Nashville City Cemetery

July 2, 2009

I ran across a blog with some great photos taken in the Nashville City Cemetery. Few people visit this place, which is across the street from Fort Negley. It was opened in 1822 and received many bodies from the Civil War.

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Fort Negley visitor center opens

December 14, 2007

According to the Tennessean, the long overdue visitors center for Nashville’s Fort Negley opens on Saturday. Located south of downtown–Map of 534 Chestnut St Nashville, TN 37203-4803, US–and the largest Civil War site in the city, the name Fort Negley might as well be short for Fort Neglected.

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Pondering Pulaski: Contemplating the Klan

October 30, 2007

Drove from Kingsport to the Jack Daniel’s distillery today, then headed west on U.S. 64 bound for Memphis. We stopped in Pulaski to get a photo of the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and therein lies a tale.

In the days following the Civil War, this nefarious organization was allegedly conjured up by six bored Confederate veterans on Christmas Eve of 1865. The story (at least among white Southerners) goes that the young men really meant no harm in creating an organization with weird names and costumes. Covered with sheets, they pranced around on horseback on winter nights and just happened to notice that their actions scared the superstitious former slaves in and around Giles County.

Yeah. Right.

Somehow baser elements took hold of the Klan (again according to white gentry) and transformed it into a terrorist organization that ruled much of the Reconstruction South and was led by none other than Nathan Bedford Forrest, former slave merchant and tactical genius for the Confederacy. When he saw that Klan lawlessness might bring more Federal troops to the South, he disbanded the Klan, but, alas, it has never really died.

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Stanley at Shiloh

September 30, 2007

The cover of today’s New York Times Book Review features a wonderful book review of Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer by Tim Jeal. The reviewer is Paul Theroux, one of my favorite travel writers.

Under the heading of I Didn’t Know That comes the fact, revealed in the review, that the man who famously “found” Dr. David Livingstone (but never uttered “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) fought in the battle of Shiloh. Theroux writes:

“. . . (Stanley) joined the Confederate Army, in a local regiment, the Dixie Grays, in 1861. He fought at the battle of Shiloh, was captured by a Union patrol, clapped into prison at Camp Douglas and given the choice of fighting for the North or rotting. He changed sides, marched under a Union flag, then deserted and sailed to Wales. . . .”

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Battle of Knoxville exhibit opens at McClung Museum

August 6, 2007

As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Knoxville wasn’t one of the big ones, but, not counting clashes in Chattanooga, it was the largest one in East Tennessee. The McClung Museum on the University of Tennessee campus is about to open a new permanent exhibit on what is known locally as the Battle of Fort Sanders.

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Photo courtesy of McClung Museum

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Changing visitors spell uncertain future for National Parks

August 1, 2007

The Chattanooga Times Free Press has an interesting piece on changes in the demographics of visitors to National Parks and what this means for the future of those parks. Writer Angie Herrington talked to Shawn Benge, the superintendent of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. and Bob Miller, spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Benge notes that white males come to Civil War parks to learn about the battles and “who shot who” and may be following the footsteps of their ancestors. This is not the case with minority visitors, who Benge speculates might be more interested in the reasons the war was fought.

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Rattle and Snap rolls out carriage house for guests

May 2, 2007

Rattle and Snap, the most stunning plantation home in Tennessee and one of the finest ones in the entire South, will soon open its carriage house for overnight guests. Built by a member of Tennessee’s Polk family–kinfolks of President James K. Polk–Rattle and Snap was named for a dice game in which the Polk family won the land on which it is built. More details can be found here.

The house was lovingly restored by Amon Carter Evans, who opened it to thousands of visitors per year. When he sold the plantation, however, the regularly scheduled visits came to an end. Rattle and Snap is one of the few plantation homes that still sits amid farmland, so this will be a wonderful place to stay.

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Geezers reenact Civil War

April 25, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press (paid subscription required, alas) has an article focusing on baby boomers who happily don replica 1860s clothing and trot out to reenact Civil War battles. The piece contains the usual the-generation-following-ours-has-gone-to-hell fulmination–one 61-year old gent is quoted as complaining that “some children today aren’t even familiar with Robert E. Lee or Davy Crockett.”

Uh, which side did Crockett fight on, grandpa?

These interpreters of history can show up with perfect looking uniforms, weapons, and everything else, but their aging and well-fed bodies give them away. According to historian Bell I. Wiley, “Most soldiers were between the ages of 18 and 39 with an average age just under 26.” And they weighed about 143 pounds.

You can’t blame the old boys (and girls) for wanting to get into the Civil War act. Just as merchants–called suttlers back then–followed various armies in the War, now various outfitters will cheerfully separate the reenactor from his money. One of the best to visit is the Blockade Runner in Wartrace–perfect town name for this business–south of Nashville near Bell Buckle. This place will fit you out as a Union or Confederate or woman of the time. Large sizes happily accommodated.

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Confederate Museum should move to Tennessee

April 4, 2007

Today’s Washington Post has a wonderful article on the struggling Museum of the Confederacy, which is located in downtown Richmond, Virginia. The Museum has terrific exhibits, such as the hat below, which belonged to General J.E.B. Stuart. Visitation, however, peaked at 90,000 people per year during the 1990s, and the Museum now faces hard times. All but boxed in by the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, the Museum is hard to find, has little parking, and and is getting eclipsed by the nearby American Civil War Center.

The solution? Move the Museum to Tennessee and model a new museum on the very successful American Civil War Center, which looks at the war from three perspectives: North, South, and African-American. Tennessee has an abundance of battlefields and plantations and visitors who would line up and buy tickets.

Of course, this will never happen. Virginians will never let those artifacts out of Richmond. Nonetheless, Tennessee is ripe for a state-of-the-art museum with a comprehensive approach to the most fascinating period of American history.

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Did John Wilkes Booth Survive and live in Tennessee?

February 19, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press (alas, subscription required) trots out the latest John-Wilkes Booth-escaped-death theory, this time claiming that the assassin of Lincoln married a Sewanee woman and lived for a period of time in Tennessee.

Tales of Booth’s second act have been around for a while, as this Wikipedia entry explains.

As Dick Cook writes in the Times Free Press, “. . . there was one piece of physical evidence: the signature of “Jno. W. Booth” and his bride, Louisa J. Payne, recorded Feb. 24, 1872, in the marriage license records office of the Franklin County Courthouse.”

The rest of the story centers in a Flannery O’Connoresque tale. Seems that one Ken Hawkes, who was an autopsy technician for the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, heard accounts of “a mummy that was purported to be Mr. Booth being toted around the Midwest in carnivals during the 1930s.” If this mummy could be found, Mr. Hawkes believes, DNA tests would reveal if it is the remains of the notorious Booth.

And there’s the rub. The mummy has disappeared–nothing on eBay or in the National Enquirer. “I do believe the mummy still exists,” Hawkes said. “I think it’s in a private collection.”

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