Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Little Sightseeing

I spent all of last week in Richmond, VA, researching my master's thesis. While I did spend eight hours a day deep in the Library of Virginia's belly, I was able to carve out a few hours Sunday afternoon and an hour Saturday afternoon before my flight adventure I talked about yesterday.

I spent over an hour wandering through the Hollywood Cemetery. My mom instilled in me a love of cemeteries, and as I wander around, I wonder what stories the stones hide. Each was someone loved. Each was part of a family. Each has a story.

Guess that's why I'm a historian . . .

Jefferson Davis, only president of the Confederate States, is buried here. Look how beautiful this location is--overlooking the James River.
It was so beautiful that day. Look at that sky.
An entire section of the cemetery is dedicated to Civil War soldiers--18,000 of them in this cemetery alone. Much of the Civil War's fighting took place in Virginia, and the state experienced battle of some kind virtually every day for four years. It sobers me every time I think about it (and that's been much of the time lately, since my thesis centers around poetry published in Richmond's papers during the war).
If you ignore the slavery issue (and I know that's a pretty big elephant in the room), the Civil War was much more complicated and less clear cut than most Americans realize. And whether your family was blue or gray, your men still bled red and died far from home. Almost 700,000 of them, depending on which statistic you use. Think of the impact on society. On families. On politics. On the workforce. And for a few generations after as well. It boggles me.
I didn't understand the dates on this flag at first, but then I realized these flags posted on Confederate graves record the two dates Virginia "seceded"--the first from England, and the second from the US. I hadn't ever put the two dates as mirror images of each other. Southern mindset is so different from what I have always known, and I'm loving the opportunity my research affords me to learn more about it.
On Saturday, I wandered the Tredegar ironworks factory turned Civil War museum.
It has incredible artifacts that I've dreamed of seeing for much of my life, like this Sherman screw. From a distance, I thought it was a piece of machinery, but up close I realized it is a railroad rail. Sherman's troops would heat them until they were pliable, then wrap them around trees or posts so the South couldn't rebuild their railroads when the Union army left the area.
The museum must have the biggest (if not the biggest, then the most important pieces) collection of Robert E. Lee memorabilia anywhere. He probably rode Traveler to Appomattox Courthouse sitting on this saddle.
It's always surreal for me to walk where these figures of history walked. To sit where they sat. To ponder what momentous days and acts transpired on the spot where I now stand.

While I don't anticipate returning to Richmond (and there were many more sights to see, unfortunately), I left overwhelmed by the history of it all.

There is so much to see in this world. I'll never see everything I want to see . . . 

No comments:

Post a Comment