March 11, 2019


We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”  -George Washington

Here I am.  The South. The last ten days has been a breakneck tour of some of our most painful history.  Civil War. Civil Rights. Both seem to lack any real civility at all; and both, it would seem, are still being fought over in the hearts and minds of the people in this beautiful and damaged part of the country.  I saw many more Confederate flags flying proudly in Alabama than I did The Stars and Stripes. Meanwhile, protesters in Nashville are being arrested for demanding the removal of a bust of Nathan Bedford Forest from the state capitol.  Forest was a Confederate General in the Civil War, and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. His likeness and place-names are scattered throughout the southern states. Venerated by some and loathed by others.

The wounds here are very deep. The scars upon the land from battle are like the scars upon the psyche inherited by each successive generation.  And as with all things on this epic journey, there is the constant and ever-present contradictions waiting around each bend in the road. Shiloh sits peaceful and serene in the countryside.  Quiet and still and beautiful. The veil of time now shrouds the utter hell unleashed upon this place for two Spring days 157 years ago. The same can be said for Tupelo, for Vicksburg, and Stones River.  Chickamauga and Kennesaw now look more like urban parks, packed with joggers, dog walkers and bicyclists – all seemingly oblivious to the blood-soaked ground upon which they stand. They are crowded and chaotic and the meaning is lost.  

I’d like to think it matters.  That it is important to honor this history, to be reverent in these places of so much sacrifice and destruction.  But I am not sure it really does. Maybe the joggers are right. Maybe they have already come to terms with the past.  Maybe they have already derived the useful lessons and are simply moving forward – enjoying a sunny Sunday in a beautiful place and not internalizing the historical conflict here.  Not dwelling on it, reliving it, or renewing it for a new generation. Is that the lesson here? Wounds hurt. They leave scars. We absorb that experience – learn from it, and move forward.  Hopefully now well enough informed by our dearly bought experience that we dare not repeat out errors. Thank you, George, for the wisdom; I think that is good advice to dwell on for a while.

Parks visited since March 1st:

Fort Donnellson National Battlefield

Stones River National Battlefield

Shiloh National Military Park

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site

Tupelo National Battlefield

Natchez Trace Parkway

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Vicksburg National Military Park

Poverty Point National Monument

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Russell Cave National Monument

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

Freedom Riders National Monument

Andy Magee