Friday, May 30, 2014

What Are They Thinking?

Most places we park our home on wheels, almost everyone understands basic campground etiquette: Don't walk through someone else's site. About the only people we see doing that are children. But it seems the tourists here in Nashville, at least those in Two Rivers Campground, never got the message. Maybe they don't RV very often. I'll bet they don't walk through strangers' yards back home, wherever that is.

This morning, in the matter of about 30 minutes, one couple with two dogs walked through our little piece of green grass, looking for the dog walk. Another man walked through on his way to the restroom and back. Then two couples passed through with items they had purchased at the RV dealer next door.

What bugs me most is that these people are too lazy to walk to the end of the row and back up another road. Instead, they cut through where they don't belong.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Civil War -- Shiloh

One of the major battles of the American Civil War was fought April 6 and 7, 1862, along the Tennessee River and around the Shiloh Methodist Church. Today we visited the Shiloh National Military Park. More than 23,000 casualties were suffered by both sides, with 3,482 dead. The battle was the single largest one fought on US soil up to that time and signaled the change in fortunes for the Confederate Army. It was the first large Union victory. When we visit a national park, we almost always watch their introductory video first.  The Shiloh movie, Shiloh, Fiery Trial is 45 minutes and worth it. It provides a wonderful overview of the battle and the people involved. If you go to the park, don't miss it.

There is no way I can explain the battle to you. You can learn more about it online. But if you have never visited a Civil War battlefield park, I can give you a feel for what there is to see.

The National Cemetery, where most of the Union dead were buried, is right behind the Visitor Center.

If you click on the photo below, you can see that some graves are marked with the soldier's name but many have only a square stone with a number. Those bodies were unidentified.

Every Civil War battlefield we have visited is dotted with numerous monuments, many funded and placed by friends and veterans' groups from the states that sent soldiers to fight. Other monuments, like the ones below, are for field officers and their commands. This one names Brig. Gen. W. H. L Wallace, commander of the 2nd Division of the (Union) Army of the Tennessee.

This one honors Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of the (Confederate) Army of the Mississippi. He was killed during the battle. To this day, he is the only American general killed in battle.

Numerous monuments commemorate the troops from various states that fought and died. Below are ones from Arkansas and Illinois.

Confederate soldiers killed during the battle were not buried in the National Cemetery. After the battle ended, they were buried by Union soliders in several mass graves, like this one.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised the funds for this beautiful monument honoring all the confederate soldiers who died in the battle.

The wooden Shiloh Methodist Church was at the center of the battle, used to house the wounded and as Confederate headquarters for a time. This building is a carefully reconstructed reproduction of the original church, using local 150-year-old hand-sawed timbers.

The cemetery at the church, which was established in 1851, is still in use today. It feels strange to see the battlefield signs describing troop placement located among the gravestones.

There must be many surviving canons from the Civil War period. They are placed at numerous location on the battlefield to indicate where artillery batteries were located.

The battlefield was also a good place to listen to birds. If I could identify birds by their songs, I could tell you what we heard. We did see a large American Bald Eagle nest. One eagle was perched nearby and the other parent is feeding the young in the nest. I was told that bird had just flown in with a catfish.

We are parked at the Parkers Crossroads RV Park, about 50 miles from Shiloh. Almost no part of Tennesse was spared from fighting during the Civil War and the visitor center for the Parker's Crossroads battlefield is less than a mile from the campground.

In the Visitor's Center, we learned about General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry officer who caused untold problems for the Union. He won here and escaped across the nearby Tennessee.

We walked a path through part of the battlefield.

And found yet another canon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Heavy Stuff

Who would have thought an ordinary house like this could house so much disturbing information about the institution of slavery?

On Memorial Day we returned to Memphis to visit Slave Haven.

The tour leader/interpreter was very articulate, informed and interesting. We learned about how slaves were kidnapped in Africa, the conditions on the slave boats coming to America, the sale of slaves and their life as slaves. We also learned that the Amistad was not the only slave ship where the cargo mutinied. (The mutiny on the Amistad was portrayed in a book and a movie.) In fact, we were told that about 300 slave ships faced such mutinies. Slaves also frequently tried to escape from their masters in this country.

Memphis was a major slave trading city before the Civil War. And because it was located on the Mississippi River, many slaves escaping their captors passed through the city on their way to freedom. This house, built by German immigrant Jacob Burkle, was a way station on the Underground Railroad, the hidden or secret network of people and places where escaped slaves could get help on their way north to free states or Canada. After passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which said escaped slaves could be seized, even in northern states where slavery was outlawed, and returned to their owners. So most escaping slaves headed to Canada.

No photos were allowed in the home, but we saw copies of ads to buy slaves and ads seeking runaway slaves. We saw where the people escaping would be sheltered in the basement or attic until a boat was available on the river to take them north. We also learned about the secret way slaves communicated--both through their singing and through quilts. If you are interested in the use of quilts to send messages, you might want to read Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard.

