chevreau!’ Flat-heel fine leather shoes. I had never seen shoes like that either. I ran to my locker. Grabbed a toothbrush, a pair of panties, stuffed them inside my bag, took the first available Jeep to Villacoublay. The Captain was already waiting. Looked approvingly at my new uniform. A man of not so many words he pointed at a military airplane nearby, engines already running, we hopped on and took off!”

To be continued…

Berlin

A Strange and Blighted Land

Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle

In aftermaths of life even the best ideas on paper can leave a trail of human misery or a path to new life. Many times aftermaths are a mixture of both.

In A STRANGE AND BLIGHTED LAND Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle we travel more on the first path of misery. It didn’t surprise me when halfway through this book its author, Gregory A. Coco, mentioned that he was an atheist. Coco was a  Vietnam combat veteran himself. This had a profound effect on how he viewed battle (and possibly God). As a Gettysburg guide he became frustrated and saddened by visitors who arrived with stars in their eyes and romanticized notions about glorious causes and heroic charges.

This is not to say that there weren’t heroic men — those who fought, suffered and died (or raced to the next battle) and those who raced toward the suffering to help as best they could in what became a twenty-five square mile “sea of misery.”

The numbers, no matter how often I see them, are so difficult to comprehend:

“Nearly one-third of the total forces engaged at Gettysburg became casualties. George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac lost 28 percent of the men involved; Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered over 37 percent.

Of these casualties, 7,058 were fatalities (3,155 Union, 3,903 Confederate). Another 33,264 had been wounded (14,529 Union, 18,735 Confederate) and 10,790 were missing (5,365 Union, 5,425 Confederate).” HISTORYNET.COM

Forty thousand people (just the dead and severely wounded) would look something like this:

people-20000

My next book(s) are going to be fictionalized stories about my ancestors, some of them having served on the Union side in the war. A few did not come home and they haunt me — especially since I’ve discovered their pictures and letters.

While Gregory Coco describes in gruesome and troubling detail the suffering left in Gettysburg’s wake, he only briefly discusses the reasons men and boys went to fight. For whatever reasons, there are people who cling to the idea of a glorious Southern cause. And there are other people who cling to the idea that most Northern soldiers fought for every other reason but the abolition of slavery.

Losers often romanticize the past to, in some way,  make peace with the loss of so many young men. But what bothers me is the segment of modern society bent on burying, along with my young relatives physical forms, the reasons they fought.

I think part of this may come from a prejudice among intellectuals who can’t imagine that nineteenth century  farm boys from Upstate New York could understand and fight for equal rights under God for all people. It’s gratifying and upsetting when I discover a letter or book written in the 1860’s proving this point yet knowing that now these men and their compassion for the victims of slavery don’t receive proper honor for their sacrifices.

Judge a person by the content of their character not the color of their skin …

We do such a great injustice when we paint entire races of people as villains to our children. When we say, “Oh,yes, those young white men died but they were still very racist,” we miss the point that most freed slaves got. Read about how freed slaves stayed in Charleston to set up a cemetery for the white (and black) union soldiers who fought their cause:

“While the city may have been deserted by most of the white folks, there were over 10,000 freed slaves who gathered to greet the Union Army. The story goes that these freedmen and women dug up a mass grave containing the bodies of 257 dead Union soldiers, only to rebury them on May 1, 1865 in a cleaned up and landscaped burial ground.

They built an archway with a placard that said “Martyrs of the Race-Course,” and buried the bodies with a ritualized remembrance celebration, attended by thousands of people, white and black. The ceremony was covered by the New York Tribune and other national newspapers of that day.” FREED SLAVES OBSERVE 1st MEMORIAL DAY

Take a look at those stadiums again. 18,000 or so Union soldiers died or were severely wounded (many dying later) and another 5,000 or so missing. Just think of the missing ones. Those dying under bushes near streams that flooded and drowned them. Others waiting days on wet ground for treatment that never arrived because their bones were only found months and years later. Missing sometimes meant that these boys were buried in mass graves before dog tags were common.

Dead men at least were immune to the barbarity of  Gettysburg’s aftermath.

In Coco’s book we read of maimed Southern soldiers  crowded into unsanitary barns only to have to endure watching the “operators” saw limbs from friends in the middle of the room. Imagine knowing that it was your turn next.

Imagine the baby-faced soldiers (like one of my cousins who enlisted at 16) asking the doctors if he’d make it and being told no.

