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Perry Cuskey

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About Perry Cuskey

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  1. Shirley wicker wright

    1. Shirley

      Shirley

      My ancestors lived close enough to the fought battle of Shiloh, that they could hear the guns.

        

  2. (Note - this blog post delves into modern-day issues. Issues related to the Civil War, to be sure, but modern-day issues just the same. Which as many of you are probably aware, is an off-limits subject on the discussion board. The same rule does not apply to blogs however, so if you are a member of the board, wish to start up your own blog and talk about such things, you're welcome to do so. Just don't start advocating violence, or endorsing groups like the KKK, Neo-Nazis, Antifa, and the like. That will get your blog shut down, as it still resides on the SDG's site. Aside from that, you're free to express your views. And you are of course aware that you alone are responsible for your views.) Let me start here by making a few points: First, I'm a card-carrying Republican, and have been since 1980. Second, I firmly believe, beyond any doubt whatsoever, that slavery was the foundational cause of the Civil War. Third, had it been up to me, I would not have built Confederate monuments anywhere outside of battlefield parks. And fourth, I am not in favor of removing those Confederate monuments. More on that later. Going all Political I mention my political affiliation because I think people make a lot of assumptions based on such things, and I'm not sure I always fit those assumptions. For instance, it seems to me that a lot of people assume that if you're a Republican, that automatically means you think the war was about states' rights. And if you're a Democrat, you think the war was caused by slavery. Neither of those assumptions apply to me. I'm a Republican who believes, quite strongly, that the war was caused by slavery. (I agree that this is a simple answer to a complex issue. But it's also an accurate answer.) I also believe that the states' rights argument is and always has been a giant smokescreen to hide that fact. Does that mean that I don't believe in states' rights at all? No, of course not. (Hello? Republican? ) But states' rights wasn't the cause of the war. My being a Republican doesn't change that. (On a side note - I tend to think of myself as more of a classic liberal, although that's of little importance here. To be sure though, I am not, and never will be, a modern-day liberal. There is a difference.) As far as slavery causing the war, my belief there is based on a brutally simple idea - evidence, rising to the level of what I regard as irrefutable proof. That's why I say that slavery caused the war. Not because I necessarily want to, but because that's what the evidence points to with screaming clarity. Declaring the Cause What evidence? Well, there's a lot of it, but a good place to start might be the declarations of causes issued by four of the original seven seceding states, where they outlined the why behind the what. Secession took place in two rounds so to speak, with the first round occurring in response to Lincoln's election and prior to war breaking out. Tellingly, six of these seven states were in the Deep South, where slavery had its strongest grip, with over 48% of the total population being enslaved. (The outlier among these first seven states to leave was Texas. But as we'll see, they were not an outlier when it came to Deep South kinship.) Here's a link to an 1860 map from the Library of Congress, based on that year's census, showing the distribution of slaves in the South as a percentage of the total population: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3861e.cw0013200/ It's broken down by county. And here is a screenshot from that same site, below the map itself, showing the percentage breakdown by state: If the fact that almost half of the Deep South's population was enslaved is an eye-opener for you, you've got a lot of company. I think it's an eye-opener for everyone when they first learn about it. (In two of those states, as seen in the table above, the slave population was more than half of the total. The order in which these two states left the Union? First - South Carolina - and second - Mississippi.) And it speaks volumes as to why this region was the first to leave - all six states - in response to the first president in American history to be elected on an anti-slavery platform. This is not a coincidence. Which brings us to those documents explaining why they left. Here's a link where you can read through them, courtesy of the Civil War Trust: https://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/declaration-causes-seceding-states (Note - you can view these documents elsewhere online by doing a search, if you wish to compare them. Virginia's is included here, although they did not secede until after Lincoln's call for volunteers following Fort Sumter.) To be sure, there are defenses made for secession's legality. They wanted it clear that they believed they had the right to do what they were doing. But of interest here is the why behind it. Some key excerpts, starting with Mississippi: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world." South Carolina: "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that 'Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,' and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction." Georgia: "The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by [the North's] leaders and applauded by its followers." Texas: "In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color - a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States." Perception vs. Reality It's worth pointing out that some of these claims about the North championing racial equality are wide of the mark. There were certainly exceptions, especially among the abolitionists. By and large though, white northerners were lukewarm, at best, about racial equality, even though they were also mostly anti-slavery. (It was entirely possible at this time for someone to be both anti-slavery and anti-black. Which speaks to the complex nature of slavery and race-relations in 19th Century America.) But as often happens, perception (in the South) was more powerful than reality (in the North), and what drove them is what they believed. And it should be added that the South was indeed right about one thing - Lincoln's election pointed toward slavery's eventual, if not immediate, eradication. By 1860, words like "eventual" and "immediate" were distinctions without a difference. Collectively speaking, the South simply didn't care, or even believe, that Lincoln and the Republicans were not out to bring an immediate end to slavery in the South. The threat to the institution was real enough, to be sure. To southern leaders, that made it immediate, and that's all that mattered. Davis and Stephens More proof of slavery-as-the-cause can be found in the words of the men who became president and vice-president of the Confederacy. Here is an excerpt from future Confederate President Jefferson Davis's farewell address to the U.S. Senate on January 21st, 1861, following the secession of his home-state of Mississippi: "It has been a conviction of pressing necessity, it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us, which has brought Mississippi into her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races." He then goes on to explain how, in his view, the Declaration was never meant to do any such thing. We can argue back and forth about that if we wish, but the point here is that Davis is accusing the North in general, and Lincoln and the Republicans in particular, of wanting to bring about racial equality. And this - in Davis's own words - "made the basis of an attack upon [Mississippi's] social institutions." Translation: Mississippi wasn't going to sit idly by while the Republicans tried to impose racial equality on the country. Ending slavery and bringing about racial equality - this was the threat, perceived or real (it was a little of both), that Davis and the collective South were responding to. It represented a nightmare scenario for the South, and was a threat that was far too important to ignore. Here's a link to the entire speech, via the Papers of Jefferson Davis, at Rice University: https://jeffersondavis.rice.edu/archives/documents/jefferson-davis-farewell-address And then we come to Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens, and his infamous Cornerstone Speech in Savannah Georgia, on March 21st, 1861. Here is the key paragraph, which speaks entirely for itself: "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery - subordination to the superior race - is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth." Here's a link to the speech, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's web site, along with an excerpt from another, similar speech he gave the following month to the Virginia secession convention: https://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/amgov/stephens.html The Defining Difference Stephens in these two speeches hit upon the single most important difference between the United States and the Confederacy, and he did so knowingly and deliberately. It's a difference that cannot be emphasized strongly enough. And it comes down to this: In all of human history, there has only ever been one country - one - founded on an ideal. That country is the United States. And that ideal upon which it was founded is the ideal of freedom and equality. This bears repeating - there has never, before or since, been a country that came into existence based on the ideal of freedom and equality. The list includes one country and one country only – The United States. The emergence of this incredibly unique country was, quite literally, a world-changing moment. In looking at the Confederacy, we find a nascent country that was also founded on an ideal. But - as Alexander Stephens pointed out - with an all-important distinction. Whereas the United States was founded on the ideal of freedom and equality for all, the Confederacy was founded on the ideal of freedom and equality for some. This critical