Monday, July 10, 2006

On the Southern Road

The bulk of my day consisted of a 460-mile drive to Virginia Beach. Despite the fact that today was a Sunday, and the traffic should have been light, it took us almost nine hours to get there. Of course I had to make a pit stop for a crappy fast-food breakfast sandwich, and another for a large Iced Mocha (skim, caramel drizzle, half ice) from the predatory corporation whose name I shall not mention. And then there were the requisite piss stops. I broke out a bunch of old CDs I haven’t listened to in ages, and M. insisted on putting in some of hers as well. We got to Sandbridge without any mishaps.

As I drove, I was impressed by just how many of the towns and cities along the way carry names familiar to me from Civil War studies. First I saw Antietam and Harper’s Ferry. John Brown’s limp body sways in front of my inner eye. Gettysburg is just a short jaunt up the road. George Pickett’s ghost wanders up and down the hills on the outskirts of town. Manassas is next, marking a battle known as Bull Run by the Yankees. Aristocrats from the new capital trailed the advancing Union troops, with picnic baskets at the ready for a day of amusement at the expense of Johnny Reb. Thomas Jackson had other plans. Stonewall himself has a monument that I assume is either nearby the spot where he was shot by his own troops or where he later died from pneumonia. We whisk by it along the highway.

Spotsylvania, Yorktown, and of course Richmond (the confederate capital) soon appear… So many stories, tragedy, death… spring from the words on these green highway signs. How many others, in the cars that pass us on their way to their urgent business, note the history that is marked out for them on this path? Are these just the places they work and live… struggling through their everyday existence… worried about their kids’ grades, or an argument they have had with their boss or spouse? For that matter, how much living history do we pass by obliviously in our day-to-day routines? Is it merely the stuff of textbooks, now and in the future?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember a certain pair of brothers, who when asked if they wanted to stop at a battlefield on the way to or from somewhere, had absolutely no interest at all. And to think that one of them now teaches Civil War history. Of course, putting myself in the shoes of someone 12 to 16 years old, I can see how amusement parks, water parks and otherwise more action-oriented roadside places (like fireworks stands) would hold infinitely more interest. For myself, I've always had a low-level fascination with civil and revolutionary war skirmishes. Then again, when on the way to a week at the beach, I would not have stopped either. The alternative seems likely something better done as a focused field trip. Have a great week.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Hope you have a relaxing week and get lots of good pictures.

Your post reminded me to ask you if you've read Shelby Foote's three volume history of the Civil War. It's 50% off at right now and I'm thinking about getting it. I've heard nothing but great things about it.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I do agree that those places would be best enjoyed in a trip specifically devoted to the civil war theme. But what are the chances that you are going to devote your two weeks of annual vacation time to an educational experience. F--- that! I'm goin' to Cancun. Right?

1:22 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I haven't had a chance to read the Foote stuff. I really did enjoy his commentary in the Ken Burn's series. If you get it, you'll have to let me know what you thought of it. It's a commitment, right? How many pages total?

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

"Commitment" may be an understatement. It weighs in at 2,936 pages.

6:56 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

The blood shed in that part of the country was staggering.

Here are two of the more well known men buried at
Allegheny cemetery. Robert Hampton, Killed at Chancellorsville 1863

And General Alexander Hayes, killed in the Wilderness 1864. Hayes was the guy who laid out the mexican war streets and was a personal friend of Grant.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Imagine how those bodies must have smelled after the journey northward... I can't imagine that they had much opportunity to preserve the bodies in Chancellorsville.

11:06 AM  

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