The Declaration of Independence as Mission Statement:

The founding fathers wrestled with the issue of slavery not because they were prejudiced (of course all people have their terrible prejudices) but because they feared what would happen to a very young nation that hardly considered itself as such. Yes, they were as flawed as we all are — we ALL are — their decision to put off dealing with slavery haunted every political, economic and social debate for years until finally it came to a head in war.

Wouldn’t it have been great to have settled things peacefully? But that didn’t happen. I refuse to make light of the sacrifices of those in my family line. They seriously didn’t have to enlist in the first few months after Fort Sumter. But they did. They fought the good fight in a war that none of us can truly imagine. Many lived with horrible wounds for years. Many lost wives who could not stand the sight of their husbands with disfigured faces. Many families lost children in their prime.

The more I read about the brutality of war the more I abhor it. Yet it boggles my mind that some men — men I am coming to know in personal ways — put their lives in danger battle after horrifying battle.

This country wasn’t built on racism exactly. Conquest by brute force and tribalism was the way of the entire world — no WWII soldiers giving out Hershey bars for the most part. Countries aren’t built on only one thing. That’s too damned simplistic. The country was built on a flawed set of people with one very unique mission statement:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Mission statements suggest that we are also works in progress and that we have not yet fully attained the noble sentiments we hold dear. Some farmer boys enlisted, were injured and re-enlisted only to die. They’re in my gene pool. Reading letters and books from the period leave little room for modern revisionism. They were proud of the part they were playing to make the mission statement a reality. I’m proud of them too.

Gregory Coco’s book is divided into five sections:

The Battlefield in the Aftermath “No tongue can depict the carnage”

The Burial of the Dead “A long black shadow”

The Care of the Wounded “A great rushing river of agony”

Prisoners of War, Stragglers, and Deserters “The woods are full of them”

From Battlefield to Hallowed Ground “The sacred sod”

Each section highlights a profoundly moving element of the battle’s aftermath. We tend to remember battles and their dates, maybe even enjoy perusing books on strategy and famous generals. It’s hard to linger in the shadow of suffering and loss. It may even be healthier not to linger too long, but for the people who fought and didn’t die the battle was there forever. In amputations by the thousands, in disfigurement of body and soul (even if outwardly healed).

A battlefield is sacred, Coco points out, not for the later generations but for the families of the men who died — so many of them buried as unknown but known to mother and father deeply — and the ones who escaped death but lived with a lifetime of pain. For those people wondering if it was their son’s bones being unearthed by plows and curiosity seekers the battlefield was something so much more than we can truly understand. Thank God.

 

Further reading:

AMERICAN BATTLEFIELD TRUST

BATTLE-SCARRED: CARING FOR THE SICK AND WOUNDED OF THE CIVIL WAR

CARING FOR WOUNDED HORSES OF THE CIVIL WAR

Adrienne Morris is the author of

The Tenafly Road Series

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

Why Did Native Americans Turn Scout?

Apache Scouts

“For tribes subject to Sioux pressure for decades, the combination of revenge and self-defense would constitute a powerful motivation, even without the other possible motives of individual warriors. The suggestion that they were betraying ‘the Indians’ would have been meaningless to them. They knew too well who their enemy was.” (Dunlay)

And here we have an uncomfortable truth: history is not as simple as we would hope. As convenient as it may be to imagine,  not all the members of certain gene pools are evil and others good. Life isn’t set up that way. So often in our need for certainty we invent fairy tales and one-dimensional villains.

Just as it was a disaster for Hitler (and many others in the eugenics movement) to declare some people pure and others not, it is foolish (and demeaning) to classify the Native Americans who fought the age-old fight for land and power (like the rest of humanity) into noble or savage stereotypes.

“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.”
Margaret Mead

Whether it is to admire or exterminate, defining people solely by their group affiliation is dangerous and, if nothing else, gives us a very distorted version of history. Not all Indians were peaceful shamans. Not all white people were slaveholders (or even supported slavery). Not all Germans hated the Jews (see DIETRICH BONHOEFFER). And certainly not all generations are responsible for the sins of their great-great grandfathers and mothers. Not all humans are Mother Theresa either. Not all Trump supporters are racist. Not all liberals are Antifa. The list goes on.

But so often this is how we act. Some Irish still talk about the BATTLE OF THE BOYNE (1690) as if it were yesterday.  I understand the temptation. Hate is so easy to rationalize. Hate is lazy.  It’s why Christ’s command to love one’s enemies is so revolutionary — and such an impossible standard of behavior to achieve without supernatural help. 

