The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
. . . still studying and learning how to live

Latest Rambling Thoughts:
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
History ... Personal Reflections ...

The Fourth of July is one of the few American holidays that celebrates the history of the nation. Yes, Thanksgiving and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day certainly have strong historical roots; and yes, there is Lincoln’s Birthday and President’s Day. But Independence Day focuses squarely on a momentous historical event, i.e. the signing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the document that proclaimed the end of colonization and the beginning of a new nation upon the North American continent.

For those interested in Civil War history, the Fourth is also a momentous time. On July 3, 1863, two big battlefield events marked a turning point in the War, and heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s division. On that day in 1863, the Confederate Army suffered a punishing defeat during its second attempt to invade the North, i.e. the bloodbath at Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, PA popularly known as “Pickett’s Charge” (even though Pickett was only one of the three generals leading the charge). Also, after a long Union campaign to re-gain control of the Mississippi River, General U.S. Grant successfully concluded a long and costly assault on the strategic river city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Civil War would go on for another year and ten months after this day, and would yet impose a great amount of death and destruction. But from this point on, the Union pretty much gained the initiative; it no longer spent most of its resources reacting to Confederate military thrusts (in ways that were often bungled and ineffective). In 1864, the War was pretty much a matter of attrition for the Union. Grant’s bloody Overland Campaign in Virginia and Sherman’s destructive “March to the Sea” in Georgia and the Carolinas were meant to wear out the last sinews of strength in the Confederacy, i.e. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Virginia and the commercial and industrial infrastructure that arced north-eastward from Atlanta to Richmond. By April 1865, Jefferson Davis and Lee realized that the Confederacy was suffering massive organ failure; the heart of the rebellion was about to stop beating. They finally opted for a dignified death to the cause at Appomattox, allowed through the courtesy of Abraham Lincoln.

I would like to tell the tale of another Civil War campaign that was also underway on July 3, 1863, one that I believe was almost as important to the history of the nation as were Gettysburg and Vicksburg. That was the Tullahoma Campaign in Tennessee and the series of battlefield struggles that followed over the next 4 months in Knoxville and Chattanooga. But before I tell that story, I would first like to talk a bit about my own story, about how and why I became interested in the US Civil War and what it means to me. So I will talk about myself in this blog post, and will then tell the story of Tullahoma, Chattanooga, Chickamauga and Knoxville in my next post.

I only became interested in the US Civil War in my middle years. When I was in grammar school and college, I didn’t pay much attention to whatever the teachers were saying about the War during my history courses. I remember a family vacation trip in 1967 that stopped in Gettysburg, but I wasn’t interested in what we saw at the visitors center, nor the stone monuments standing in the fields along the sloping hills. Hey, my family came from Poland during the second decade of the 20th Century. We weren’t here when the Civil War happened, and we had nothing at all to do with slavery (except for the fact that being of “Slavic” ethnicity, our distant ancestors had experienced a form of ancient slavery during the 9th Century, as Eastern Europeans were imported by Muslim Arabs in Spain to serve as slaves — something that most modern Slavs are not aware of; despite the fact that the origin of the English word “slave” has to do with “Slav”).

As a child of the suburban 1960’s, I pretty much lived in a protected “white world” right up to the time of my high-school graduation in 1971. Black or other dark complexioned people were occasionally seen where I was schooled or where my family went to shop or to recreate or to pray. We also saw brief images of their civil rights protests and urban disturbances on TV. But in our daily lives we had very little to do with them or their doings. Only after I started college in autumn of 1971 in Newark, NJ, just 4 years after the 1967 Summer Disturbances in that city (“riots”, in the less gentle vernacular), did African American people and communities slowly gain more and more of my attention.

I won’t detail my life history since then, but for whatever reason, African American communities and people came to play a larger and larger role in my life over time. This is not to give myself a pat on the back for being such an enlightened spirit; a lot of this is a function of the social changes that have taken place in my corner of the world since 1970. I’ve heard that “white world” still exists in certain places out in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, but life in northern New Jersey is much more racially intermixed today. I’ve had a government job for the past 16 years, and during this time, three of my immediate supervisors were African Americans, and for a 5 year period, the head of the agency was black. There isn’t room in this part of the world for prejudice and bad attitudes, as far as I am concerned.

Let’s just say that as a child in my protected white world, I learned to be a bit afraid and cautiously distrustful of blacks and “black world” (even though I liked some of their music right away; I became a fan of The Temptations and The Four Tops soon after I discovered WABC pop-hit radio in 1965). Over time, as I matured, I learned to leave behind many of my fears and misgivings (I’m not claiming 100% purity), and to become more open to African American people and their “vibe”. Again, I’m not claiming to be the perfect “new world man” for whom race makes no difference, other than perhaps as a cultural heritage to be shared and celebrated. I did vote for Obama . . . once (again, I don’t claim to be the perfect liberal). BUT, given that I have known quite a few African American people and given that they have played a substantial and generally positive role in my own life history since the early 1970s, the history of the black community in America became more important to me.

You could say that I have a little more “skin in the game” now. So over the past decade or so, I have put some effort into familiarizing myself with earlier phases of American history, partly because so many American blacks have ancestral roots going back to the 17th or 18th centuries, when slaves were brought (quite cruelly) to our shores from Africa. One key event in the history of our nation and in the history of its black community was the American Civil War.

So, I finally started taking seriously all the stuff about Lincoln and John Brown and plantations and Bobby Lee and cotton gins and Fort Sumpter and the Kansas Nebraska Act. This was partly because of its relevance to black America, but also because I was finally able to see that the Civil War and the politics leading up to it (and following it) were interesting, in and of themselves. And yes, my appetite for the Civil War was whet by Ken Burns’s 1990 PBS series about it. I can still hear that violin theme (Ashokan Farewell) playing over and over in my head, while a quote is being read from Mary Chestnut or William Tecumseh Sherman.

Next time — the story of eastern Tennessee on July 3, 1863 and during the following months.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:15 pm      

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment:


To blog is human, to read someone's blog, divine
NEED TO WRITE ME? eternalstudent404 (thing above the 2) gmail (thing under the >) com - THE SIDEBAR - ABOUT ME - PHOTOS - RSS FEED - Atom
Church of the Churchless
Clear Mountain Zendo, Montclair
Fr. James S. Behrens, Monastery Photoblog
Of Particular Significance, Dr. Strassler's Physics Blog
My Cousin's 'Third Generation Family'
Weather Willy, NY Metro Area Weather Analysis
Spunkykitty's new Bunny Hopscotch; an indefatigable Aspie artist and now scolar!

Powered by WordPress