We've been fortunate to have a couple of artifacts on loan for the last few weeks. It has been interesting examining these items and learning more about them. We hope to be able to do more of this in the future. But for now, allow me to share my Curator's Report on these two items.
The first item is indeed an original first edition of Horace Greeley's The American Conflict, Vol I. This book was published in 1864, even before the war's conclusion. It represents one of the earliest of such propaganda used for the Union side. It is an attempt to frame the Union cause as a moral one, based on abolition as opposed to a revolution fought to centralize power in Washington.
This particular book has some wear and damage on the exterior but it also has some very well preserved illustrations from that time period. The story behind this book is that the current owner bought it from a man who had intended to cut through the pages to make a void in which to store a pistol. Quick thinking and a purchase saved this book from a showdown with stupidity. Use a discarded school dictionary, dork.
The second was even more exciting to host. It has been confirmed to be an original distribution copy of the 1877 Georgia State Constitution. This document was drafted after Reconstruction had ended. Washington had relinquished governing power back to Atlanta. The Democrats had reestablished control of Georgia politics. They decided to draft a constitution as a free state, rather than one micromanaged by outside forces. And so a convention was called. With much influence by ABG hero Robert Toombs (pictured above, bottom left), they drafted and ratified this document. For the first time since the fall of Milledgeville, Georgia had a government completely of its own making.
The assembly commissioned prominent Atlanta printer James P. Harrison, who produced books on everything from race relations to religion to ecology, to print 10,000 copies of the new constitution to be distributed in Georgia. This is one of the copies the survive to this day. How many others exist, we're not sure. But it is not believed to be many.
It's been interesting to have these items but it's time for them to return home. We'd love to host more items in the future. Suggestions are welcomed.
Special thanks to Ken Studdard of Dogwood Books on Broad Street in Rome for his help on the research of these items. If you.re ever in that neighborhood, stop in and check this amazing place out. Tell Ken we sent you. We promise he won't charge you double.
I'd like to close out the Memorial Day with one more from the archives. This one is from September 2013 and the anniversary of Chickamauga. It will answer a few questions that have arisen from a picture that appeared on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Chickamauga, 150 Years Later
I have long pondered how I would commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamaga. This battle that is not actually in my back yard produced a volume of cannon fire that could literally be heard here at the house, roughly a one hour trip using modern contrivances.
It took the war several months and thousands of lives to get here.
I know there is a lot of discussion about Bragg, Rosecrans, Forrest, Thomas and other generals. Highlights and the celebrities of the war will cover many accounts of the battle.
But I want to do something different. I'm going to mention two men, one from each nation involved, and put a face on this battle. So here we go.
Lt. Howard M. Burnham is no relation to me. We aren't cousins. I checked. He was leading a battery of Union artillery in the opening stages of the battle on September 19, 1863. When his battery came under a charge of Confederate infantry. With little infantry support of his own and his horses killed by enemy fire, Burnham ordered his men to fight to keep the guns from being captured. Heavy rifle fire resulted in many casualties, including Lt. Burnham who fell mortally wounded but still encouraging his men to defend their cannons.
The Union officer was only 21 years old. He was an educated man who had a bright, promising future. But all of that ended in the woods of Northwest Georgia 150 years ago today.
The place where he fell is marked by a monument that is easily accessible on the General Bragg Trail at Chickamauga Battlefield. He was buried in his native Massachusetts.
Col. Peyton H. Colquitt was a native Georgian. In fact, Colquitt County is named for his father, Walter Colquitt. His brother was an officer in the Confederate Army as well and would eventually serve as both a senator and governor of Georgia.
All indications are that Peyton's future would have been that successful. But that future was deferred. He was killed around noon on the second day of fighting. He was one of four Confederate Army commanders that would perish while fighting at "The River of Death". He was 31 years old. The spot where he fell is marked by a large stack of cannonballs near the intersection of Alexander Bridge Rd and Battleline Rd. It's within walking distance of the Walter Burnham site. The banner photo currently displayed at the top of this blog was taken just feet from the stack of cannonballs.
I picked these two men because, while they're not average enlisted men, they are relatively unheard of. Their last names got my attention for different reasons. They fought for opposing armies. Their homelands were as different as daylight and dark. But their fate at Chickamauga was identical.
Burnham was one of the 1,657 killed of the 16,170 Union casualties. Peyton was one of the 2,312 killed of the 18,454 Confederate casualties. The total casualty numbers for the two day battle are second only to the three days at Gettysburg.
Like most of the casualties, Howard and Peyton were young. Like many others, they were fighting for their convictions. Like many others, they fought bravely and died in the service of their country.
4,000 men killed in two days. 30,000 others wounded, missing or captured.
