I’ve taken my general awkwardness and weirdness on the road and am currently writing from the wilds of the Gulf Coast, where I’m blinding the populous with my Pennsylvania paleness.
The trip began as any decent road trip should: in the wilds of West Virginia. And it’s a fourteen hour drive with two children age 5 and under! Yay! The name of the game is who can hold their pee the longest–the preschooler is winning.
We broke the fourteen hour drive into two days and multiple stops because a) the kids don’t want to be in a car for fourteen hours and b) I don’t want to be in the car with whining people. Fair. We got lost in rural West Virginia trying to find a Civil War battlefield which was interesting. Thanks a lot, GPS unit. Then we rounded a corner and found a gas station advertising gas for $1.99 a gallon, which made me think, “Wow–we go looking for a battlefield and instead find the year 2001! Excellent!”
Eventually we did find the battlefield, Carnifex Ferry, where we were the only people at the park. Probably because the park was closed (technically the visitor’s center was closed, but, you know. It was still a wee bit strange) and it was raining. We’re a hearty, rowdy crew, so we got out of the car anyway. It was a small battlefield as battlefields go, with only around 7,000 on the field total and around 180 casualties. There was a Confederate soldier’s grave on the property. I spent like, twenty minutes staring down into a dark well, trying to take pictures because I’m weird and that’s how I roll. But we love you Rosecrans! They have a reenactment in 2015 and you should go.
As we wound our way through the humid South, my Pennsylvanian brothers and sisters were shoveling out from underneath snow because, hey, it’s Spring in Pennsylvania and nothing quite says spring like more snow and misery! We went to Tennessee, which was awesome, and I ate at a Taco Bell, which was also awesome. It was not awesome the next morning, but, you know. Sriracha.
Our next stop was Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The Hubs quizzed me on what Western Theater battles of the Civil War I could name and, excitingly, I picked this as one of them (I also scored bonus points by guessing Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Murfreesboro). Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, with around 35,000 casualties in a two-day fight. The field itself reminded me of Gettysburg, in a way, with a lazy, curving road running alongside open fields and woods. Rosecrans fought here, as did our friends Longstreet and Hood (I may have squealed when I saw a market to my hero John Bell Hood). According to what I learned, Chickamauga was second only to Gettysburg in number of casualties and was the greatest Union defeat in the Western Theater.
Some of the things that stuck most with me were the soldiers recollections of the battle, of men on the ground with their entrails piled up next to them, but still alive; of soldiers who had their jaws shot off–still attached to their face by the cheek–who were begging for water. Chickamauga is actually the Cherokee word for “river of death” something that became a reality for those two days in September 1863.
We were the world’s fastest tourists, though, since we still had a 6.5 hour drive to go to Mississippi. We literally jumped out the car and raced Older Child to monuments, snapped a picture, and raced him back to the car. We speed shopped in the gift shop, selfied at the speed of light, and followed the abbreviated (and free) cell phone tour instead of the regular audio tour. (Side note: the cell tour may have been the best invention ever. Awesome in so many ways. And, did I mention free?)
So, here we are. Day two? Day three? I have no idea. I just know that I’m writing beside the beach (mainly because I’m not a fan of sand in my crotch and prefer to be “at the beach”, not “on the beach.”) and that makes me happy.. Of course, after falling in love with Chickamauga, I now want to write about Chickamauga. I have no plot in mind. But I want to write about it.
And, in other but somewhat related news, my official Yankee-ness has been confirmed: The Hubs found a long, not mentioned member in my West Virginia family tree of a Union soldier named John, who served in the 15th West Virginia Infantry. He died at age 21 at Camp Chase, which is strange because Camp Chase was a Union POW camp. It was, however, used as an exchange point and sometimes, those exchanged Union soldiers died there before they went home. We’ve got absolutely nothing on him, other than that. I almost went blind reading the death records on microfilm , trying to find his name and cause of death. Nothing. So, for now, John is a mystery. More on this to come, as we’re going to write to the National Archives for more information and his military records.
Meanwhile, I’m here in the deep south, being pale and looking forward to what trouble I can get into when we go to New Orleans. So much to see! So much to do! And finally: Ship Island, damn it, because it’s about damn time.