We spent the weekend at the pool (and serving at Mass), and by last night the natives were just a little restless, so today became a road trip day.
As much of my life I have lived in or near Tennessee, one place I had never been was the Shiloh Battlefield Park. I have an excuse – well, two. Battlefields are not really my thing, and secondly, if you look at a map, you see that Shiloh is a bit out of the way – at least from the places I’ve lived and the regular driving routes that took me through and around the state – between Nashville and Knoxville, from Indiana to Knoxville, from Florida to Knoxville and back.
So today became the day to check it off the list.
We left a little after 8 and a bit before 11 rolled into Corinth, MS. Corinth was the actual reason and excuse for the Battle of Shiloh, being the major rail junction for the Confederacy’s hold in what they then called the West. The Confederates needed to hold on to it, and the Union wanted to break it down, a goal that seemed quite possible after two important victories in northern middle Tennessee in March, 1862.
Corinth had only existed since 1854, and now, just a few years later, it would be inundated with troops from both sides, troops alive, wounded and dead.
So that’s where we began.
The NPS runs an excellent Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth. The museum part is superior to what we saw at Shiloh, the 18-minute film on the role of Corinth in the war is excellent, fair and moving, and there are design features of the facility that deepen the experience.
The path from the parking lot to the Center features sculpted remnants of battle strewn about on the ground and embedded in the sidewalk.
The fountain feature behind the center is quite striking. You can read more about it here. It’s a good visual representation of the course of American history from the formulation of the ideals in the Declaration and the Constitution through the Civil War.
One of the most interesting things I learned concerned the Corinth Contraband Camp. After the victory at Shiloh, the Union eventually moved south and took Corinth. During the months of occupation, area slaves began to move into what was now Union territory, hoping for eventual permanent freedom. Many of the men joined the Union army, and those that didn’t, along with the families of those who did, lived and worked in Corinth. They formed a community, were paid for their labors for the first time, had a church and schools. Abolitionists and Protestant missionaries arrived from the North to minister to them. When the Union pulled out in 1863, most of the inhabitants of the camp followed them to Memphis.
We spent about an hour at the Center, then ate lunch at Borroum’s Drug Store – the oldest in Mississippi. My younger son declared the hamburger to be the second best he’d ever eaten. (First? Nope, not mine. Five Guys.) It was a fun experience, but if you go…they don’t take credit cards, only cash or checks. Luckily I had my checkbook!
The park on the site of the Contraband Camp was a bit east of downtown, so we made a quick stop there – it is just open land with various statues scattered about – and then set off for Shiloh. It’s a bit more than twenty miles north, but the drive takes about 35 minutes.
Historical markers begin to appear far before the park boundaries because, of course, the battles raged and troops moved all along the land between Corinth and what we now call Shiloh. (Named for a Methodist meeting house in the area of the battle)
We arrived and decided to go ahead and watch the film, even though at first I said we’d only watch part of it – it was 45 minutes. But, well..it was so well done and so riveting, no one moved, and after one of my sons declared that it had not seemed to last that long at all. Perhaps some of you have seen similar films at other NPS-run battleground sites and they are all equally good. I don’t know. But I was impressed, not only with the professional quality, but with the smooth integration of explanation of tactics and movement along with personal narratives. I always, of course, have my eye out for the treatment of religion and while of course it was not central, it did enter the picture as soldiers were depicted praying, reading the Bible and singing a hymn.
Now, if you are not deeply into the history of a particular battle, the question arises…what now? The battlefield is huge, markers delineating troop position and movement are everywhere and obviously if you are into that, it’s a day-long excursion or more and you’re ecstatic. But if you can’t get interested in what the Indiana 30th did at 10 AM on April 6th…what next?
Well, we hit the high points. We drove to Pittsburgh Landing, then circled around to some of the high points on the driving tour, and happened upon another Ranger talk near the site of where Johnston – the CSA commanding officer – was killed during the battle. The Ranger was animated, clear in his descriptions and picked just the right anecdotes to keep everyone interested in the aspect of the battle he was describing – not as memorable as our favorite, Ranger Jake from the Grand Canyon, but a not-distant second.
So we listened to that, got back into the car, drove around to some more of the major landmarks..and well, that was it for us. Even though we’re not interested in a lot of detail, the experience of being on the battlefield, the landscape of which remains much the same as it was 150 years ago, internalizing the struggle, sacrifice and carnage and comparing it with the peaceful scene of the present, is important. The ranger emphasized the history of the battlefield park: that it had been veterans from both sides of the conflict who had spearheaded the effort at the end of the 19th century, veterans who wanted to send a message to future generations: let this not happen again.
As I’ve said before, I am a major fan of federal and state parks and historical sites, and so grateful to the enthusiasts whose energy, knowledge and commitment is so evident in the quality of every one that I’ve ever visited. If you’re in the area, do visit Shiloh, but I would definitely incorporate Corinth into the visit as well.
As I’d quickly “planned” the day, I’d noted a Tennessee state park near Corinth – Pickwick Dam. It advertised “swimming.” Oh, what a fabulous way to wrap up the day, I thought – some time in the water! Nice try. We drove down that way (it’s on the way back to Alabama) and found that both swimming areas were very, very circumscribed. A small beach with a roped-in area on the water that was nice and safe for all the five-year olds, but uninteresting to anyone older. So we passed, but did drive across to the other side to take a look at the dam and its workings.
By that time it was almost five, but with a few hours of daylight left, I thought we might try to hit another state park, this one in Mississippi. It would take us a bit out of the way, but we were in no hurry to return. I thought this park would be a good choice for an hour or so stop because it had an interesting CCC construction and a trail with rock outcroppings – always popular with Someone in our group.
We took a ten minute detour on the way south through fabulous Iuka, home of mineral waters that won first place! In the 1904 World’s Fair!
Well, that wasn’t very exciting. But we’re spoiled. It’s hard to top our 1904 World’s Fair contribution. Sorry, Iuka!
But yes, we did …drink to our health.
We got to Tishomingo State Park a little before six, drove to the CCC-constructed swinging bridge, crossed it and walked much of the Outcropping Trail.
I’ll shove this into the Roadschooling category, so let’s recount some of what was discussed: General Civil War history. Corinth and Shiloh in particular, before (I’d studied up on it last night), during and after the visits. What “contraband” means. What a slugburger is. The role of Catholic clergy and especially sisters in ministering to the wounded of Shiloh and Corinth – details here (again, I’d read up on it last night). Remembering Hoover Dam. Talking about National Parks, especially Zion, Grand Canyon and Bryce. Someone really wants to go to Arches. How people with perhaps 8th grade educations – the non-officer “ordinary” soldiers and citizens whose words were used in the films we saw – wrote so beautifully, and what that means in regard to our definition of “education.” Lew Wallace, the author of the novel Ben-Hur, the movie of which we watched a couple of months ago, was a Union general at Shiloh. John Wesley Powell, about whom we talked a lot last year for his role in exploring the Grand Canyon, lost an arm in the Battle of Shiloh. Connections, always connections. The Sixth Sense (we watched it last night). How some people hate all football teams from Mississippi and Alabama. Why World Fairs were a thing. The TVA. Elvis.
Back home by 9:15. Not bad for 11 hours.
A couple more pool days..then Charleston bound.
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