Two men. One for each army. One killed on each day. Different men, same fate. Multiplied 2000 times each.
That was Chickamauga.
Shades of Gray on Decoration Day
Four years ago, one of the very first ABG road trips doubled as a birthday present for my oldest son and our official kickoff of commemorating the sesquicentennial of The War. Our Pittsburg Landing/Shiloh-Corinth road trip remains one of my fondest memories. The experience is one I'll always remember.
In the days following that trip, I sat down and typed out some of my thoughts in reflection of that trip. Four years of commemoration and study have done much to strengthen my feelings on this matter. On this, the 150th anniversary of the close of the conflict, I'd like to revisit that article as a way of commemorating the men and women that have given their lives in the defense of their American homeland, including the 350,000+ Confederates that are officially recognized as American service members by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day was begun by Southern ladies that honored those that had died in the War Between the States. The commemoration spread throughout the nation and eventually came to recognize the dead of every American war.
And so, in honor of every soul sacrificed on the altar of our Liberty, allow me to revisit my post from Decoration Day 2011.
The Spring has been busy and loaded with events, travels, a few disasters and the trappings of everyday life. In the words of a hero, "so it goes".
Mentioning such a hero is a fitting way to start this entry as heroes are what make this weekend possible. For that matter, they make most everything possible. And so we set out to place men and women on tall pedestals and revere them for great works that they have done. Such great men and women walk on a plain above us. They are not susceptible to error or wrongdoing.. And if we find them guilty of wrong, we drag them from their pedestal and cast them from the ranks of demigods, back to a life as a lowly commoner...perhaps even a criminal. I won't even enter into the examples of this from the ranks of American celebrities that we drag out until they become cliche.
One of my journeys this spring carried me to a rural patch of land on the Tennessee River, where the states of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi all meet up. In places, it is so desolate that a man will stop and ask for directions. And so I did.
Oh, I was on the right road, the lady reassured me of that. I needed to only drive a few miles until I saw the "kwairy" which, incidentally is a hole in the ground from which rock is harvested. The lady was not the best speaker in the world, had obviously seen better days...if not years. But in that moment, she was a hero to me. She was a friendly source of practical knowledge along a poorly marked road. She probably had no advanced education of the significance of my destination, but she knew where it was and how I could find it. She saved my morning.
And so we finally found the location of Pittsburg Landing. Better known to American History as Shiloh
My son and I walked through a cemetery filled with fallen Union soldiers. We saw the "trenches", mass graves filled with the Confederate dead. We walked around Bloody Pond, where the wounded of both armies turned the still water red.
I was almost brought to tears when we walked from the monument where Albert Sidney Johnston was shot to the the small ditch where he was carried to die. It was so far from his native Texas. He had left the US Army at 58 years old. He had been a hero in previous wars. At Shiloh, he fought his last.
In the midst of the Union Cemetery is a marker for the location of Grant's Headquarters. We also saw sites that were significant to Sherman's involvement. There was the location of Fallen Timbers, where Forrest was nearly killed but instead elevated himself to legend status.
And my mind comes back to the trenches. Family members requested safety to bury their dead. But Grant had already buried them in the trenches due to the heat of the day. And so, the mass of Confederate dead lie unmarked. Known only to God.
Heroes and villains....depending on who you talk to.
And as I shared such important time with my son, teaching him and learning with him - even learning some from him, I wondered to myself what it all meant. It can be a humbling thing to stand in such a place and have an eleven-year-old boy in a blue kepi ask you who the good guys were. I wanted to just make it short and answer "yes and no". But I knew that answer was not good enough for him. Or for me.
So, for months I have thought about it. Other events have played a role and I've come to realize that a war that is often painted, quite literally, so black and white is just not that simple. And when I look at my personal heroes, they aren't that simple. And then I have to look inside myself for the grace to grant these people the right to maintain their humanity while still remaining heroes - the grace to live in the mores and standards of their day - the grace to make mistakes but still be great.
And so I hold my nose for an ABG first. I have to share a quote by the monster and war criminal William T. Sherman: "General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always."
Loyalty born of grace and a common struggle. I'd be hypocritical to recognize the evils of these two men and somehow pretend I am above them. I'd be in the wrong if I denied them the ability to be heroes to someone and pretend that everyone holds the same opinion of me that my children do. Because "hero" is a tricky word and can find itself on the oddest labels. And evils, both real and imagined, can cloud our judgement towards people, allowing us to skew their stories.
So, on the Decoration Day (the original name of Memorial Day) weekend, while swimming, eating and drinking, take time to remember heroes from all shades of gray that lie in graves and trenches while we party. Remember those that lie in graves and trenches so we can party. And, please grant grace to those heroes. Someone, somewhere believes in them.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire