HERITAGE, HATE AND THE LIBERTY PLACE OBELISK

I’m not sure where I stand on the removal of monuments celebrating the “Lost Cause” mentality of the War for Southern Independence…well I guess I am sure. People have pontificated about the removal of monuments as being paramount to removing history itself. I doubt it. Jefferson Davis is still going to be the only president, ever, of the former Confederacy, Robert E. Lee, it’s most noted general and P. G. T. Beauregard, the commander of Confederate forces who first fired upon Fort Sumter, regardless of what monuments are removed. Southern history will remain, including Southern history contained within the pesky primary documents written prior to 1866. I view the dismantling of later memorials as removing the CELEBRATION of certain histories not removing the history itself. I view the Liberty Place obelisk, recently dismantled and removed from Iberville Street in New Orleans, as one of those monuments which should be hidden from sight…except for those who WISH to see it in a museum somewhere…and yes it should be treated with the respect it deserves.

We Southerners WILL continue to wage war defending our heritage, but the monument celebrating “The Battle of Liberty Place” had LITTLE to do with our late great, great grands attempting to stem the tide of a Federal invasion in 1861. Rather, the obelisk had everything to do with the memorialization of white supremacist attempting to disenfranchise one group and re-establish a government run by and for whites just before the end of Reconstruction. The original inscription, added by the City of New Orleans in 1932, leaves little confusion as to why the 1874 battle was fought. An all-white militia, made up of members of the Crescent City White League, fought a pitched battle against racially diverse metropolitan police for control of the city of New Orleans. The inscription stated, before being covered later, the battle was fought for the “overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers” and that “the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.” No confusion at all.

With the Compromise of 1877, Reconstruction ended and Federal troops marched out of Southern states leaving the Redeemers to usher in constitutional changes reflecting their beliefs; disenfranchisement, Jim Crow and placing whites back on the top of the pyramidal pecking order. It was not only true in Louisiana but true in most, if not all, Southern states after President Hayes ended Reconstruction as part of a backroom political deal even modern Americans should be familiar with. This is a part of OUR Southern heritage and it too should not be erased…or ignored.

MY DIFFICULTY with monuments which praise of our Confederate forefathers, including the Battle Flag, has much to do with the other side of the coin. If we embrace our heritage, do we not have to recognize the other side of the argument? I read posts from many ardent supporters of Southern heritage espousing the “need for some people to just move on.” Isn’t “moving some people along”, while wrapping ourselves in the Confederate Battle Flag and lamenting the removal of memorials such as the obelisk, a bit hypocritical? Shouldn’t we just come out and say, “Our glorious heritage is MUCH more important than the pain YOUR forefathers experienced?” If we are going to own one side of the coin, do we not own the other?

For more of Don Miller’s writings please visit https://goo.gl/pL9bpP on Amazon.

IN PRAISE OF DIVERSITY

I thought I would avoid this question but I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” Why are some of “white” America so “butt hurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?” In a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others you can take the time to look up…including Irish-American Heritage Month in March. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months which don’t begin with F.” Well, there are those two months teachers are NOT on vacation.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught and if any of the research I have done is to be believed. Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist and the Cold War. That makes five. Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a European point of view. Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by European America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking I taught ALL HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on Black history. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS. Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to only two aspects of African-American lives and American history, slavery and Civil Rights. Decidedly important aspects but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes there little about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artist, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, business people, soldiers, etc. As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction and a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic! As a young adult, I was looking for more of his books and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia. Who knew and it didn’t matter. Just like celebrating Black History Month shouldn’t matter to those railing against it. It should be a positive educational experience.