Native Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War (and some owned slaves). When I wrote about a Civil War veteran and his struggles with addiction in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I decided it would be interesting to make him part Delaware. It’s only a tiny part of the story but I wanted to play with the fluid nature of identity in nineteenth century America. This does not mean there weren’t prejudices and hatreds among all people — including Native Americans.

“Competent scholars have concluded that far more Indians perished in intertribal warfare in the nineteenth century than in wars with the whites … Intertribal warfare was exploited by the whites, but it had been endemic on the Great Plains for centuries.”(Dunlay)

As a warrior, John Weldon sees himself as his father’s son — his father having been an English-blooded dragoon with an illustrious past. He carries the wounds he received as a child from his Delaware mother close to his vest and with shame. Even more so after his son is born with his mother’s features.

Yet when Weldon fights with General Crook against the Apache Indians in Arizona he looks upon the Apache scouts with disdain for turning against their own.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3

It makes me think of friends who despise their whiteness (or more accurately other people’s whiteness). It makes me think of other friends who still despise their Indian mothers. It makes me think of friends who despise all of humanity for the  wanton destruction of animal habitats — the ones who suggest that some people should commit suicide to save the environment but don’t offer their own body as first sacrifice.

“Historical emphasis on Indian-white conflict tends to obscure the fact that Indians interacted long before white contact became significant. Intertribal conflicts and alliances had an importance often more immediate  than any problems or pressures created by whites. For many Indians an alliance with the army (U.S.) offered hope of turning the tables on a powerful enemy who represented an immediate and obvious menace. In some cases the army represented survival itself.” (Dunlay)

But what about the Apache Indians who turned scout against their own tribe?

The word tribe should be held loosely here. While it is true that the Apache as a people were of the Athapaskan language family they were hardly a monolithic group. Within this loose “family” were many subgroups. For an example of the disdain some groups had for each other we only have to look to the  most northwesterly branch of the Western Apaches called by the others “the brainless people” or as the Spanish translated the term “Tontos.” (Dunlay)

 This was a language family who disagreed often and sometimes quite violently. For a young man to go out against a feuding subgroup is not that difficult to understand. An Apache who refused to join the army as scout, James Kaywaykla, still acknowledged a simple fact of young manhood that crosses ethnic boundaries and keeps the human tradition of warfare alive:

“Ours was a race of fighting men — war was our occupation. A rifle was our most cherished possession … there was not a man who did not envy the scout his rifle.” (Dunlay)

Excerpts taken from WOLVES FOR BLUE SOLDIERS by THOMAS W. DUNLAY

 

 

Lake George: The Queen of American Lakes

“Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin… finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves… down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony.”
— Thomas Jefferson, May 31, 1791

THOMAS JEFFERSON CURES HIS MIGRAINES WITH A TRIP TO LAKE GEORGE

HOW LAKE GEORGE INFLUENCED GEORGIA O’KEEFFE

THE HUDSON RIVER SCHOOL: LAKE GEORGE

LOVE AFFAIR WITH LAKE GEORGE

THE PERFECT VACATION

CGW445348

Lake George by John Casilear

DON’T FORGET TO GET YOUR FREE BOOKS ON AMAZON TODAY!

NewYork & The Civil War

A Dead Civil War Soldier

Waldo Potter was a cousin of mine who perished on the battlefield the day before Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. It was only the beginning of April and in Upstate New York where his family awaited news of his whereabouts the earth was still barren of color and cold. Taylor, the little Cortland town he hailed from, had already lost at least one other young man to the war who was also a cousin of mine.

I wonder if snow topped the soft mountains or if spring plowing had begun. Had the cows had calves yet? For on Waldo’s enlistment papers it says he was a farmer and 19 years old. The papers tell me he was fair-skinned and blue-eyed. His hair was dark and he stood at 5 feet 9 inches.

waldo potter muster

New York provided 400,000–460,000 men during the war, nearly 21% of all the men in the state and more than half of those under the age of 30. The average age of the New York soldiers was 25 years, 7 months, although many younger men and boys may have lied about their age in order to enlist. Wikipedia

By the time Waldo’s parents received word that their son would not be coming home the war had ended and Lincoln had been killed. The short note from the artillery lieutenant explained that Waldo had been wounded on the battlefield near Farmville, Virginia in one of the final engagements against Lee’s army. He had died a day later and been buried in a marked grave on the Brooks Plantation — a place that would have meant nothing to Waldo’s grieving family. The lieutenant wrote that he’d been a good soldier and friend.