difference is exactly what Stephens meant when he said that the Confederacy was the first country in the history of the world based on the inequality of the races. What Stephens referred to as “this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” The exact opposite of the United States, in its ideal form, as the native southerner Stephens well understood. Human nature being what it is, the United States has clearly, and unsurprisingly, not always lived up to its lofty ideals. (Within the context of world history, the surprise is that the ideal was proclaimed as a nation's founding principle.) But it is far closer to them, in no small part because the foundation was already in place. The foundation on which the Confederacy was built, in contrast, allowed for no such evolution. As I said to a friend in a recent conversation on this same subject, the Confederacy could never have evolved into what the United States has become without a complete reversal of its fundamental reason for existence. (This is an argument that I've made before, and I'll continue to make it because I firmly believe it. It also speaks to why protests against the American flag are misdirected. The flag represents America's ideals, symbolizing why it came into existence. The ideals do not exist to protect the country. The country exists to protect the ideals. This matters.) The Monuments There is far more evidence then just what I've outlined here for slavery as the cause of the Civil War. I may cover some of it in future posts, but this entry is long enough already, so we'll leave it here for now. But the bottom line is this: the Confederacy came into existence because of a threat to the future of slavery. The record on this is not simply clear, it is starkly clear. Post-war and present-day arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. And there have been many. Slavery was the main strand in the social and economic fabric of the ante-bellum South, and to remove that strand would be to completely unravel the South itself. They viewed this as simply too much to risk. The irony is that by seceding and engaging in a long and bloody war, the end of that society came much faster and with more violence than what, almost certainly, would otherwise have been the case. So now you know why, had it been up to me, I would never have built any Confederate monuments aside from those in the various battlefield parks. I have no issue with, and in fact support, acknowledging and honoring the courage displayed by these men and their northern counterparts. As well as trying, however imperfectly, to understand what all of them endured in those hellish nightmares in places we now stroll across in silent wonder. But I would have raised no monuments to their leaders. To people who set out to ensure permanent, government-sanctioned inequality based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, or anything else. The Confederacy represented an attempt at such a thing. Thankfully it failed. Our role as students of history is to take the entire story and learn from it, so that we might better understand ourselves, where we come from as both a people and as individuals, and find a way to move ever closer to those ideals on which this country is based. Ideals that represent fundamental truths about humanity and life that transcend any border. It's a tough assignment. But that's why we drew it. Our Choice So if I'm against monuments to Confederate leaders, why did I also say that I'm against removing them? Because they're part of our history. We can learn from them. I would not have put them up, but since they are already there, use them in our quest to understand. Place them within the context of the times in which they were built. What do they tell us about those times? About those people? About ourselves? About human nature in general? They're silent stone and marble, and yet they can speak to us, and teach us. If we're willing to listen and to learn from them. Maybe we can't always agree on the lessons to be drawn. But the conversation has to start somewhere. So let it start with us. Perry
  3. It was the Old West that first called to me. Specifically, the Colorado Rockies, mountain men, ghost towns, and old abandoned silver mines. Most summers when I was a kid, my dad would take me on camping trips far up into the Rockies, and maybe that speaks to the why. Something about being there and seeing it, firsthand. In person. We'd go places that most tourists wouldn't see, including, I'm sure, more than a few places that we weren't supposed to go. You'd have to have known my dad. And we'd learn about the history. It was just part of the deal. You'd travel somewhere, take it all in, and learn about what once was, back in the long-ago time, and why it mattered. Sometimes you learned that maybe it didn't matter very much to the rest of the world. But it mattered somewhere. And it came to matter to you. Just because. I loved those trips. I loved those mountains, those silent ghost towns, those lonely, forgotten mines. Those stories. Something about it all made me feel as if I belonged there. It was part of me in a way I'm