Three of my last four years teaching were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity. It also reminds me of a paragraph I wrote in a story about a former student. “Today I look at diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterwards. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize I am a social liberal and make no excuses. I believe the rights someone else is given doesn’t take my rights away from me despite what I might think, including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in. Who knows? This old dog might just learn a new trick or twenty.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

SHANTIES

This past spring, on a trip to the coast, my wife and I decided to forgo the speed and ease of interstate travel for the interest factor of backroad pig trails. Despite the black water rivers and swamps cutting the land, vast fields and pastures seemed to overtake the two-lane road. Where there were homes, yards were at a minimum…except where pecan tree lined drives led to two story homes featuring circular drives, wrap around porches and columns. Mostly of the homes peaking my interest were small, broken down and square, four room homes dating from share cropping days or possibly earlier. The shanties sat on small square parcels of land and would be surrounded by towering corn stalks, tobacco or cotton by late summer. Known for rice and indigo during our colonial period and cotton during antebellum times, I guess land was too precious to allow for large plots of land to be used for recreational purposes…especially when there was little time for recreation. “Early thirty to dark thirty” days would soon be upon the farm workers of this coastal city and the surrounding area just as it had been decades ago…or may be centuries.

As I drove through the land I imagined poor whites and poorer blacks inhabiting the old share cropper’s shanties, battling each other for a life as “casual” farm laborers, having given up on the pursuit of jobs in the city. An elderly black woman stepped out of one of the tar paper houses, its broken-down front porch resembling the sway back of an overused plow horse. She was dressed as her ancestors dressed, a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her head and a long-sleeved print dress above what appeared to be bare feet. As I breezed past I almost asked out loud, “I wonder what tales she could tell?” While the journey was interesting, I became somber and introspective.

Tar paper and graying, slab wood shacks occasionally dotted the landscape around my childhood home. There was an abandoned and overgrown shack next to my house used as a clubhouse of sorts by my best friends and me. The younger me never thought about what it or these other broken-down homes represented. Our clubhouse was just a place to discuss girls, sneak smokes and talk about whatever preteens talk about…until our parents found out. I didn’t understand share cropping, tenant farming or farming on the lien back then. People bound to the land living from harvest season to harvest season, praying to pay off their crop lien or having a large enough share to put a bit of money away for the future. Hoping to buy a small piece of heaven of their own.

A friend of color told me of an ancestor of his born into slavery. Working as a tenant farmer on the same expanse of land he had toiled on before his own day of jubilee. Scrimping and saving until he could buy his own parcel of land. Clearing the land with his four children and wife, milling his own lumber and building his own four room palace. I’m positive he felt it was a palace. Filling it with hope and joy, twelve kids worth, growing his own work force and I hope expanding his little piece of heaven. There must be a tribute of some sort, especially when one considers the road blocks thrown in front of former slaves. Perseverance, persistence and a lot of patience I would suggest paid off in the long run.

As I’ve written before, my grandparents began their married life as farmers on the lien but they had several safety nets; family, the textile mills and they were white. Their dream included sixty acres and putting a child through college. Maybe there is hope instead of sorrow and the American Dream still exists. Hard work may in fact pay off.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

TRANSITION OF POWER

This is the day that power is transferred from one President to another, something which has taken place since George Washington turned the keys to the office over to John Adams in 1797. Interestingly, inaugurations were held on March 4 during those days rather than January 20…well maybe not that interestingly. I pray that despite all the indications to the contrary, this too will be a peaceful transition of power.

The first election and inauguration I remember was in 1956 and I remember it well because of my grandmother’s interest and concern. My grandmother was a Republican and seemed to be quite worried that a mid-western Democrat might somehow steal the election from the incumbent Republican. With 2017 twenty-twenty hindsight, I wonder why she was a republican, living in the South in 1956. At the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to be a member of the party of Lincoln in the South, or on this day sixty-one years ago, the party of Eisenhower. With 2017 hindsight, I doubt Lincoln, Eisenhower or my grandmother would even recognize the Republican Party of today.

She had great regard for Dwight Eisenhower, a well-deserved regard I would guess. Most of the people had high regard for Eisenhower because he defeated Adlai Stevenson quite handily…twice, after having defeating the Nazis, once, during old WW II. The anomaly of course was a South that normally voted Democrat during those days and this year it did again. The only break in rank was Texas and Louisiana. South Carolina’s eight electoral votes went to Stevenson who captured seventy-three total electoral votes, most from the deep South. Eisenhower garnered four hundred and fifty-seven. That Mr. Trump is a landslide.

