Years ago as my step father was sliding into the bizarre horror of Alzeheimer’s, he would sit on the blue couch in the living room and say, over and over again, “What am I doing here?” That puzzled mantra settled into our lives and is, to this day, pulled out in response to any baffling situation.
When my husband and I started the first of three trips that resulted in GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT, A CIVIL WAR MEMOIR, we pulled that phrase out a lot as we sat on the edge of a bed in a motel room somewhere in Georgia or Alabama. When the rains poured or the roads led into oblivion instead of to a forgotten Civil War fort or when our faithful GPS, Nora, sent us to the middle of a county instead of where we’d instructed, one of us would say and the other would second it, “What are we doing here?”
Those frequent moments of puzzlement led at last to some rules of the road for anyone starting on a journey such as ours.
Lesson Number One: Know where you want to go. In other words, if you are following an ancestor through the Civil War landscape, do some research before you start. This rule is especially important if your knowledge of the subject rests on the antics of Rhett and Scarlet in GONE WITH THE WIND rather than more reputable sources.
Lesson Number Two: Be wary of comments that begin, “You know, I was just thinking. Wouldn’t it be neat if we could . . .?” even if you are the person speaking.
Lesson Number Three: In spite of Lessons One and Two, if it moves, follow it. In other words, life is short, go for the things that intrigue you and make your blood sing. If you have an itch to do something and it doesn’t involve harming someone else, or bankruptcy, for goodness sake, go for it. We did and we thoroughly recommend it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a Civil War historian, I’m a former librarian who grew up and became a photographer and writer. My credentials for writing ELEPHANT rest on my curiosity, my ability as a former librarian to do research, and the fortuitous fact that fate practically shoved General Sherman’s MEMOIRS into my hands in Savannah, Georgia. Then there was William D. Hall’s propensity for making lists and taking notes while traipsing after Sherman. GGF (Great Grandfather) Hall was meticulous in noting how far his unit marched, where they went, sometimes what they saw as he followed Sherman on the infamous March to the Sea, and hung with him through the Carolinas and Virginia. GGF’s diary resulted in a very specific roadmap for our journeys, all three of them.
I’m probably biased, but I think you’ll enjoy the odyssey of two uninformed but optimistic people following an ancestor’s journey through the landscape of the bloody “tree shattering” Civil War. Photos (lots of photos) included.
GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT, A CIVIL WAR MEMOIR