not sure I could ever describe, or explain. When I was about nine, my sister married a Tennessee man and moved to Chattanooga. So along with our camping trips out west, we also began taking trips back east. And I saw a different kind of history firsthand, in person. I looked down on Chattanooga from Point Park atop Lookout Mountain. Visited Chickamauga. Gazed upon Missionary Ridge. Learned the stories. Read the history. And I heard the Civil War calling to me. On the way back home to Oklahoma one time, we passed a sign along I-40 for someplace called Shiloh National Military Park. We'd never been there before, and Dad asked me if I'd like to go see it. He knew of course that I was getting interested in the war, and here was another war-related park. It was fifty miles out of the way, and maybe a lot of parents would have understandably passed. But, well, as I said, you'd have to have known my dad. He was a natural-born student. And a natural-born teacher. I have no idea what my problem was, but for whatever reason when he asked that question I just shrugged my shoulders, and said something about how I didn't really care. (It's funny how you remember certain things, and not others.) Maybe it was a loyalty thing. I was becoming attached to Chattanooga by that point, and all the history that went with it, and to visit some other war-related park almost seemed, well, wrong. Kind of like cheating or something. Or maybe I was just tired and cranky, and wanted to get home. You'd have to have known me as a kid. Whatever the case, Dad made the decision for us. “I think we'll go see it,” he said, and hit the turn-signal as the exit came up. And that's how, decades later, this web site that you're on right now came to be. Because my teacher/student dad took us fifty miles off the beaten-path to a place I didn't want to see, and that would come to have a profound impact on my life starting that same day. I didn't know much about Shiloh at that point, beyond what I'd learned in a general way from my limited Civil War reading. The main thing I knew was that it was a legendary battle from American history. What started to dawn on me on that long drive was that it also wasn't someplace that you just happened across. Clearly, if you wanted to go see Shiloh, you had to decide to go see it. Like a ghost town, or an old abandoned silver mine. This appealed to me. I've always been drawn to places that are kind of out-of-the-way. Probably because most people won't go see them. To me, that makes them unique. Shiloh is a place like that, and I first began to realize it on that long drive through the Tennessee countryside with my dad. The other thing I remember from that first visit is simply the experience of being there. Not the details really, but just the experience. The cannons, the markers, the monuments, the old wooden fences. I'd seen them at Lookout Mountain, and Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. I knew what they represented. But I didn't know about these cannons and markers and monuments and fences. I did not yet know the story of this incredibly transfixing park that felt so timeless. It was familiar ground that I'd never before seen. We always made a point to stop at Shiloh after that, going to or coming from Chattanooga. It remained off the beaten-path, but it was never out of the way. Late May of 1979 was the first time I visited the park on my own. Dad had passed away less than six months earlier, and I was heading out on my first trip alone after graduating high school. My first stop was Shiloh, at the end of an all-day drive in my 1974 Ford Mustang II. (A quart of oil every 100 miles kept it happy.) I got to the park a little before dark, and immediately drove to my favorite spot – Duncan Field. I still remember how hauntingly quiet it was that evening. I'd experienced that before – it's hard not to at Shiloh - but never alone. And never quite like this. I think it was probably then that I first dimly began to understand something that you simply have to experience to understand: That the battlefield parks actually speak to us. They don't use words. But they do indeed speak. Two things happened on a visit in 1983 that forever changed the way I viewed the battle of Shiloh, the war in general, and in some ways, even life. Those two things were a book, and a talk. The book was called, Shiloh: Bloody April, by historian Wiley Sword. As I later found out, it was the first full-scale book on the battle in around 60 years at the time of its release in the 1970's. Sword's book truly opened my eyes for the first time to the wider battle of Shiloh outside the Hornet's Nest. A process that continues to this day, and in some ways has come full-circle. He also introduced me to an obscure Union officer named Everett Peabody, and his long-overlooked role in helping to save Grant's army. The talk took place in Duncan Field, by a ranger who was about to give a demonstration on how to load and fire a Civil War musket. Before he did that however, he said he was going to give a little talk on what it was like to experience the battle of Shiloh. I doubt I will ever forget how I felt at that