Chasing Smallwood — .21. How to work your way backwards

Chasing Smallwood

[A book with four interlocking themes:

  • how to communicate with the dead;
  • the life of a 19th-century American;
  • the massive task facing us today, and
  • the physical world’s place in the scheme of things.]

.21. How to work your way backwards

After a long few weeks exploring various aspects of guidance, I felt ready to return to Joseph, resolved not to let the problems around verification prevent me from receiving the material.

[Saturday, January 28, 2006] 4:10 p.m.

– Joseph, I sure would like to hear your Civil War experiences, and if you will tell me I will listen and won’t try to correct you.

Well, that’s better. You take a lot on when you set out to follow someone else’s story, and don’t think I don’t know it. And for you who hates to be wrong and hates to mislead people, it’s a lot, and I know it.

You liked what I said about old Mr. A Lincoln, but if you stop a bit and think about it, there were plenty of facts within my opinions that might have been as wrong as anything. What we though of him might have anachronisms, you know. So it isn’t like you haven‘t been sailing into the wind all along, just that you didn’t quite see it.

I think it will be easier to tell it out of order and you maybe won’t get so fussed. I can hear you wondering where the story should go, what to make up if I don’t, so to speak! Just relax and let me make up a story.

You remember you had half a memory of living in those half-earth half-timber buildings you were told were called “red-outs” – redoubts? And you recall you got a full sense of the grim year 1864? And you were moved by the Battle of Chickamauga – that you always called Chick-a-MAWG-wa? You know that you were greatly drawn to Sherman and Grant (and Mr. Lincoln, of course) and a few others like old Slow-Trot Thomas? You had lively sympathy with Burnside and Hooker – kind of wished for his sake that Fighting Joe had been killed instead of stunned at Chancellorsville – and nothing but contempt for McClellan? And your mixed feelings for Ben Butler, who wasn’t much as a general but was pretty good as a politician? Don’t you suppose all that meant something? Gettysburg was dammed important, but so was Vicksburg – but you don’t have any more feeling for Vicksburg than 50 other occasions, and for Gettysburg, well, you know.

Do you have any feeling at all for the Indian fighting? For the border ruffian kind of skirmishing? For, say, the little skirmishes in New Mexico or the Indian Territory – Oklahoma? Nothing for the naval battles except a sort of abstract appreciation.

Now reel all this in and what interests you most?

Grant, early on, and Sherman, in the west in the war’s very early days. Not McClellan in West Virginia as it became, and not McClellan organizing the army except, again, as an abstract achievement. Not McDowell or the other innocents of the first part of the war, and not the Peninsular campaign except as occasion to seethe over a lost opportunity! – except you see how it was the will of providence that we not win the war without finally ending slavery.

So – Grant and Sharman in ’61 and early ’62. Then what?

Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in ’63. That is, the east, not the Mississippi Valley. Fredericksburg, but not Sharpsburg (Antietam Creek).

And then the long brutal spring and mostly summer of 1864.

Not all that much interest in the siege and the extension of encampments and fortifications – ever wondered why? Not much interest in the complicated actions in the Mississippi valley – I should say the intricate and frustrating and unglamorous and not very attractive actions – except Grant’s campaign (conceptually) to the east of Vicksburg, his relief of Chattanooga, then Sherman’s chess-match with Johnston and his hammering of Hood, and not the capture of Atlanta but Atlanta to the sea, and then back north. “Uncle Billy seems to have hit this river longways.”

So let’s you and me play a little game here. If I was only at the places interested you – and noplace else – would that draw us a route map, do you think?

Here’s how I make it. Grand and Sherman to Shiloh – though not either of them right off, but more like coming in in the middle of the story, like coming in on the night of the first day at Shiloh.

In the east at least for Fredericksburg which was December ’62, Chancellorsville, May of ’63, Gettysburg July ’63 and some undefined time, then the winter – the hard winter of ’64 and what might have been, maybe should have been, the last year of the war. Maybe almost was. But then no more connection with the east after a time, why is that? Then Franklin and after the capture of Atlanta a joyride through Georgia and the expectation of some hard fighting in South Carolina – which they couldn’t give us, damn them! – and up into North Carolina and the end.

Doesn’t that seem to hang together to you? If you’d do the research to see what units were where, when, you’d be a long way easier in your mind. But if you don’t mind treating all this as fiction we can get the story told anyway. I won’t be able to bring in the level of detail that would convince you – because your level of anxiety makes it sure that I won’t! So we’ll do it round the barn.

Well, that is great and I look forward to it. I can’t do it now – got to get ready to go out to supper – but this does offer promise. And what an interesting approach to it! Start with what is vivid to me and see if it structures itself!

Remember though, life ain’t as tidy as theory. One man, any small unit, could have all sorts of experiences they shouldn’t have got, in theory. Just like Chamberlain said in the book you just read, The Passing of the Armies, you saw how this and that unit wound up fighting with this and that other command in the head of battle. So it happens on a larger scale, too: People wound up here and then there for reasons they sure didn’t know much about!

By the way, you notice how you were very interested in Chamberlain’s description of the days after Appomattox? And you notice in the description of the Grand Review it was the second day – Sherman’s men – that interested you? And you notice your disappointment in Grant over Gouvernor Warren, and your predisposition to be of two minds about Sheridan – kind of a horse’s ass but a great fighter? All that is more clues for you. Fix your attitude and work backwards, figure out for yourself who was likely to have those feelings and why. There’s your key. Hit the gong and see if it rings true. Terrible metaphor, let’s try it again. If you hit it and you hear “clunk” it ain’t bell-metal. Enough for now, go get ready and I’ll see you when you can spare the time next.

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