I’m not really a Civil War buff in the way I think most people who are constantly reading about the Civil War are. I know about the things I know because they interest me, but I’m not curious about other parts. I talked my parents into driving to Shiloh on New Year’s Day and my dad was all “Now who was fighting what, where, and why?”
Fuck if I know, Dad. What interests me about Shiloh are the monuments. I feel like, when I’m there, looking at those monuments, that I’m seeing something of how the soldiers, in their later years, wanted to remember the battle, the anchors with which they felt tethered to that place. It’s so easy for me to imagine them standing in those spots, years later, sapling trees probably getting a foothold in the low areas, other landmarks changed or aged. And some of them are just walking, until they feel a snap and the landscape of their memories aligns with the landscape before them. Yes, put something here–this is where we stood. We looked that direction. The cannons were here. They pointed there.
Others probably came, but couldn’t bear to be there. Others couldn’t come but wished they’d had.
That’s what I care about–how memory and landscape interact.
I’ve been reading a lot more about the Civil War than I care to, just to make sure I have the right echoes in my piece. Yesterday, I was reading about the siege of Chattanooga and the one lone Yankee supply line that ran from Alabama north and crossed over Walden’s ridge and ran back down into Chattanooga and how the Confederates managed to stop a supply train and burn a bunch of wagons and slaughter hundreds of mules.
You’ll notice that the historical marker says they “captured” a bunch of mules.
Again, I find that part interesting. You won’t remember that you slaughtered hundreds of mules? You killed a bunch of men, too. Isn’t that worse? But somehow it’s not, is it? You figure the men chose to be there. The mules were just doing what they were told.
I get the impulse of “let’s tell a story about what we did that we can live with” but how do you ever grieve for what you’ve lost if you can’t give an accurate accounting of it?