moment, before he gave his talk. Or how I felt a few minutes later, after he finished. Before he started, I stood there smugly thinking to myself, at 22 years of age, that I could probably not only give as good a talk on Shiloh as he could, but probably do better. By the time he finished, I had already started to seriously question if I knew anything at all about Shiloh, the war, or much of anything else. Without going into a lot of detail, I'll just say that he spent the next ten or twelve minutes painting a word-picture of the battle that I will never forget. I remember that talk and the impact it had on me as if it was yesterday. He put you there, in the middle of the battle, in a way that no one else had ever before done. He took the story and brought it alive. Gave it names and faces. Made it human. He waved away the decades and compelled you to look, and time quite simply stopped. For the first time, the reality of what Shiloh – and by extension, war itself - was actually like hit me with full force. It left me speechless, and feeling about an inch tall. It was the closest I think I've ever come to simply quitting the Civil War altogether. I'd spent over ten years reading about it and wandering across some of its most famous places, from Shiloh to Chickamauga to Gettysburg. I thought I knew about it. Only to learn, in ten minutes' time, that I didn't know the first damn thing about it at all. That feeling has never left me from that day to this. Not completely. When I visit Shiloh anymore, or any other battlefield park, there's a sense of something that's just beyond reach of my understanding. It doesn't stop me from trying to grasp it. But somehow, I'm aware that really and truly doing so is probably never going to happen. I'd like to say that I've come to terms with that, and in some ways I think I have. But not completely. There have been many more Shiloh moments since that memorable visit, each of which adds to and builds on what has come before. The reenactment in 1987, the first time I had ever attended such an event, and that left a lasting impression. The unusual fellow I met out in the park in the fall of 2000, looking to make a movie about the battle. The “footsteps” I heard approaching my tent late one night, in the campground just south of the park. Only to find upon going outside (when I finally got up the courage) that there was no one there. The picture I took in 2008 that finally helped me put words to something about the park that I'd felt for years but could never describe. The anniversary hikes. The April snow in 2007. The Epic Treks with Tim. The dinners at Hagy's. The sunrises and sunsets. The beautiful Tennessee River. The wind in the trees. The deafening, haunting, silence. In a very real sense, I've learned a great deal about life from that park, that battle, and the people that I've met along the way as a result. Some of those people have been gone since long before I was born. Others are still very much with us, and perhaps not always aware of the impact they've had, and continue to have. Sometimes people will thank me for this board, and while I do sincerely appreciate this, it also tends to catch me a little off guard. That might sound odd perhaps, but there it is. Maybe because to me, there's more to it. This site began in 2007, but it has a history that goes much farther back than that, and involves a great many more people than me. People that perhaps you've never met, and some of whom not even I have met. But they're part of this site and what it has accomplished, all the same. Simply put, if you've ever gotten anything useful at all from this web site, you can thank my dad. You can thank Wiley Sword. You can thank a ranger in Duncan Field who's name I'm ashamed to say I did not learn. You can thank people who died before we were born. You can thank people who's opinions you may not agree with. You can thank rangers who take time out of their day to explain things we try hard to understand. You can thank authors who spent time trying to make sense out of senseless insanity, and revealing the best and the worst of what it truly means to be human. Most of all though, the one who needs to say thank you is me. To all of you who are members here, and who have made this board what it is. In a sense, we're all on a journey, unique to each one of us, yet common to all of us. We can perhaps mark its beginning, but its end is not yet in sight. I have some truly wonderful memories that revolve around Shiloh, and some sad memories as well. It's a reflection of life in that way, and that campaign, that battle, that park, this web site, and all of you – all of us – are a part of that. Thank you for all of it. The good parts, the bad parts, the happy and sad parts. The learning, the striving, the arguing. The sharing. And the understanding. It matters that you're here and part of this journey. Never forget that. And never forget those who made the journey possible, and meaningful, to begin with. Perry
  4. I would like to make a posting regarding the 2017 Anniversary Hikes, but the category does not yet exist.  Can you create one, please (or tell me how to do so)?

