I’m going to change the subject today as America’s Civil War has been on my mind. There are several reasons for this. It’s been 150 short years since April 12, 1861 marked the beginning of a particularly vile and costly war. The war ended the lives of 620,000 American soldiers, exceeding the nation’s loss in all other wars, from the Revolution against England through Vietnam. My family lost many of men to a lost cause, (one side of the family sent off 9 young men, and only 3 returned) but I am most familiar with two deaths, those of my two great-great grandfathers. Grandfather Shipman and Grandfather Jones were reluctant warriors. Neither man wanted to fight for a cause they did not believe in. Both wanted to stay home and raise their young families. It was interesting to me to discover that neither joined the Confederate Army until Alabama passed a law ruling that any able-bodied man not in uniform would be interned in prison. At that point, both joined the ranks of the Confederate Army. Grandfather Jones was 44 years old, a man with many children. Due to his age, he was assigned as a medic, dying of disease in a Tennessee Camp. His body was never returned to his family and we can find out little about his death. Grandfather Shipman was 31 years old when he joined, and 34 years old when he was killed by a sniper at Nashville, Tennessee. Grandfather Shipman had fought in nearly every major battle with the Army of Tennessee, the battle for Atlanta, the battles across northern Georgia and Alabama and Franklin, Tennessee, one of the most costly battles in the war. The Shipman family valued education, and Grandfather Shipman was a man who perferred quiet pursuits with books and letters. He left behind a pregnant young wife and young children, (Grandmother Eliza Shipman gave birth to a son, his namesake, two weeks after her husband was killed). My great-great grandfather’s body was never returned, although I have been to Tennesse twice on a quest to find his body so I could return his remains so that he could rest beside his loving wife. My great Grandmother was one of those orphaned children, a 6 year old girl, who lived until I was five years old. Her deathbed scene is one of my earliest and most vivid memories. My Aunt Margaret (who, along with my father and their brother, Claude) was raised by her grandmother after her own mother died at a young age) often remembers her grandmother remembering and telling details regarding the horror of those years, and how the family was devastated by the death of her father. Some of her most vivid memories were about food, albeit, the lack of food. Grandmother Eliza and her children nearly starved to death. Their lives were saved by one skinny cow they managed to save. The lone cow was milked daily, with the milk diluted by water. That diluted milk kept them alive for weeks after the war when no food was to be found.
I admit that I’ve been most interested in the lives of those who lived through, or died during, the civil war. However, a new book about the civil war is drawing attention to the lost architectural heritage lost to poverty and neglect. This very important book is titled: GONE: A Heartbreaking Story of The Civil War, A Photographic Plea for Preservation by Nell Dickerson, a photographer and architect. Since I’m from the south, I’m aware of all the old homes burned to the ground by the conquering Union Army. But I spent most of my time and energy reading about and researching the lives of Southerns who lived through that era. Therefore, I have never given enormous thought to the loss of the grand old homes or the modest cabins lost to the civil war. Yet every home had a story, and when viewing the startling beautiful photographs, those stories come alive.
Although my family endured the most devastating personal losses, and I would have given much for my family to have avoided the horror and the anguish of human loss, I must add to this blog that I am thankful the south lost the war. The cause of the war was wrong, and slavery will forever be a shame for our country, north and south. I cringe to think that slavery would have endured until technology made slavery too financially costly to slave owners.
Despite these feelings, I still mourn the loss of life, of my heritage, and, yes, of the grand old homes burned to the ground by our conquerors. Now, I have new knowledge through this book, information that makes it clear that much of our architectural heritage has been lost to neglect.
I believe that Dickerson’s book will become a collector’s item. If you have any interest in the civil war, in beautiful photographs, or in antebellum homesteads, or, if you are a person interested in the arts, then you’ll enjoy the journey. For me, the book is an emotionally charged feast.