Tag Archives: Civil War

Across the Country Back toward the Civil War

After seeing our daughter in New York, we traveled northeast–farther northeast than I had ever been before. Unfortunately, both the gardener and I got sick, possibly infected by the 10-year-old Typhoid Mary I sat next to on the plane ride to New York. Rather than flying to see my mother when we had planned, we started driving southwest, in the general vicinity of home, hoping that eventually we would be well enough to fly without cracking our ear drums. (This was upsetting because my mother is having knee surgery soon, and I don’t get to see her now before the surgery).

Before we turned back, though, we did see some sights that engaged my imagination.

I found this little gem in Searsport, Maine. It’s a Masonic AND Odd Fellows lodge, built around 1870 in the downtown area. It houses a Civil War memorial.  My iPhone cut off part of the memorial, but I am so interested in old building architecture, as well as Masonic temples and lodges. I’ve been thinking about starting a Pinterest board for the Masons.

All these little towns ending with the word “port” are very charming, old, and generally not very updated. Since I’ve lived so long in the southwest, it’s very refreshing to be around this “antiquity” (I can hear European readers snickering). But it was almost disconcerting to be around so few chain restaurants and big box stores. I mean, that is almost all there is in Arizona and southern California.

We made it to Canada and stayed overnight in St. John, New Brunswick, a city with a fairly depressed economy over a length of time, from the looks of it. But this, of course, leads to a wealth of interesting old architectural details. Of course, we were driving, and I didn’t get too many photos. And if I did take any, I can’t find them.

Out in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a cafe/convenience store with a little rest stop building on its property. They sold a great variety of types of jerky, but the overall look of the place and the pale skinny girls who worked there made us wonder just which horror movie set we had stumbled onto.  There was a Sweeney Todd atmosphere throughout the property.

 

We stayed at Bar Harbor, Maine, before we turned back and headed south. It’s a small town, so it only took 20 minutes in the ER to get my pack of antibiotics!

We enjoyed our first time in Louisville.  But it was one of the more thought-provoking visits from a historical standpoint. The Ohio River separates Kentucky from Indiana at Louisville. Having read and taught a lot of 19th century American literature, I’ve read of the importance of the Ohio River to slaves who were trying to escape to freedom. If they could get across this river, they would reach land upon which they would be free. When you look at a map of the United States and see how far north the south actually ranges, you can grasp the magnitude of the journey that some slaves set out on. There is a whole lot of country south of Louisville!

Actually, the situation with slavery laws was more complicated than what I just described, but literature has managed to distill the situation down to this simple image.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin presents the image most compellingly when Eliza crosses the river to get to Ohio (rather than Indiana, but similar idea). She wanted to take the ferry across, but then she sees a slave trader and must grab her young child and flee.

A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.

The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake;—stumbling—leaping—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone—her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.

I’ve looked everywhere for my river photos, but they have mysteriously disappeared. If Eliza had tried to cross at Louisville, where the Ohio River is a full mile across, she never would have made it.

Talk about a liminal space: the river between life and death, between freedom and shackles.

Original illustration by George Cruikshank 1852

Original illustration by George Cruikshank 1852

In case you’re wondering why Eliza appears white in the illustration, she was supposed to be biracial with light skin.

Have you ever read Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Have you avoided it because you heard it was racist? Why don’t you read the book for yourself before you decide that. The book is taught on college campuses because it’s a very important book in the history of this country. It helped bring about the abolition of slavery–and that was the intention of the writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Tom is presented as a Christ figure, but is seen as meek (rather than godly) by critics of the book. Where the book truly goes awry, or odd, strange, peculiar, is what happens to a couple of the main characters in the last part of the book. It’s about something called “colonization” that was part of the abolition movement of the time period. That’s something you don’t hear about too often when you visit museums where the abolitionist movement is revered. Read the book and see what I mean!

OK, you can see that the Civil War came up more than once in my mind on this trip, and that is something that can only happen when you travel in areas where history actually happened. I get a little hungry for history living out here.

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Filed under Books, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Love in the Time of War Injuries and Apache Relations

The best history stories show us ourselves in a different setting. And so it is with Adrienne Morris’ ambitious novel The House on Tenafly Road. I had expected a nostalgic view of a New Jersey village almost 150 years ago. But what I discovered between the covers was the compelling story of a complicated man whose early circumstances as a mixed race (Delaware Indian and British) child of poverty and his Civil War battle wounds nearly destroy his life and family.

John Weldon is a brave and honorable man, but he knows himself so little. The reader can see that he has the potential to be a true hero, and the girl of his dreams, Katherine McCullough, certainly sees him this way. John comforts others with his impressive knowledge of scripture, but he has lost his own faith.

 

Believing himself to be undeserving–a weak man for having become addicted to the drug given him by the Army doctor–, he secretly feeds his addiction to morphine.  Perhaps John is a classic anti-hero because although the reader watches John’s world crumble around him because of his addiction, the reader desperately wants John to succeed. For the most part, John demonstrates loyalty, courage, and compassion for others, although he is not so generous with himself.

 

Rather than the main characters building a life in New Jersey, John’s army career soon leads the young family to the wilds of the Arizona Territory. Katherine can no longer be the suburban lady she was raised to be, but must toughen up as an officer’s wife in the most far-flung post she can imagine. John and Katherine raise their two children in a tiny, unadorned cabin. I live in present-day air-conditioned Arizona, and it was exciting to read of the relentless heat, the flora and fauna, and of course, the U.S. Army’s relationship with the native tribes of the region.

 

The novel is long (much longer than most books) but John’s path to redemption is plagued with very realistic setbacks and mistakes, and I hung on to every word, eager to get to the next plot development. In a book this rich and layered, various threads repeatedly surface. For example, as makes sense for a serious book of American history, Morris examines the issue of race—specifically Native American images through the eyes of well-read east coast citizens, through the military, and through John Weldon himself. She doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, such as Weldon’s Indian mother’s alcoholism. Her touch is so deft that while she made my heart break at seeing atrocities against the Apaches through the eyes of the appalled and far-removed Americans back in New Jersey, she also showed me the results of two cultures slamming into one another.

 

Underlying all lies John’s nasty little secret—the addiction he keeps from his wife. I hadn’t realized that morphine addiction among returning Civil War soldiers was a problem until I read this book and decided to Google it. It’s estimated that a half million men became morphine addicts thanks to their service to our divided country. There were no rehabs and no 12-step programs in those days. Perhaps the only hope that an addict could have would be his faith, and above all, The House on Tenafly Road is about faith. Morris so skillfully weaves questions of faith and love in this epic tale that it isn’t until the end of the book that all stills and clarity emerges.

One final note: the version I read still had some typos and mechanical errors, but a revision has cleaned up these problems, at least according to a spot check that I made.

Go, now, check out Adrienne’s blog, too. NOTHING GILDED, NOTHING GAINED: WHERE PAST MEETS PRESENT AT MIDDLEMAY FARM

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Novel