This episode of the podcast features an interview with Jan Croon, the editor of The War Outside My Window - The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham 1860-1865. The book is the diary of the young man and his observations of the Civil War and his life during that time. It forms an excellent first-hand account of the war, the life his wealthy family lived beforehand as well as their state of affairs which were the same as those of so many Georgians in the wake of the war.
A link to a review of the book can be found here.
The link to this podccast episode can be found here.
Sam Burnham, Curator
To listen to the podcast episode featuring an interview with editor Jan Croon, click here.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to take a look at at such an intriguing work. Only a day after my review copy shipped, a family friend recommended the book pointing out she's a cousin of the author. This is a published diary meaning that, in this case, the author has died and the published work has been completed by an editor who compiled the diary and tried to make it relevant and readable for a modern audience. This puts an effective editor in the position of researcher, dot connector, notation maker, and even translator.
The author, LeRoy Wiley Gresham, was 12 years old when he began his diary in 1860. Gresham was a particularly bright young man. He was already an adept writer showed an interest in many subjects, including the gathering clouds of the ominous war to come. The Greshams were an educated family who were among the wealthy of Macon's populace. LeRoy was afflicted with a condition of the spine that left him bedridden. Instead of many of the activities common to other boys his age (which could have included service among the Confederate military ranks) he became an avid reader. He documents the news of each day including reports from the battlefield, from politics, and typically a report of the day's weather. Occasionally an entry might be nothing more than a weather report from the day. in other entries, such as late September, 1863, he relays news of major developments in the war.
If you know the names and dates, you know what to expect from the events. But you find yourself interested to read how he reports it. You can see Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Peachtree Creek, and Atlanta, long before they happen. But to see it in the eyes of a young man standing in the path of Sherman's advance gives you a taste of what it must have been like to be standing there yourself. I can imagine that for a person who does not know the specific names and dates, this narrative makes for a great story a first time learner will get caught up in.
I was amazed to see how quickly the news traveled then. Reports from battles were often given by the next day, although much of the information was wrong. Casualty numbers and specific people reported dead were wildly inaccurate and he often added corrections as he received new information. He reports Hood killed at Chickamauga, then maybe not dead, then not dead but having lost his leg. The corrections also included the death of Peyton Colquitt, a relative of Gresham's who has been mentioned here before.
LeRoy's fortunes seem to track the Confederacy's. At first he has a life of wealth and privilege. Without giving away too much, the family's fortunes, and LeRoy's health, take a dramatic turn in the famine left in Sherman's wake - much like the fledgling nation's. LeRoy's fate and the Confederacy's seem to be metaphorically tied to each other.
As for the editing, Janet Elizabeth Croon took a diary from the 1860's with the intent of presenting it to a modern audience. I mentioned "translator" as one of the hats she had to wear. Gresham uses many abbreviations and terms that were familiar to him but that the casual reader might not understand. Carefully added text fills in the gaps between his familiarity and the reader's curiosity. It makes for a seamless read that is easily understandable in 2018.
There are extensive footnotes to help the reader understand historic, cultural, familial, and medical terms or allusions. It is evident that Croon put a lot of work into research, documentation, and gathering information that she probably had to learn herself as she went. The notes are so impressive that it pains me to point out there are a very few inaccuracies (ex: 20 May 1864 when Rome, GA is evacuated, our army was at Kingston, GA, not NC). The errors are so rare and minimal and that one so close to home that it caught my attention. Such minimal errors are understandable when the weight of the notes are considered. She did a fantastic job.
One of the best things about this book is it puts a first-hand account of the era, and the war specifically, in a form that makes it accessible to an everyday reader. This is a serious historical document that the average person in 2018 can understand. You don't have to be a Civil War scholar or even a historian to appreciate it or enjoy it. The human story involved, the struggle of a youngster who learned to deal with the specter of death at an early age before having to confront his own frail mortality, is touching. In an age where anything Confederate is to be hated and scorned, Gresham reintroduces the humanity of the Southern people into the conversation. He's not a statue or a flag, hes a young boy facing a harsh world and it is easy to become sympathetic to him. Croon does a good job of steering away from bias on either side and presenting only the facts and letting LeRoy tell his first-hand story. And I enjoyed reading it.
Sam Burnham, Curator
In Floyd County, just north of Rome you'll find (with a little direction and some luck) an old dirt road cut off from the world by a simple metal gate. Signs at the gate communicate that the road is closed to automobile traffic, that the road is an entrance to the Berry College Wildlife Management Area, that permits and permission are required for seasonal hunting, that hunters must check in at the GDNR station, and some generalized messaging to let you know that if you come out there acting a fool that you'll probably going to jail. It is typical of the many such entrances to Berry WMA properties throughout norther Floyd County but this one is still a bit different.
I don't remember how old I was the first time I heard someone telling me of the horrors and frights that were somehow ubiquitous along the "CC Road." There was the apparently indisputable truth that you crossed three bridges going out and only two coming back (or 5 out and 4 back, depending on who was telling the story.) There was always some ghost sighting or other supernatural phenomenon that this group or that couple experienced. There was the ruins of an old church and cemetery that had been adopted and defaced by a band of Satanists (roving bands of Satanists form the spine of many spooky stories in the area) who used the property for all manners of frightening and unspeakable rituals and ceremonies.
To people in northwest Georgia, these stories were as big as coastal Georgia's Altamaha-ha. This was on the same level as Atlantis, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, or Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The legends inspired the Georgia-based band Southgang song The Legend of CC Road which appeared on their 1992 album Group Therapy. What made it even more real and foreboding is that it is right in our own backyards. You'd hear where John or Sally had ventured out with older siblings or friends. They'd made it to the old church, seen the inverted crosses, heard chilling screams or voices. and, most notably, somehow crossed fewer bridges coming back out than they had going in.
Because there just isn't much that can be scarier than a disappearing bridge.
I have to admit that my skepticism is a recent development. When I was a kid, this was one of the most thrilling things to hear about. "What did you see? Was it really like they say?" I never went down the CCC Road before Berry (wisely) gated it off to cut back on the shenanigans. In fact, the first time I went down the road was in broad daylight and I don't recall noticing any bridges other than the one at the gate. That could explain why I'm more intrigued by the disappearing "C" in the name than I am the reports of a disappearing bridge. It leaves me wondering which word in Civilian Conservation Corps, who is credited with building the road, is being omitted.
Regarding the church, I have no idea if the church of legend still stands. Currently the only church I know of in that area is the old Mountain Springs Church, the last remnant of the community of the same name. Small communities used to dot the landscape that has since been absorbed by the Berry Wildlife Management Area. Occasionally a church may remain, perhaps a few weathered headstones in a neglected cemetery - Mountain Springs, Freemantown, Sand Springs - mostly just memories survive to the present day.
In the remaining churches periodic meetings may still be held. A sign at the gate advised a meeting being held at Mountain Springs Church at 4 and the gate closing at 6. In other words, feel free to attend the service but don't expect to get out if you are using the open gate as an opportunity for running amok in the dark. You'll return to find yourself locked in the with legends. Sweet dreams.
While I am skeptical about many of the stories and I despise vandalism of any kind, I'm thankful for these tales. We don't have enough mystery and intrigue in our days. Everything has to be logical, explainable, provable. In simpler times we could dream, fear, be wary of what may be lurking out an old dirt road nearby.
I think there may be more to this story in general. I may need to look into this...
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire