leaving Tupelo on Friday afternoon, I
continued north on a two-lane highway, driving past the rolling farmlands,
kudzu-draped forests, and endless cotton fields of northern Mississippi. It was typical sultry summer weather in
the South, very hot and steamy, and days like this really made me wish that my
truck had air-conditioning. My destination that afternoon was the town of Corinth,
Mississippi, because I'd learned several years ago that my great-great-grandfather, Ransom
Myers, fought here during the Civil War in 1862 with the 10th Michigan
probably the first person in my family to visit Corinth since Ransom marched
140 years ago with the Union Army.
Here are the
Civil War tunes Dixie and Bonny Blue Flag.
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As I was
heading into town that afternoon, I stopped at the Brice's Crossroads
Battlefield Museum, and there I met a local historian
Lee. When I told Tommy why I'd come to Corinth, he offered to
show me around town the next day, which I thought was an incredibly generous
offer (although not unusual in the hospitable South), and we agreed to meet the next morning.
After leaving the museum an hour later, I drove into town and quickly learned
that Corinth doesn't have much in the way of decent motels. As luck would
have it, I picked one of the dingier ones... but at least it had
morning was hot, sunny, and steamy, and I drove into Corinth to
check it out. It's a small, friendly town, a little run-down perhaps, but
with lots of tree-lined streets and interesting antebellum mansions, one of which I
toured. Then, at
about 10 a.m., I walked over to the museum and met Tommy Lee.
Tommy is a pretty cool guy and knows a lot about the Civil
War -- or as he and most Southerners call it, "The War Between the
States" -- an important distinction because, as he noted, it wasn't a war
between the people but rather between two governments. He also gently corrected my pronunciation of
Corinth. It's not Cor-INTH, as I'd been saying (as in "fine
Corinthian leather"), but rather COR-inth. O.K., so I was dumb
Northerner, but Tommy didn't seem to mind.
left: My bivouac in Corinth, Mississippi. Air-conditioning, electrical
outlets for my laptop, and a real bed... what a treat!
center: Downtown Corinth.
right: My great-great-grandfather Ransom Myers,
fought here in Corinth in 1862, just after the Battle of Shiloh.
ballad Ashoken Farewell.
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For the next three hours, Tommy
and I rode around in my Toyota truck and he told me all about
the Siege of Corinth. Corinth, as I learned, was one of the most important railroad crossroads in the South during the Civil
War. In the spring of 1862, hardly a year into the war, the Union
generals, realizing the importance of this city, sent thousands of
troops up the Tennessee River and landed near a place
called the Shiloh Church. The Confederate troops ferociously attacked the
Union forces on April 6, 1862 and nearly drove them into the river, but
the Union troops got reinforced the next day and pushed the Southern troops back towards
Corinth. Altogether, the two-day Shiloh battle involved about 65,000 Union
troops and 44,000 Confederate troops.
Shiloh was one of the
bloodiest and most vicious battles of the war and, although
technically a Union victory, both sides suffered huge casualties, with the
number of men killed, wounded or missing on both sides totaling nearly
24,000. Being one of the first large-scale conflicts of the Civil War, it shocked
the armies, leaders, and citizens of both sides into the realization of what
this war would really mean.
Tommy Lee, a true Southerner and local Civil War historian -- and my
guide for the day.
battle of Shiloh, the Union troops, including my great-great-grandfather,
Ransom, whose unit had joined the rest of the Army here
shortly after the battle, crept towards the railroad crossroads of Corinth very slowly with neither
side wanting to
have another re-run of Shiloh. The Confederates knew it was hopeless,
though, so one night in the gloom of darkness, they evacuated Corinth and retreated.
After the rebels left, my
great-great-grandfather Ransom spent
about a month here in Corinth with the rest of the Union Army before heading north to Kentucky. Ransom probably should've stayed in Corinth, though, because after
he got to Kentucky, he got shot in the left arm by a rebel sharpshooter.
Ransom had his arm amputated in a field hospital, was sent to a hospital in St. Louis for a
while, then went back to Michigan to recover. Eager to get back into the
action, one-armed Ransom, now a Sergeant, re-enlisted as a courier and spent the
rest of the war dashing around eastern Tennessee with the 10th
Michigan Cavalry, with a pistol in his right hand and the reins of his horse between his teeth.
Interestingly enough, Tommy Lee's ancestors had fought for the South during the
Civil War, so here we were, two guys whose ancestors had fought on opposite
sides of the war, riding around Corinth in a pickup truck. Tommy's really
a great guy and, since we're both Civil War buffs, we had a lot of
about the war. He couldn't have been more polite and thoughtful, and it didn't matter to either of us that our ancestors
may have faced each other here in opposite trenches.
1 p.m., I was feeling guilty for taking up so much of Tommy's time, so I thanked him for his tour
of Corinth and said good-bye. "Where are you
going now?," he asked me. When I told him that I was going up to see the
Shiloh Battlefield 20 miles away, Tommy said, "Well, heck, I'll go up there with you
and show you around." So Tommy hopped into his car and I followed him up
to Shiloh, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. Tommy
grew up near here and, like many Southerners, considers Shiloh to be sacred
ground, so I got a real insider's view of the battlefield.
p.m., as the gates at Shiloh were closing, I shook Tommy's hand and said
good-bye. Southern Hospitality at its best... and a day
I'll never forget.
left: This beach is called Pittsburg Landing. It's on the
Tennessee River and was where Union troops heading into the
Battle of Shiloh in April 1862 disembarked from steamships. Two weeks later,
after the battle, my great-great-grandfather Ransom Myers and the 10th
Michigan Infantry landed here and joined the rest of the Union forces marching south towards
center: The Battle of Shiloh was a bloody two-day conflict.
During the first day, the Confederates surprised the Union forces and almost
drove them into the Tennessee River. However, Union reinforcements arrived
that night and pushed the Confederate troops back towards Corinth.
right: During the Battle of Shiloh, hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers on
both sides crawled here to "Bloody Pond."
left: Cannon on the Shiloh Battlefield.
center: A Confederate memorial at Shiloh. To many Southerners,
battlefields like Shiloh and Vicksburg are sacred ground. There were
flowers and wreaths on nearly every statue here.
right: Thanks, Tommy, for a great tour!
avid history buff, I'm ashamed to admit that I never
knew much about Meriwether Lewis until I read Stephen Ambrose's book
"Undaunted Courage" a few years ago. Lewis, of course, was
one-half of the famous team, "Lewis and Clark." Some probably
think it was "Lewisenclark," but there were actually two people, not one.
Lewis and William
Clark were Army buddies who, back in the early 1800s, led the first
American expedition across the Western U.S. Back then, Americans knew very
little about the West and, for example, thought
the Rocky Mountains were something like the Blue Ridge Mountains of
Virginia: a single crest only a few thousand feet high. And they weren't called the Rocky Mountains, either. Back then, they
were known as the Shining Mountains, then later, the Stony Mountains.
Lewis was chosen by President Thomas Jefferson to lead a 30-man expedition
across the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase to see if there was a quick and
easy way across North America. Well, there wasn't, so Jefferson was pretty
disappointed -- but the Lewis and Clark Expedition made a lot of important
discoveries during their two-year trip. For instance, having spent the winter of 1805-06 near the Pacific
Ocean at Fort Clatsop (see News: June
11, 2001), they learned that it rains a LOT in Oregon during the winter,
something I didn't learn until I moved to Oregon in 1989.
reading "Undaunted Courage," I discovered that Meriwether Lewis was a
pretty remarkable guy. He was competent, meticulous, shy,
curious, soft-spoken and talented. He liked drawing maps and enjoyed
exploring. In fact, I've never read a description of anyone that reminded
me more of... well... myself. It was a real shock at the end of
the book, therefore, when I learned that Meriwether Lewis' life tumbled downhill
after the three-year Lewis and Clark Expedition. After returning to St.
Louis in 1806, he couldn't finish his memoirs, he had trouble finding a wife,
and he fell into a deep depression.
the 35-year old Lewis, traveling alone, headed back to Washington D.C. to clear up some
debts. He traveled overland on the Natchez Trace trail instead of taking a
ship, and he stopped one night alongside the Natchez Trace at a small cabin
called Grinder's Inn. There, a few hours later and during a severe bout of melancholy, Lewis shot himself. The locals buried him near
the Inn and
cared for his grave, and today there's a National Park Service campground nearby.
since reading "Undaunted Courage," I've wanted to visit Lewis' grave,
so after leaving Shiloh late Saturday afternoon, I got back on the Natchez Trace
Parkway and drove up to the Meriwether Lewis campground, where I found a nice
campsite under the hickory trees. The next morning, I walked over to Grinder's Inn, pulled out my copy
of "Undaunted Courage," and read once again the account of
Meriwether's last evening. It was a sad ending to a remarkable life.
President Thomas Jefferson describing
left: Here's a sunset at the Meriwether Lewis campground along the Natchez Trace Parkway in
center: This is a replica of the Grinder's Inn. Lewis had
fought a lifelong battle with depression but lost the fight here.
right: That's the foundation of the
original Grinder's Inn in the foreground, with the replica in the background.
Above left: There's a memorial to Lewis inside the Grinder's Inn
replica. I believe this is the only memorial to him anywhere in the world.
Meriwether Lewis, the more subdued half of "Lewis and Clark."
Above right: Meriwether Lewis was buried here, a few hundred yards from the
Inn. The broken gun barrel represents a life cut short. Lewis'
gravesite was quietly looked after by locals for many years before the National
Park Service took over caretaking duties.
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
June 30, 2001