POPLAR GROVE NATIONAL CEMETERY

I’d wondered why he had not been buried in Taylor with his family.  When the war was truly over crews of men were sent out to gather the dead to be brought to national cemeteries where many of their identities would be lost.

“About 100 men comprised the “burial corps.” With ten army wagons, forty mules, and 12 saddle horses, these men began their search and recovery mission. One observer noted “a hundred men were deployed in a line a yard apart, each examining half a yard of ground on both sides as they proceeded. Thus was swept a space five hundred yards in breadth . . .In this manner the whole battlefield was to be searched. When a grave was found, the entire line halted until the teams came up and the body was removed. Many graves were marked with stakes, but some were to be discovered only by the disturbed appearance of the ground.” (See below: The Awful Work Begins)

Those in coffins were mostly bones when pulled from the earth. Those in mass shallow graves were in varied stages of decay. Some bodies were missed in thickets. Most bodies never went home.

Capt. Smith, 2nd N.Y. Artillery, Ft. Ward by Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph), 1828-1891, artist

And all of it gone — the Brooks Plantation, the men, the families with their broken hearts, the memories of young men fighting to end a way of life that none of them had ever encountered. The North that Waldo had left was bleak and beautiful and only for the individuals ready to break their bodies in hard work. I wonder what young Waldo thought as he lay dying on plantation land once worked by slaves. Would he have felt he’d died for the glorious cause of freeing them? Would he have thought nothing at all of slavery as we do today even as we wear clothing made by slave laborers?

No, I will not allow for people to say that all white men are somehow guilty for a thing that they actually ended, if only on one continent. I wonder what cause I would be willing to die for and come up blank.

“Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.
Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the
first just lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray’d hair,
and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?

Then to the second I step—and who are you my child and darling?
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third—a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you—I think this face is the face of the Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.”  Walt Whitman

LINKS:

THE AWFUL WORK BEGINS

HOW THE CIVIL WAR CHANGED WALT WHITMAN’S POETRY

POPLAR GROVE NATIONAL CEMETERY

 

 

Images: Library of Congress

The Tenafly Road Series

 

Civil War Art

Winslow_Homer_-_The_Brush_Harrow_(1865)

The Brush Harrow 1865

Boys without fathers … some heroic men come home broken or not at all. Some battlefields are revisited from one year to the next. Veterans tease new recruits on spring campaigns with the bones of men left to winter over in thick forests.

About 625,000 men died in the Civil War. That’s more Americans than died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. This amounted to 2 percent of the population at the time, which would be the equivalent to about 6 million Americans dying today. Battles weren’t as deadly as disease, however..

An estimated 40% of the dead were never identified.”[1]

A_Visit_from_the_Old_Mistress

A Visit from the Old Mistress 1876

Slavery is a human condition we have not come even close to eradicating. Sex trafficking in children is alive and well.  Where are the abolitionists now? There are some brave souls but mostly we are just as ignorant of human suffering as we ever were. Willfully so.

Civil War Art

The picture above is so ambiguous. Are the former slaves happy to see their former mistress? Are they ashamed that with freedom not much seems to have changed for them?  Were any of them house slaves who saw themselves as superior to field hands?

And what of the mistress? Is she visiting old friends? Is she discussing payment for field work? Did they once pray together? Are they all victims of a world system they did not create? I’ve often heard that impoverished people enjoy life more. I think people are people. We live in a spiritually impoverished world.

640px-Winslow_Homer_-_The_Cotton_Pickers_-_Google_Art_Project(1)

Cotton Pickers 1864

There is a war somewhere out there. There is a war in our hearts right here. Freedom is a wonderful but scary thing. Is this beautiful woman brooding about her present? Is she anxious about her future? Is she bitter? Will she forgive life’s unfairness? Choices we all must make.

prisoners from the front winslow homer

Prisoners from the Front 1866

Surrender. Surrender is not about giving up. At war are powers greater than humans can usually perceive. We are all slaves to a master. We choose the master no matter our place in this material world. Sometimes we are victims, but if we are honest with ourselves, we realize we are so often making war with others for our own selfish desires and out of a place of fear.

“There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18

LOOK AT HOW THE FILM MAKERS PAID HOMAGE TO HOMER’S PRISONERS PAINTING:

 

3 REASONS WHY AMERICAN ARTISTS RARELY PAINTED THE CIVIL WAR

EMBEDDED WITH TROOPS DURING THE CIVIL WAR: WINSLOW HOMER

WINSLOW HOMER’S CIVIL WAR

12 STUNNING CIVIL WAR  FACTS [1]