Union soldier

.

Let us cross over the river,

and rest under the shade of the trees.”

……………………………………………..Last words — Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

……………………………….

December 12, 1862 — Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The morning air is chill, but not freezing, thank God.

I’m wearing the standard blue woollen Union army uniform, my McClellan cap or kepi sitting low over my brow, a long-barrelled musket held tight in my nervously-sweaty hands. There’s a frighteningly long straight line of my Illinois friends and neighbours on either side of me, with whom I’ve marched through many dark, cold nights.

We are McClelland’s Dragoons, Company A, come from the farms just outside Chicago.

There were times on this march to Fredericksburg when freezing rain made the chill run so deep into my core that I shook and my teeth chattered in my misery. One of my neighbours just sat himself at the side of the road and quietly died. Two others died of typhoid on the march. I have a rotting tooth that is aching, and bleeding blisters on both feet that also have fungus itching between the toes that is driving me crazy.

Growing corn on my father’s farm was hard work, but nothing comes close to this wretchedness.

Back home — it seems like years ago now, but is actually only 7 months — I anxiously joined my friends enlisting for this exciting adventure to quash the rebel uprising, and to put those southerners in their place. They think they can take our jobs by using the free labour of niggers to make their fortunes. We need jobs for our families too.

And now, I have the glory of walking steadily forward into the smoke and cacophonous blasts of rifles fired from behind a stone wall by those damned grey-coated southerners. I have no armour to protect me, just this heavy woollen coat.

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And all I can think about right now is what my wife will do with our young children when it’s my turn to march towards that bloody wall of fire 300 yards away, and I’ve been ripped open by a blast to the chest of heavy 55 mm lead-shot and I lay on this pockmarked field, in a mound of mud and bodies and blood.

……………………………..

September 17, 2013

The Civil War Trail

The red clay in the  soil beneath my feet makes me think deeply of the huge rivers of blood that soaked into the earth here.

The blood of Union soldiers, the blood of Confederate infantrymen, the blood of countless horses, husbands, wives, brothers, women and children. The blood of warriors and innocents who stood in the line of fire of armies dedicated to destruction in the name of a cause they believed in.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel right that here I am, relaxed, with a warm sun stream coming from the left as I absorb the terrifying violence that tore families and loved ones apart.

A historic saga is running in the breeze through the grasses of Fredericksburg.

I can feel it as I stand on a partly-paved, partly-dirt road recessed behind a long fieldstone fence that rises about 4 feet high overlooking this small, peaceful town. The towering pines and maples and oaks have all grown back tall after they too fell in the maelstrom of the battle 150 years ago.

A few thousand Confederate soldiers crouched behind this fence and slaughtered and wounded 12,000 federal soldiers that approached them head on across a wide open landscape. Above the wall on the hill behind, Confederate cannons blew the walking walls of Union soldiers to bloody shreds with their shrapnel. It was a killing field for young men and boys that marched here from the farms and cities of Connecticut and Maryland and Illinois.

Today, Peter, a young park ranger, maybe 30 years old, walks us along the thick stone wall and tells us a wonderful story of a terrible event. He’s animated and interesting, and interested too not just in the battle, but how it affected the soldiers and their families. How the politics were as muddy as the fields the soldiers marched upon.

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Over the last 10 days, we’ve visited the Civil War battlefields of Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania in Virginia, Antietam in Maryland, and the granddaddy of them all, Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania.

I’ve stood on the spot in Chancellorsville where General “Stonewall” Jackson was shot in the dark by his own confused soldiers (he died 10 days later from pneumonia). Jackson, like so many Civil War Generals, while a brilliant warrior and strategist, screwed up royally and paid the price with his fatal mistake of reconnoitering at night.

I’ve looked over the rolling hills of Antietam from the vantage point of General Robert E. Lee, searching his mind for a stategy to beat Ulysses S. Grant and Abe Lincoln.

