“There was a good deal of confusion in men’s minds during the first months of the great trouble, a good deal of unsettledness, of leaning first this way then that, and then the other way. It was hard for us to get our bearings.” -Mark Twain
If you are of a certain age, you probably remember being herded en masse onto a grade school stage and forced to warble Fifty Nifty United States to beaming moms, dads and grandparents.
“Fifty, nifty, United States, from thirteen original colonies,” the song cheerfully began. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to it beyond rhyming “fifty” and “nifty.” It eventually meandered through a roll call of the “nifty” states in alphabetical order. Missing from that roster was the Kingdom of Calloway. And the Free State of Winston. And the Free State of Jones.
But each one briefly existed (more or less) during the turbulent time known as the Civil War. And it’s worth revisiting their short, strange stories to fully understand just how mixed-up that era was. Continue reading
Folks in the Volunteer State disagree about many things. Are you a Vanderbilt fan, or do you root for the University of Tennessee? Do you vote for the Democrats, or the Republicans? (The state swings both ways.) Appalachian bluegrass, or Memphis blues?
But people there unanimously agree on one thing: Parson Brownlow is the most hated man in Tennessee history. Nearly 150 years after his death, just mentioning his name can trigger a firestorm of epic proportions.
He passionately despised (in no particular order) Baptists, the Devil, Democrats, Confederates, Andrew Johnson, and basically anyone who disagreed with him. And he fought them all with every ounce of energy he possessed. Continue reading
Displaying heroism worthy of receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor is hard. Having that distinction taken away from you is even harder.
Believe it or not, nearly 100 years ago the U.S. Army told almost 1,000 aging veterans they weren’t qualified for our nation’s highest military honor, which they had been presented decades before. It’s a sad, sad story. Continue reading
So there they were at 96 Wentworth Street in downtown Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday morning. A construction crew on the College of Charleston campus, busily preparing the site of a new vegan and vegetarian cafeteria (to each their own, I guess) due to open next year. Then something unexpectedly turned up, and everything stopped.
It seems an unexploded Civil War ordnance shell had been peacefully resting on the grounds of The Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Studies Center for a century and half without anybody knowing it was there. Continue reading
“War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.” – Maj. General William T. Sherman
That scowling, growling face is back in the news again, thanks to a highly unlikely source: a simple historical marker.
Many drivers rush by historical plaques without noticing them. Sure, dads would pull over and check them out during family vacations when you were a child, saying “It’s educational,” stranding bored kids in the broiling sun while he read each and every word. Continue reading
That old corny, country variety show Hee Haw had a recurring segment called, “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me.” Each week, hillbilly sad sacks laid around a cabin porch and wailed a woebegone song that included the line, “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” Then they would let loose a blast of yokel misery.
That was just a comedy sketch. But the man we’re about to meet could have sung those words and meant them. Because if anybody was ever born under an unlucky star, Ambrose Everett Burnside was it. Continue reading