I have snatches of memories from those early years, one IS the Election of 1956. During those days, my little brother and I stayed with my grandparents at night because of my parent’s shift work at Springs. My grandmother’s bed in one corner of the bedroom, mine in the other and my little brother’s crib in between. On the opposite side of the room from our beds was a woodstove, allowed to die during the winter night and then resurrected in the morning. This night the old RCA radio had been added, pushed in next to my grandmother’s bed. This so my grandmother could keep up with the election results during the pre-computer days of hand counted ballots and a media that didn’t include internet or satellites.

The election process and its “the peaceful transition of power” were a big deal for my grandmother. She had participated in the very first election that allowed women to vote in 1922 and would continue to exercise her hard won right until she died in 1999.

I can’t help but wonder what she would think of “the peaceful transfer” in 2017. I have an idea she would be stoic…suffering in silence as she did when a Yankee, Roman Catholic, Democrat won in 1960. She was always big on being stoic…”it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt” unless my brother or I screwed up, then she wasn’t too stoic and we would find ourselves doing the suffering, not her. My guess is she would have said “this too shall pass” which is the philosophy I shall take. I’m just not sure about keeping my mouth shut.

For more of Don Miller’s unique (odd? bizarre?) views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

HART’S ISLAND

The train headed north, making its way to New York where Allen Kell and the thousand prisoners captured at Sutherland’s Station would be processed into the hastily constructed Hart’s Island Prison Camp on Long Island, New York. Any relief the prisoners had over not being sent to Elmira soon turned to fear and despair. They were told they would head home as soon as the war ended and they took an oath of allegiance to “faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder.” Until their release occurred they were to consider themselves prisoners in every sense of the word. Anyone attempting to escape would be shot.

Within days, the population of the camp swelled to over three thousand, all contained within the confines of less than in five acres. There weren’t enough tents and Allen Kell was thankful to be crowded into a tent away from the camp’s sinks…not that it really mattered. The stench was discernable anytime the wind blew from the wrong direction.

The prisoners received the news of Lee’s surrender with mixed emotions on the morning of their third day on Hart’s. Disbelief, relief, anger and fear coursed through the detainees while the small contingent of guards used up a month’s worth of ammunition until their superiors ordered a halt to their celebrations. Little changed inside of the camp. Poor food, and little of it, boredom, the stench from the sinks and death followed them daily. No day past without burial details being formed under guard to take gray clad soldiers to their final resting places. Buried in mass, their unmarked graves were dug by ex-slaves, nothing to mark their passing or their extreme suffering.

A week later, Allen Kell awoke early with a sense of foreboding. Moving silently as not to disturb the rest of the prisoners sleeping fitfully in the overcrowded tent, Allen Kell stretched outside of the tent flap. As he did his eyes fell upon the flag flying at half-mast outside of the camp’s gate. “Some bigwig Yankee musta died,” he thought. Wandering over to the guards congregated outside of the fence, he stood at attention and waited.

“Whatcha’ want Reb?”

“Who died, must have been someone important?

“President Lincoln was assassinated last night by a yellow-bellied rebel coward. Shot in the back of the head in front of his wife.”

Allen Kell stood silently, dumbfounded and confused, attempting to sort out his feelings. His hesitancy might have saved his life.

“Word to the wise Reb. When its announced at roll call there better be no celebration if you know what’s good for you and your…kind.” He said “kind” as if he had bit down on a turd.

Allen Kell went straight back to his tent and broke the word.
Once again Dugan shot off his mouth, “Well ain’t today the grandest of days!”

“Dugan, you stupid Mick! I should have let you charge the Yanks at Sutherland’s Station. Those Yankee guards are as pissed off as any yellow jacket nest you’ve stepped in. They are just looking for an excuse to shoot us all. We need to get the word out. No one is to celebrate when it is announced unless you want to eat Yankee lead. Go pass the word.” As Dugan turned to go Allen Kell cautioned him, “Dugan, I don’t much care if the Yanks shoot you or not but if you cause the death of anyone else, I will choke the very life out of your black soul.”