    Professor Gentsch will be leading an all-day hike on April 7, comparing Shiloh and the First World War.

  5. I have a saying about the war that I sometimes use to poke my Eastern Theater friends: The East was a beast, but the best was out West! I like to use the same phrase about the NBA, mainly because it's fun. (Go Thunder!) But if you ever want to stir up a good war-based argument on something other than The Cause, try tossing out something about how the Eastern or Western theater was the "most important" theater of the war. Then sit back and watch the fun, and maybe join in just to keep the embers stirred up. I've been a card-carrying, flag-waving member of the Western Theater side of that debate pretty much since I started reading about the war. Which was....well, a long time back now. (The first book I ever read about it was The Golden Book of the Civil War, if that tells you anything.) My first personal exposure to the war was in Tennessee, at Chattanooga and the surrounding area. (Point Park on Lookout Mountain, along with the old "Confederama," is really where I got hooked on the war as a kid.) The next park I got to see in person was Shiloh. So you might say that I came into the War through the Western Theater door. (Okay, sorry for that one.) Given that, it's probably no surprise to hear me say that I think the Western Theater has tended, over time, to get the short end of the attention-span where the war is concerned. That seems to have changed some over the last couple of decades or so, but by and large I think the East still tends to get the most attention, along with top-billing as the "most important" theater of the war. What exactly does that mean anyway - most important theater of the war? Well for our purposes here, it simply means where the war was largely won and lost. You'll find plenty of people, including some historians, who will kill a large number of electrons to show why East or West should rate as the war's most important area. (Fans of the Trans-Mississippi - I feel your steady stare. Keep the faith, we're going to include you in this conversation, and it won't be merely as an afterthought.) I'm not going to lay out a long and complex case here for either side - mainly because I don't have the patience or the ability - but I am going to state my case for what I think the answer truly is. So stay tuned for the thrilling (unexpected?) conclusion! To start, we're going to choose two comparison points - the spring of 1861 on the one hand, and the spring of 1864 on the other. Specifically where 1864 is concerned, early May, prior to the start of the Overland Campaign in the East and the Atlanta Campaign in the West. Why those two points in time? Because of an incredibly stark difference that points us toward the answer to our "most important" question. The spring of 1861 in the East saw the two major armies squared off in northern Virginia, between the Union and Confederate capitals. Three years later, the spring of 1864 saw......the two major armies squared off in northern Virginia, between the Union and Confederate capitals. Between those two dates, tens of thousands of men had died, more still had been wounded or crippled, millions of dollars in property had been destroyed, and countless lives had been shattered. Some of the most famous people and places in American history came to out attention within those three horrific years. Over that span of time, the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War saw some of the bloodiest, most ghastly fighting anywhere on the North American Continent, since forever. (It was about to get even worse, but that's for another day.) And yet there in the spring of 1864 stood the two famous armies, for all practical purposes in the identical spots they had occupied in the spring of 1861. So much had changed. Yet so little had changed. What does this tell us about the fighting in the East? It tells us that the Confederacy was winning. To win the war, the Confederacy had to do one thing: Continue to exist. Do that long enough - make the North throw up their collective hands and say "enough," and the war, and independence, are won. Fail to do that, and they lose. Brutally simple reality. Keep the Union at bay. That's the goal. In the East - at enormous cost to both sides - that's exactly what they're doing. In fact, had the Eastern Theater been the entire Civil War, then we have a clear winner by the spring of 1864, and it isn't the North. So now it's time to pose a question: Given what we've just seen, why didn't the Confederacy win the war? More to the point, why didn't they have the war all but won by the spring of 1864? Lets take Horace Greely's advice, and go West for a possible answer. (See what I did there?) The Western Theater is night to the Eastern Theater's day. (Day to its night?) The spring of 1861 in this theater saw the northern frontier of the Confederacy up in Kentucky, stretching from the Mississippi River over to the Allegheny Mountains. Three years later in the spring of 1864, the Union had pushed and shoved its way through Kentucky and Tennessee as well as much of Mississippi and Louisiana, and stood poised with three armies on the doorstep of Georgia. Along the way they had taken control of three major rivers, captured forts and railroads, major cities and towns, and eliminated two entire enemy armies. Basically speaking, they beat the fool out of the South. As with the war in the East, it didn't come without a terrible price in lives, and a terrible price in property. The armies weren't as big in the West, for the most part, but the fighting was just as vicious. But the outcome over that same three-year span was not just different, it was vastly different. In the East the Confederacy was holding its own. In the West? They were getting their collective head handed to them. What does this tell us about the Western Theater? (Yes, I know - "Well duh!") It tells