Chasing Smallwood .43. After the war – two versions

 

[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.]

(8 a.m.) I went to bed asking Joseph to give me his biography in a dream. Edgar Cayce pointed out years ago that dreams are the purest form of psychic experience – presumably because the common self does not infect the content with assumptions, wishes to be fulfilled, and an active interpreting mechanism ready to leap to conclusions and thereby distort the experience. So I spent a night that was – well, different! No dreams remembered, however. So let’s see.Any idea is a good idea. How do you know it won’t work ahead of time? But this assumes common sense, of course – for them in the studio audience, as you would say. Was it my idea as opposed to yours? That’s way too big a question for the moment because it means tearing down a lot of assumptions and building ‘em back up different, so let’s put that aside. Did it work? Well it didn’t work the way you had in mind, did it. But not many new things do. You might look at it this way – your asking for a dream giving you my life story translates out to your pushing your slide-switch all the way up. On your control panel you have got these switches for things in general, and for other lives you set it to 80% so you wouldn’t be overwhelmed. But you just set up a separate switch for me and pushed it as far as it would go. You see? It’s just a way of looking at it, but it does give the idea.It’s all around if you you’re open to it. Now let’s get the particulars out of the way, because you may have other things to do than talk to me all the time. I don’t mean getting tired of it, I mean you may find your life too full.And this ain’t going to come out clear either for lack of a way to say it, but some people will get it, if they hang on, and try. I died in ’67 and more than 125 years go by and there you are in 1994 and you connect with me back in ’63 and you fix up my back – and send me in a different direction because I have seen a vision and experienced a miracle – and I’m back – in that version of my life, you understand – better than ever. I was fit, and I was clear-headed, and I have been told by an angel that we was going to win someplace the name of which I couldn’t remember, but I did remember Grant and Lee, of course – especially when the next day we got the news that Grant had got Vicksburg!Writing this, I see I still can’t see where you went or what happened. It is as if I am being given a story that – until I am given it – I don’t have. That’s as it should be, I suppose – but why can’t I have the units that this version belonged to, and where it went?All right, well continue then with whatever you can pound through my thick head!  Thick head, thin skin, that’s my formula.There’s worse formulas. Here it is in a nutshell. You already know I spent that long winter of ’64 waiting. Of course, that is in this version. I didn’t try to clear that up before, and that’s that sort of fuzzy feel that had for you. In general when you’re reconstructing another life – yours, anybody’s, “past life” or somebody else’s life, don’t matter – some things are very solid and some ain’t. The things that are solid happened in the vast majority of versions of that person’s life. The things that seem a little tenuous, you might say – that sort of fade in and out, or you can’t get a real feel for them – they are more undecided. Abraham Lincoln is pretty nearly always going to give the Gettysburg Address and sign the Emancipation Proclamation, you know, because they are the point of what he lived for. But where he knocked about as a young man, and what he did in politics before a certain time, flickers, from here, because it went sometimes one way, sometimes another.Well, before we started in, but after Grant had come, I got moved west and got to be part of Sherman taking Atlanta, and then going down to the sea. This version wasn’t at Franklin, you see, that was the other – and now maybe you can see how it all depends on what you’re talking about, what kind of results you get – and why sometimes before you get it sorted out you get somebody in two different places at once! Well, one in one version, one in another, and there you are!That is why you had ought to get the story first and not try to sort it out too quick. It is a good thing – a very good thing – to check yourself and not believe the first thing you hear out of the air, so to speak. But it is important to do things in the right sequence. If you do all your checking before you know what it is you’re checking – where are you? You not only get confused, you choke off the story. So first get your story, and swallow the impossibilities and contradictions, and then try to make sense of it. If you skip the second step you wind up with what you call psychic’s disease. If you skip the first step though you got nothing to use your psychic’s disease on!

  • How to get the story
  • Well, the chronology. This main version, we chased up and down Virginia to not much effect the rest of ’63 – any history book will tell you – and we went into winter quarters and glad of it – it was one hell of  a lot better than the year before, when Burnside took us out to Fredericksburg in December and just wrecked the army. I don’t say a word against him, he was an honest man and a fair general usually but he wasn’t up to it and even though he had said he wasn’t up to it he gave it his best. Fair sickened him, it did – and should have; sickened the rest of us! But anyway, December ’63 we were in a whole lot better shape than the year before, and the rebs a whole lot worse. In this version of my life I knew we was going to win, and looking at the situation it didn’t seem to me that it had ought to take until ’65. I mean, we had the [Mississippi] river; we had Chattanooga, which meant Atlanta next; and Bobby Lee had been beat, and beat bad, at Gettysburg, the same as Burnside at Fredericksburg, the same way, sending men uphill against men dug in, and cannon! But, you know, there’s croaking crows in every camp, and the fires were full of brooding that winter. It had gone on so long!
  • Solid and tenuous versions of reality
  • You know the answer to that. You can’t, because it could be checked, and you don’t know if it would check out right, and so I can’t pound it through your thick head with a mallet. And I ain’t mad at you for it, and I don’t say you’re doing one thing wrong – you are what you are, and you got to take the bad with the good – but you want to know why, that is why.
  • So in that version I didn’t take the months to try to recover – because I was fine! And I didn’t go back to my family for half of ’63 and part of ’64, but I stayed with the army. Now, both halves of that being true, how were you to keep it straight? And how were you to be told?
  • Yes I survived the war, but you know different versions survived a different amount of time and in different places. Until you fixed up my back I got crippled up in Gettysburg, kind of limped through the rest of the war – was in the battle of Franklin but wasn’t much account, being too sick – and I went back to my family and died early in I think ’67. So that is one story I could tell you, and it would have been true, and it was true, and it is true – but it ain’t the whole story because you interjected a miracle, you see.
  • I see. Interesting thought. And I wake up to find that a friend has sent a photo of a flower called lady’s slipper—and it was yellow – and here all this time I had been wondering why they would name a child after a moccasin. A form of verification, that photo.
  • Joseph, was it a good idea, asking for you to send me information while I slept? And was it your idea? And – did it work? I don’t seem to know any more this morning but I notice that in these past few weeks I learn by writing it out; it isn’t like I knew ahead of time what I was going to write.
  • [Monday, February 27, 2006]

One thought on “Chasing Smallwood .43. After the war – two versions

  1. Re-watched Cold Mountain the other night, after reading this, and thought of Smallwood, walking in woods like those, seeing fighting, cold, wet and hungry. Thought about Inman, trying to recount what he’d seen, in the war and in his travels. I think Smallwood is amazing in how he has put it all together, alternate realities included, and gained meaning and a momentum from it. Thanks so much for sharing this story.

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