I’ve pondered the senselessness of war from the peaceful, grassy knoll in the cemetery overlooking the graves of thousands of Union soldiers where Lincoln delivered his short, but infamous Gettysburg Address.

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From my side, a grey-hair ponytailed fellow approaches with a smile. He begins to talk as if we’ve been friends for years, telling me that he’s a Civil War buff who knows just about everything there is to know about this tumultuous event. I heard him in the museum earlier, collaring others and telling them stories of the battles and strategies used by the generals.

He’s an intriguing guy from nearby Washington, DC. I don’t usually like to be latched onto by strangers, but he seems friendly and harmless, so I let him ramble for a few minutes. We share notes on what we’ve seen as the cool, late afternoon wind buffets and blows our hair a bit.

The sun is just about to set as we shake hands and part ways, cannons silhouetted alongside the paths we take to the vehicle lot and the end of the day.

……………………….

The monster-sized Civil War museum at Gettysburg contains a stunning cyclorama, something popular with the masses in the 1800’s.

Climbing 2 flights of stairs inside the museum after a movie presentation about the Battle of Gettysburg, we enter into a huge darkened theatre that’s like a planetarium in the round containing a cyclorama, a 360° cylindrical painting.

This version that hangs in Gettysburg, is a recent (2005) restoration of the version created for Boston in 1883. It’s huge,  27 feet (8.2 m) high and 359 feet (109 m) in circumference.

The painting was created by French artist Paul Philppoteaux and depicts Pickett’s Charge, the climactic Confederate attack on Union forces during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

The intended effect is to immerse the viewer in the scene being depicted, and includes the addition of foreground models and life-sized replicas of cannons and fences to enhance the illusion. The presentation comes to life with a narrated story, loud cannon booms and rifle fire while flashes of light behind the canvas give life to the cannon blasts.

It’s stunning to contemplate the number of artists and the creativity used to produce a painting of this size and complexity.

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A small segment of the cyclorama

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We’ve titled this road trip “The Country Music and Civil War Tour 2013

Travelling these middle-America roads, just like our other travels, has made me ponder many great matters, both important and trivial.

For instance — and you’ve probably asked yourself this question a thousand times …

Which is better, Pancake or Waffle?

Waffles or Pancakes

I throw myself firmly into the Pancake camp. None of those difficult nooks and crannies that catch too much peanut butter or syrup. Warm, tender, fragrant. It’s the perfect breakfast food for getting the day started.

However, the waffle is winning the hearts of those who stay in the hotels of America. The mid-range hotels with brand names like La Quinta, and Best Western all provide a breakfast to varying degrees as part of the package for spending the night between their sheets.

The breakfast, whether simple continental or sumptuous hot buffet, always has THE WAFFLE MAKER.

Nine nights on the road, sampling from a different hotel each morning, has made me the quintessential waffle connoisseur of North America.

Just pour the premade thick batter from a plastic cup onto the round griddle surface, close the lid, flip the whole thing over on a pin, and two and a half minutes later, out pops a golden-brown waffle. Perfect, every time … almost!

Never one to look too carefully, or read instructions (come on, I AM a man!), one morning, I scooped the mix sitting to the right of the waffle maker and poured it over the searing metal plate of the appliance. As I closed the lid, I could see a sign to the left labelled “waffle mix”.

Huh? What did I just ladle into the waffle maker? OHHHH, that would be the oatmeal porridge, just like the little sign said beneath its container.

So, did I panic? Not a chance. Quickly I poured some of the REAL waffle mix over the bubbling oatmeal frying in the maker and closed the lid with a little prayer. I waited with anticipation.

Two and a half minutes later, the beeper sounded indicating the waffle was finished cooking.

I lifted the lid, and there sat a PERFECT golden-toned waffle with extra oatmeal specks, steaming and smelling deliciously wonderful.

So please forgive me for being so glib, but BREAKFAST, like WAR, is HELL!

The first thing I'm going to do when this war ends is eat a pancake ...

The first thing I’m going to do when this war ends is eat a pancake …

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