us that the North was winning. Time for another question! If the North was so incredibly successful in the Western Theater - and they undeniably were - why didn't they win the war before 1865??? Okay, you've probably figured out where I'm going with all this by now. But I'm going there anyway, because you can't quit in the middle of the story. Before we get there though, we have to say an important word about a forgotten area - the Trans-Mississippi. Pretty much everyone seems to neglect this area, at least when it comes to our 'most important' discussion. We scream and holler and blog about East and West, but forget about Trans-Miss. Did it matter in the big picture? ( "Well Duh!" fits here again.) Yes it did, but for what might be an ironic reason. What probably ranks as the war's most bitterly contested theater had something in common with the East - it was largely a stalemate for three years. Neither side really gained a major advantage, though both sides certainly tried. In the East, this virtual stalemate played to the South's advantage. But out here in the wilds beyond the Mississippi, military stalemate actually helped the North. How so? Had the Confederacy been able to make any serious headway west of the Mississippi, it would have forced the Union to divert troops and material to that area in order to deal with the threat. These forces would almost certainly have come from the Western Theater, thus robbing the Union of strength in that area at a vital point in time. Enough to alter the course of the war? That's forever an unknown. But the possibility most certainly exists. To be sure, there's no real way it could have hurt the South or helped the North. And here's the main point - it was a realistic possibility. The outcome in Trans-Mississippi was not a foregone conclusion, anymore than it was in the other two major theaters. Tip the balance one way or the other off the center-line, it will have important repercussions across the board, and especially in the Western Theater. So overlook the Trans-Miss at your own peril. Better yet, don't overlook it at all. It may not rank as the war's most important theater, but it may rank as the war's most important stalemate, given what happened elsewhere. Okay, so final question time - Which is the war's most important theater, East or West? Time's up! The answer, as I'll bet you've guessed (or at least guessed that I'm going to say) - is both of them. Does that seem like a cop-out on my part? Maybe, but I don't think it is myself. It's what the evidence points to, to me. And I say that as a still-card-carrying, flag-waving Western Theater advocate. But the evidence is what it is, so that's what I've got to go with. Change the outcome in either theater, it changes the war itself. That much seems clear to me. You simply can't ignore either theater. You can't. If the Union in the East matches its success in the West, the war probably won't ever see 1864 let alone 1865. And if the Confederacy can somehow manage to duplicate its Eastern results in the Western Theater, we're reading in our history books today about the South's victorious war for independence. (Before they broke up into several more countries, but that's a different hollering match. ) So there you have it, and we can all sleep better now, knowing the "most important" question finally has an answer - The Oklahoma Sooners. (Pardon? The most important college football team, of course! What did you think I meant???) Perry
  6. It rained during the afternoon. That's one of the things I remember from twenty years ago today. Dozens of us had been standing in line for several hours by that point, and the wait would end up being a few more hours yet. The small strip-mall where the blood donation center was located fortunately had a covered walkway. Those of us already underneath tried to scoot a little closer together so the ones further back might have a some cover. The line was already starting to stretch around the corner by the time I got there. It was far past that point by now. A few umbrellas appeared as if by magic, handed out by some unknown person. No one complained about the weather. Almost no one left, regardless of how long the wait was. Sometimes when someone did leave because they finally had to, they usually apologized to no one in particular, as if they had done something wrong. They hadn't. Everyone understood. We were all there for the same reason. My car was maybe twenty or thirty minutes from being finished when the blast occurred earlier that day. I was in the waiting room of a local tire shop, reading some magazine, not really paying attention to the nearby TV, or much of anything else. The shop was six miles away from the explosion. Three miles further out, my mother's house shook so hard she thought the windows might break. A few miles directly north of downtown, the floor of the building where my sister worked suddenly lifted up, and for a moment, everything was weightless. It was accompanied by a sound she'll likely never forget. She knew instantly that a bomb had gone off somewhere. There would later be reports that the explosion could be heard dozens of miles away, in every direction. I've wondered from time to time if I heard or felt the blast, but didn't realize it, sitting there in that waiting room, six miles to the east. A major Air Force base is located only a couple of miles directly south, and we were used to hearing jets scream by overhead, and the sound of engines roaring to life as they were tested over at the base. So used to such things in fact, that we tended to ignore them, or pay very little attention. If those of us in that little waiting room heard or felt anything, it did not register. I don't recall hearing or feeling anything at all. Sometime shortly after 9:00, a report suddenly came on the TV about some sort of major explosion in downtown Oklahoma City. They had no further word, but they would let