For three weeks in June I toured Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington DC focussing on an interest of mine, the American civil war (see previous blogpost Defining). 23 battlefields, 38 historical sites, four art museums and one intensive civil war conference at Gettysburg College later, I certainly achieved my goal of a learning vacation.
I gained some profound insights from so many wonderful people, but I am not able to clearly explain them yet. For now there are just connected images to reoccurring themes.
Aug 30,1862. Chinn Ridge, Second Manassas. First time laying down on a civil war battlefield. The beauty around me made it feel comforting, not sad–a common theme.
Sept. 17,1862. Sunken Lane, Antietam. “Heaps upon heaps were there in deaths embrace”–Confederate soldier. No where did I feel the presence of soldiers more than laying on the sunken lane.
1863. Gordon. An escaped slave from Louisiana who sought refuge with Union troops. This picture was made into cards and used by abolitionists. Museum of African American History and Culture.
Tintype of Frederick Douglass, who I believe to be one of the most amazing people in history. I followed him around throughout the 3 weeks in a multitude of places. Museum of African American History and Culture
The iconic Edgar Allan Poe photo. Another man I seem to bump into on my travels, but then again, he got around in his day. Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond.
Harper’s Ferry. I waited what seemed like my entire trip to stand at this point. On the left, the Potomac River and Maryland. On the right, the Shenandoah River and Virginia. In the middle where I stand the confluence, West Virginia and John Brown’s raid.
July 3,1863. Gettysburg, facing Pickett’s Charge. Last evening of my trip and taken on top of the Pennsylvania State Monument. Rain on battlefields is one of my favourite things…a cleansing of sorts it seems to me.
1855. First edition Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman. I followed this man around as well and the more I learned, the more my love for him increased. University of Virginia
Diaries of divided brothers Thomas and Summer Petty. Each hoped they would not meet in battle. “Oh that God would keep us from meeting other than two brothers should meet.”–Summer 1862. American Civil War Museum, Richmond
July 30,1864. Battle of the Crater, Siege of Petersburg. Mining tunnels under the Confederate line, then the explosion, confusion and resulting crater. Over 5,000 casualties.
April 2,1865 Petersburg Breakthrough, Siege of Petersburg. All that’s saving their lives are these three foot mounds, still preserved today. Pamplin Historical Park, VA
May 5,1864 Saunder’s Field, Battle of the Wilderness. These confederate trenches reminded me of the pot-marked landscape I walked in Normandy. I notice that people often approach these man-made ripples in silent reverence. You feel the soldier’s presence more deeply here.
1897 Harriet Tubman’s silk lace and linen shawl given to her by Queen Victoria. She freed over 700 slaves by the underground railroad. When I saw it, she seemed as if she was still there in it. Museum of African American History and Culture
Dec 1, 1955. Rosa Parks was making this dress on the day she was arrested for resisting to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus. Museum of African American History and Culture
2006 “St Andrew” by Kehinde Wiley. He remixes historical styles to reimagine the role of African American culture in today’s society. I love these paintings–found on two separate days in two different museums. The Chrysler Museum of Art
2006 “Willem van Heythuysen” by Kehinde Wiley. His play on old master paintings simultaneously shows the beauty of traditional European art and critiques their exclusion of people of colour. Richmond Art Museum
1976 “Absconded from the Household of the President of the United States” by Titus Kaphar. Classic Jefferson pose but with a beard of shredded paper, bearing the names and dates from the president’s ledger of enslaved servants. Richmond Art Museum
1988, Coster Avenue Mural, Battle of the Brickyard, Gettysburg (July 1,1863). Artist Mark H. Dunkeman seen here was our tour guide explaining how it came into existence–a rather arduous labour of love and dedication.
1964 Pen used by President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act. I can’t help but think of how much of the hard work that went into this Act and the Voting Rights Act has been scaled back in recent years. Museum of African American History and Culture
Jan 1, 1863 Lincoln’s pen that signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Some artifacts move you more than others. This was one that did for me. Museum of African American History and Culture
On Skyline Drive in Virginia looking east toward the Piedmont Valley. The road is appropriately named. Often it was hard to see where the mountains ended and the sky took over.
