Living in the South means those of us, of a “certain age”, cut our teeth on, as it was variously called, The War Between the States, The Civil War (although as my MIL used to say, “There was nothing civil about it!”), The Late Great Unpleasantness, The War of Northern Aggression, The War for Southern Independence, The Great Battle and maybe a half dozen more names fallen out of use.
From March 30 until April 14 in central and southside Virginia, the Appomattox Campaign is being remembered. These were the last battles fought and ended on April 9, 1865 (I’m not sure why the remembering goes until April 14) with General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, still a bitter day in many homes. Yesterday, two other women and myself, sat at the Old Brick church at Nottoway Courthouse and did our bit. None of the three of us are “thread counters” meaning we don’t go in whole hog. We wear contemporary underwear, eyeglasses and the like wherein “thread counters” (probably not a complimentary term but highly accurate nonetheless) do go whole hog. One of the women recounted one re-enactment where people were expected to be historically correct down to the jot and tittle. One man showed up with Red Delicious apples and wasn’t allowed to bring them on the property, much less eat them. Why? Seems there were no Red Delicious apples during the mid-late 1800’s. One wonders if thread counters were available to check undergarments to make sure those were historically accurate as well.
(This old joke is why I’m not a thread counter…we didn’t win the war. A blonde and a guy were having drinks at a bar, watching television. A news program came on showing a ball player who’d struck out and the blonde heaved out an “OH NOOOOOOO!!!”. Her companion said, “Oh, I’m not surprised. I saw this on an earlier news program”. She replied, “Yeah, so did I but I thought he might have gotten at least a hit this time.” Maybe it’s my gallows sense of humor that doesn’t endear me to the thread counters but the other two spinners thought it amusing.)
When I married Dave, I married into Civil War Living History. His mother recounted stories of being dandled on her Grandfather’s knee while he spoke of being a soldier and subsequently being wounded in the Civil War. Her people had slaves which were freed prior to the war but, as oral history tells, some of those slaves chose to stay with the family. Now, now don’t start judging decisions made generations ago based on today. Back then, where was an uneducated, black female going to go, what was she going to do and how would she make her way in the world? Aunt Melindy chose to stay with the family where she had food, shelter, clothing and, more importantly, safety.
Dave’s Mom told stories Aunt Melindy told her…stories of Aunt Melindy dressing as a man and carrying a long rifle, marching around the perimeter of the house, trying to make people think the women were being protected by a man. Another story says when Union soldiers showed up and demanded food, they forced Aunt Melindy to kill a precious chicken and prepare a meal. My MIL said the rancor was in evidence until the day Aunt Melinda passed.
Being born and growing up in Richmond, the Capital of the Confederacy (yes, I know there was another one but it’s not mentioned in polite Virginia society) I also knew about Confederate Widows home. In the upper end of the Fan District of Richmond, VA in 1898, there was established by the Virginia Legislature a Home for Needy Confederate Women whose purpose was “to provide care for needy female relatives of Confederate soldiers”. Upon entering the Home, the women (seventy at the height) turned over what estates they had in return for lifelong care, but, eventually the building needed more money than the endowment was bringing in so the remaining seven daughters and granddaughters were moved to a different facility in Chesterfield county.
In 1996, in Alabama, Alberta Martin, the last known Confederate war widow and last widow whose marriage produced offspring, was writ up in a New York times article, here. Both articles are well worth the read if only to know a lot of us were alive then and had a touchstone with that mid 1800’s war. It’s almost unbelievable! Mrs. Martin died May 31, 2004. Can you tell I love history? I don’t want to forget any of it…the good, the bad, the awful. Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.”
There are more events tomorrow, some at Hillsman House which served as a Federal field hospital during the last major battle. At Christmas, Rebekah and I went to Hillsman House to see Old Saint Nick and a young soldier told tales that curled my toes and brought tears to my eyes. On that last day, while the battle raged and could be seen from open windows, doctors inside fought their own battle to save lives and limbs. Mrs. Hillsman and a servant (slave…?) were locked in the basement (for safety…?) and the April day was hot with windows and doors open to relieve the stench and catch any errant breeze. This also enabled the cries and screams of the wounded men to be clearly heard by the women locked in the basement. As the doctors cut, sawed and amputated limbs those same limbs were heaved through open windows as there was no time and no extra men to carry them. Can you image the horror? It’s said when Mrs. Hillsman was allowed out of the basement, she left the house, never to return and who can blame her?
My story, should a thread counter ask for my bona fides was… until recently, I’d lived in southwestern Virginia but was in this area visiting kin. My dress, apron and hat aren’t historically correct for this part of the state so I figured a good
lie story might appease.
Speaking of lies…I overheard a woman telling visitors people wouldn’t have had time for church on Sunday due to work load. WHAT?! Maybe not in Yankee Land but in the South…by God and by golly, we not only had time for church on Sunday, if we didn’t go, we got a good thrashing! The only excuse for missing church was illness (severe) or an ox in the ditch. How can I be so certain sure? My Great-Grandfather Sampson H., on horseback, took the Methodist denomination into the wild heart of West Virginia and my Grandfather, Oscar L., was a circuit rider preacher who had four churches. Each Sunday he preached at one and, in return, was paid with garden produce, eggs, a chicken and, in flush times, a country ham or turkey someone had shot. A collection would gift him with a bit of folding money and a lot of change but all was welcome. I know this because I was allowed to ride with him when school was out and consider it all a great privilege and a bountiful heritage!
Unfortunately, I am slow in promise keeping and am still working on the blog update wherein I’m bringing the University course I taught to the blog in the hopes it will help homesteaders, small acreage farmers/ranchers and small business people increase income. One of the first things I’ll make available (gratis) is a list of more than one hundred non-conventional ways to make money on the farm. Back in the day, on the last farm, I used Agri-Tourism to increase farm income by sharing my love of agriculture, animals, history and the land. That love took me all over the world…Russia, Armenia, Georgia as well as the East Coast and conventions, conferences, seminars, workshops, fiber festivals. A few weeks ago I wrote about years and am feeling a pressing need to get on with it so please bear with me and have a little more patience as it’s all in process. This month I’ll celebrate my 66th year and each year finds me needing, and taking, a tad bit more time to keep up.
Am I a liar if I’m slow in promise keeping?
“When we fill our minds with gratitude for the way God has redeemed our past, the future seems like an unfolding adventure. We get to experience God’s great plan for our lives one day at a time.” ~ Denise Jackson ~