us know when they did. I don't recall much else about that moment except feeling very uneasy. As further reports came in, I found myself more or less praying that it was a gas line explosion. Something, anything, other than what I began to fear more and more it might actually be. Each report was worse than the one before, and it didn't take long to understand that whatever had happened, it was very bad. Finally, the channel we were watching cut to their helicopter, circling overhead downtown. When the picture first appeared, there was nothing to see. Everything was completely obscured by smoke. The helicopter circled around to the north, looking back toward what appeared to be a building. Suddenly the smoke cleared away, and there it was. The only thing I remember feeling right then was stunned disbelief. And knowing instinctively that no gas line explosion had caused what I was looking at on that little television set above my head. The rain only lasted for a little while. The day had started out bright and sunny, with a high perhaps in the 60's. A typically gorgeous April day in Oklahoma. When the clouds began to clear that afternoon after the shower and the sun returned, the day turned gorgeous once again. I doubt anyone noticed. Typically when I would donate blood, my blood pressure would be on the high side. Not enough to prevent my donating, but often enough that whoever was taking it would comment that it was a little higher than it should be. I'd usually make a joke about being nervous about someone coming at me with a needle, or blaming them for having so many cute gals working there. On this particular day, after standing in line for some six hours following the most horrific thing ever to happen to my home town, my blood pressure was the lowest it had ever been when donating blood. I still can't explain that. For a few years, I was drawn to the bomb site and memorial on an almost weekly basis. The original memorial consisted of a simple chain-link fence on which people would leave mementos and personal messages. Often it would be nothing more than a small key-chain, or a hat, teddy bear, or whatever the person had happened to have on them at that moment. Something to leave behind as a way of saying they were there, and they cared. A few people, perhaps having nothing to leave, took small twigs lying on the ground nearby, fashioned them into tiny crosses, and left them against the fence. Part of the fence is still there, incorporated into the the final design of the memorial. The entire memorial is touching in a way you have to visit to really experience. Those who do visit still leave things on the fence. They were there. And they cared. At some point I'd had enough of hearing about the bombing and visiting the site, and went through a phase where I literally avoided going downtown, let alone to the memorial. Maybe it was part of my own personal healing process. I lost no one in the bombing. I know people who did. But I lost no one myself. It still affected me. I had dreams for several weeks after it happened, the details of which I don't remember. Only that they were bad. I eventually got past that phase, and anymore I'm okay with being downtown, and visiting the memorial. It's unspeakably beautiful at all times. At sunrise and sunset.....words don't do it justice. I still haven't been able to bring myself to visit the accompanying museum about the bombing and aftermath. That's the next step for me I suppose. It may happen very soon. It may happen never. What does any of this have to do with the Civil War? Not much I suppose. Except perhaps that going through traumatic experiences, painful though they are, sometimes inexpressibly so, teaches us about compassion, and caring, and empathy. In the worst way perhaps. But even the worst things can be turned into good things, if we're willing to do it. I've always felt a connection to the war, and the people who lived through it, in a way that I often find difficult to explain, even to myself. When I find myself standing on a silent battlefield, the words often don't come, and understanding quietly steps back just beyond reach. But the connection is there. It's real. And it's personal. It's the same way when I visit the memorial in Oklahoma City. I wasn't there twenty years ago today. But I'm connected to what happened. And to the painful, remarkably wonderful, recovery and re-birth of this city that followed. Earlier this afternoon, as I was thinking back on the events of 1995 and where I was that day, I heard thunder in the distance. A short time later, it rained for a little while before clearing off. The sun came back out, and it was another gorgeous April day in Oklahoma. We hold them in our hearts as we move forward. Perry
  7. Is it just me, or is the Shiloh anniversary coming up incredibly fast? Somehow I don't think it's just me.

    1. mugwump53

      mugwump53

      Sorry to be off-subject. This is John Cooper (mugwump53 from the old prodigy and suite 101 chat rooms) I am looking for a site to get back into civil war chats and boards again. Saw your name and knew I found a good one. Sorry I missed you by a few minutes. I'll be around.

      Mugsy

    2. Perry Cuskey

      Perry Cuskey

      John! Wow, talk about a blast from the past! Great to hear from you again. Glad you came across the board as well. I've never gotten it quite the way I'd like it, including having a more expansive web site to go along with the board. But the members are pretty good folks, and usually know their stuff. I learn more from them than they do from me, I'm sure. All in all it's pretty friendly and relaxed. You'll fit right in.

      We do have a chat room, but I hav...

  8. Just made my first-ever blog entry. Scratch another item off the bucket list!

  9. Okay, now that the new board is finally up and running, is it okay if I get some sleep? :)

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