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June 30, 2001  (Meriwether Lewis Campground, Hohenwald, Tenn.) < Previous News  |  Next News >

 

 

North and South

After 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 Infantry.  I'm probably the first person in my family to visit Corinth since Ransom marched through here 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 named Tommy 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 air-conditioning.

 

Saturday 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.   

       

Above left:  My bivouac in Corinth, Mississippi.  Air-conditioning, electrical outlets for my laptop, and a real bed... what a treat!  

Above center:  Downtown Corinth.

Above right:  My great-great-grandfather Ransom Myers, fought here in Corinth in 1862, just after the Battle of Shiloh.

 

Here's the 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.

 

  Left:  Tommy Lee, a true Southerner and local Civil War historian -- and my guide for the day.    

After the 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 friendly discussions 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.

 

By about 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.  

 

Around 6 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.

 

       

Above 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 Corinth.

Above 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.   

Above right:  During the Battle of Shiloh, hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers on both sides crawled here to "Bloody Pond."

       

Above left:  Cannon on the Shiloh Battlefield.

Above 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.

Above right:  Thanks, Tommy, for a great tour!

 

Meriwether's Last Evening

Being an 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.

 

Anyway, 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.

 

While 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.  

 

In 1809, 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.

 

Ever 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.

 

"His courage was undaunted, his firmness and perseverance yielded to nothing but impossibilities."

 

President Thomas Jefferson describing Meriwether Lewis.

 

       

Above left:  Here's a sunset at the Meriwether Lewis campground along the Natchez Trace Parkway in southern Tennessee.

Above center:   This is a replica of the Grinder's Inn.  Lewis had fought a lifelong battle with depression but lost the fight here.

Above 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.

Above center:  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. 

 

 

 

Next News

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

 

 

Previous News

June 29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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