ON THE ROAD WITH ANN — The American Civil War in Richmond, Virginia

Just back from the capitol of the Confederate States of America, where we all deepened our understanding of this defining event.

We had an extraordinary time approaching this ever-fascinating and perplexing war that still occasionally erupts in skirmishes.

Rosemary Gould was our fantastic discussion leader.

What striking cultural contrasts we experienced – as well as strong similarities – between our two eye-witnesses of America’s bloodiest war. Both Walt Whitman, from the North, and Mary Chesnut, from the South, were optimistic patriots as the war began, caught up in flags flapping, drums beating, handsome young soldiers marching, and a cause they were convinced was just. Both eventually questioned the war effort as they scrutinized and experienced its devastation. Both examined themselves and grew in humility.

Here is a verse from Walt Whitman’s “Drum-Taps” that I like.

NOT youth pertains to me,
Nor delicatesse—I cannot beguile the time with talk;
Awkward in the parlor, neither a dancer nor elegant;
In the learn’d coterie sitting constrain’d and still—for learning.
     inures not to me;
Beauty, knowledge, inure not to me—yet there are two or three things

inure to me;
I have nourish’d the wounded, and sooth’d many a dying soldier,
And at intervals, waiting, or in the midst of camp,
Composed these songs.

And here is one that seems to represent Mary Chesnut at her most proud and dignified.

1864 September 2nd — The battle has been raging at Atlanta, and our fate hanging in the balance. Atlanta, indeed, is gone. Well, that agony is over. Like David, when the child was dead, I will get up from my knees, will wash my face and comb my hair. No hope; we will try to have no fear.

The voice that was largely missing from our trip was that of the African Americans, both slave and free. We did get some of that essential perspective at the Civil War Museum, and we found several books of collected writings of former slaves.

Frankie at Hollywood Cemetery

Frankie at Hollywood Cemetery

A serendipitous occurrence was a heartening way to end our trip. After a visit to the Shirley Plantation, our driver took us to the Hollywood Cemetery where Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America, and thousands of Confederate foot soldiers are buried. It was closing time, but a security guard, who was heading home, turned around and escorted us through the large cemetery. His kindness and pride in caring for hallowed ground were remarkable. But even more moving was the easy rapport and obvious respect between our black driver and our white impromptu guide.

For more on this trip, see Jimmye Hillman’s poem, “I Take Richmond” and American Civil War slide show.

Ann

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