July 9,1864 Thomas Farm, Battle of Monocacy. There were thousands of vistas like this on the trip. The dramatic sky even outshined the magnificent farm on this day.
Sept 15,1963 Stained glass fragments from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL. Killed were 14 year olds Addie Mae, Cynthia and Carole and 11 year old Carol Denise. The absence of a complete window reminds you it ended up inside these little girls. Museum of African American History and Culture
May 12,1864 The Bloody Angle at the Mule Shoe Salient, Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. It’s comforting when you walk up on the bloody angle and the only thing that denotes it now is mowed versus un-mowed grass. Imagine 32,000 casualties in the vistas around this place. 32,000.
Civil war split rail fences are on just about every battlefield. Most of them have been built by the Boy Scouts of America. They were built not to pen up animals but rather to keep animals out of the neighboring crop fields.
Somewhere near Spotsylvania behind one of the many churches was this old building and truck. The scene caught my eye so I backed up and took the picture from the roadway.
1864-1868 Contrabands and Freedman’s Cemetery, Alexandria, VA. 1,800 escaped and freed slaves are buried here, but they had to take out a gas station to reclaim it for history. It’s a powerful, hallowed place juxtaposed next to a busy freeway on ramp.
Arlington National Cemetery. Plunked down in Robert E Lee’s front yard, during the war it served as Freedman’s Village for slaves transitioning to freedom.
Oct. 21,1861 Battle of Balls Bluff. A humiliating battle for the North early in the war when they didn’t ensure there were enough boats to get soldiers back to the other side of the river after the fighting. The third smallest national cemetery in the US with 54 buried (53 Union unknown and one man named James)
April 14-15, 1865 Petersen House, across the street from Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln died the next morning. I made a special trip back to DC to see this place. Of course, he laid diagonally–the bed is so small
Nov. 17-18, 1863 David Wills House where Lincoln finished writing the Gettysburg Address. Arguably the most beautiful 272 words ever put together, the Address was completed by a focussed man who dealt with people yelling outside and over 30 guests sleeping in the house that night.
July 1, 1863 Gettysburg near Day 1 fighting, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer monument, commonly known as the “Sallie” Monument for the dog curled up at its base. Lost on the battlefield they later found her maintaining vigil over the dead and dying.
July 1, 1863 Gettysburg near Day 1 fighting. End of a long, full trip and it doesn’t get any more beautiful than this. Even the locals came up to Oak Ridge to capture this sunset.
July 18,1861 Cornerstone, Wilmer McLean’s Farm, First Battle of Bull Run/ Manassas. The civil war began and ended at his home, it is said. His house was the Headquarters for the Confederates at the first real battle of the war, then he moved to get away from the fighting. Four years later they signed the war’s surrender at his next home in Appomattox.
Government Island, VA. Aquila sandstone was quarried here to supply many buildings including the US Capitol and the White House. I stumbled on this now nature preserve but the original scrape marks from quarrying the stones are all over the island.
Inside of a Karlsruhe rail car used for transporting Jews to Nazi death camps during WWII. Usually 100 people would be in this car but today I was the only one. I thought of the word “future” when I was inside. We all think we need more control of it and more knowledge of it, but imagine what these people thought of that word. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Civil war bullet rosette made when Union and Confederate bullets hit one another dead on. I like to think of this flattened, peeled back circle as a possible future for two soldiers.
Nov. 17-18, 1863 Lincoln’s bedroom window, David Wills House, Gettysburg. Finishing up the Gettysburg Address and this was Lincoln’s view. Did he have any idea that what he just wrote would take enormous steps toward healing future wounds?
Sept. 17, 1862 The Witness Tree next to Burnside Bridge, Antietam, MD. The single bloodiest day in US history still today and this tree saw so much of the battle and still survives. Touching its trunk I felt strength and sadness.
Emancipation Oak, Hampton University, VA. Escaped slaves sat under this tree for school lessons at the start of the war. On Jan. 1, 1863 they gathered to hear the newly signed Emancipation Proclamation read under its gigantic umbrella–even though this area was one of a few excluded from the proclamation’s freedoms.
Gettysburg National Battlefield. Witness Tree to July 1, 1863 fighting and now witness to millions of people because of it. Nature has a way of smoothing over horrible events or at the very least, giving solace and reminding us all about renewal.