Last week, as we drove from Little Rock, AR, to the Corps of Engineers campground where we spent several days, we saw the devastation caused by the April 4 tornado that passed through that area. It really makes you respect the danger of such storms. Hopefully, we will never experience one, ouselves.

If all this isn't enough serious issues, now we are going to spend some time in Civil War battlefields.

Monday, May 26, 2014


We've been exploring some pretty serious stuff recently, so Sunday we went to downtown Memphis to just relax and see the sights. We enjoyed the time. As we walked down main street, we saw lots of pretty and interesting things, like this alley or courtyard.

Many signs were interesting or colorful, like this one for a New Orleans restaurant.

How about this sign on a store that sold exercise balls?

How do you write with this pencil?

We walked to Court Square, a little oasis in the middle of downtown that reminded us a little to Savannah, Georgia.

There was a nice fountain in the center.

We saw a number of city dwellers taking their daily run on downtown sidewalks and one man was laying on the lawn in the square, doing his exercises.

The Main Street Trolley ran on tracks in the middle of the street. There were many different kinds and colors of trollies. You can click on the collage to see them better.

On the way from Main Street to Beale Street, we saw The King, Elvis himself--or at least a good statue of him.

Memphis calls itself the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock and roll. Beale street is where much of that music was developed. It is quite an experience, even late Sunday morning. There are lots neon signs and memorabilia of the 1950s and 1960s.

How about a toilet seat with a pink Cadillac  on the cover?

Or a Chevy Bel Air pink and white convertible?

Memphis barbeque is all about pork. The Pig is a Beale Street restaurant and they have won lots of BBQ contests.

We walked a couple of blocks along Beale to the Mississippi River, where John got ready to beat his feet in the Mississippi mud.

We even went bird watching in Memphis---indoors! We went to see the Peabody ducks.

And we weren't the only people watching.

The ducks spend their day in the beautiful lobby of the grand old Peabody Hotel.

To learn more about the ducks, click on Peabody Ducks.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Civil Rights

We think it has been 18 years since we were in Memphis and visited the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in 1968. We returned today to what is now called the National Civil Rights Museum.

The sign out front is still the same.

The wreath has changed, but the door to room 306 looks the same. Dr. King was standing in front of that room when he was shot.

James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot from the window of the boarding house across the street, the window with the blue curtain.

The motel and the boarding house have not changed. But in 2013 and 2014 the museum had a $27.5 million expansion that explores the history of slavery and the American civil rights struggle from the days of slavery to the present. In front of the Lorraine Motel, there are sound stations with short videos from the day King was killed.

Across the street, there is another museum in the boarding house building. This quote from a speech Dr. King gave in Memphis the day before he was shot. He had come to town to support the sanitation workers' strike.

Beyond the assassination, the museum has an exhibit on A Culture of Resistance, tracing the history of slavery in America from 1619 to 1861. Here are some statistics on that period.

There was information about the conditions on ships that brought Africans to this country to be sold into slavery.

This is a statue showing a slave auction.

Much of the museum deals with ideas and statistics, like this about people as property.

There was a great deal of information about the major industries that used slave labor, cotton, tobacco, sugar and rice. The number of slaves grew to an astonishing number by the beginning of the Civil War.

There was quite a focus on the contrast between the beliefs expressed in the Declaration of Independence--all men are created equal--and the reality at that time and in the decades following.

That helped me to understand the meaning behind the signs carried during the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, proclaiming "I Am a Man."

Videos taken during the strike are shown on the side of an old garbage truck.

Other exhibits covered Standing Up by Sitting Down, The Year They Walked and We Are Prepared to Die. I remember the lunch counter sit-in at Woolworth's that led to the end of segregated lunch counters. I remember the Birmingham Bus Boycott, set off when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus for a white woman. Walking into a bus (the bus?) and sitting behind Rosa Parks or listening to the driver demanding she give up her seat is very moving.

I don't remember the events shown in We Are Prepared to Die. At one point, a Greyhound bus carrying blacks and whites across country, was attacked and burned.

Museum that portray events I have lived through are very interesting. We learned a lot today, though I wouldn't say we had a good time. They museum has so much information, we couldn't take it all in. We never even went into the section across the street. To really study all that is presented, we would have to return for at least one more visit, maybe two.

We are getting older. It is our generation and the baby boomers that fueled the civil rights movement. This museum is important so younger people can learn and remember what helped create the society we live in today. The struggles of the past, whether it is the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II or civil rights, must be remembered.

I remember James Meredith being admitted to the University of Mississippi and the desegregation of Little Rock High School. These events were shown on TV as I was growing up. But I don't remember many of the details of these struggles. The museum had pictures and videos from so many things that were part of the struggle to end Jim Crow laws in this country during the 1950s and 1960s. It took hard work to change our society.

After leaving the museum, we were hungry, so we walked a couple of blocks to the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis's oldest cafe.

We enjoyed our taco salad.