Later in the morning the Commandant, Colonel Wessells, broke the word. There was no open rejoicing over Lincoln’s death. A few diehards, like Dugan, silently smiled believing Lincoln’s assassination gave the Confederacy hope but mostly there was fear and confusion. For several days the prisoners feared reprisals. Exercise was suspended until further notice and they were told any groups of three or more seen talking together might be fired upon.

***

Young Wyatt was sick. Too weak to get to the sinks, he had shit himself.

“Gawd, we got to get him to the hospital. The stench is awful.”

It was Dugan. The more Allen Kell was around Dugan the more he wished Dugan had resisted and gotten himself killed.

“As God as my witness Dugan, if you don’t quit yur bellyaching I’ll ….”

“I know, you’ll choke the life out of me…one of these days I might just want you to try.”

Allen Kell felt a touch. Weakly Wyatt pleaded, “Don’t fight! I got the bloody flux ain’t I Allen Kell?”

“No Wyatt, you just got a touch of the ‘quick step.’ We goin’ to get you to the hospital. They’ll treat you and you’ll be right as rain.” He hated himself for the lie. The surest way to die was a trip to the hospital. At least it was shady and airy…and away from the stench of the sinks. Maybe they had some laudanum to ease the cramps.

He and Dugan half carried, half drug Wyatt to the gate. Either one could have carried him by themselves had they too not been in such a weakened state. Allen Kell doubted Wyatt weighed more than one hundred pounds. The guards allowed them to pass and under guard escorted them to the hospital where they turned Wyatt over to the staff.

“Wyatt. You’ll be right as rain and back with us before you know it.”

Wyatt attempted to smile, knowing it was a lie. “Thanks for tryin’ Allen Kell. I want to ask a favor. My momma and my sister live in New Orleans. If you ever get down their way could you look ‘em up? Adele and Lucrecia Noel. They live off Magazine Street in the Irish Channel, all you need to do is ask around. Everybody knows Adele. If you do get down there, can you tell them I was brave?”

“Sure, Wyatt but it won’t be long you’ll be telling them yourself, okay. Just rest now and get stronger.”

He died three days later. One more piece of Allen Kell died with him.

***

A month later, they took the loyalty oath and within a week Allen Kell was headed toward home. Transportation passes and enough bacon and hardtack for a week, two if he was frugal. Four railroad changes to get to Pittsburg and then onto a barge being towed by a side-wheeler to New Orleans. His trip home would have to be delayed.

Until LEGACIES is published try more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

“GODSPEED JOHN GLENN”

I remember sitting in a second or third grade class, I know it was prior to 1958. The reason I know will become evident in a moment. We came into class and noticed something unusual…a television set was sitting in the front of the classroom. Most unusual. It was an unusual day, Mrs. Crenshaw or Mrs. Wilson explained that we were going to watch the United States launch its first rocket. This was during the days when the United States and the world had been caught with its “pants down” after the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first satellite into outer space. I remember the oohing and aahing. Fire shot out of the rocket as it left the launching pad only to explode and crash in flames. It would be 1958 before the US successfully launched the Explorer satellite on top of a Vanguard rocket. The space race had begun and we were way behind.

In later years, I watched, always on the edge of my seat, as the Mercury astronauts attempted to get us back into the race riding what looked like trashcans launched from the top of Redstone rockets. One of those astronauts was of course John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. An American hero to be who many of his superiors thought was too old for the job at forty.

John Glenn was the picture of an American hero, despite his thinning blond hair. Before becoming an astronaut and later the oldest man to fly into outer space as a seventy-seven-year-old payload specialist on the Discovery Space Shuttle, he was a Marine fighter pilot during World War Two, flying fifty-nine combat missions. He would fly jets during the Korean Conflict with future Hall of Fame baseball player, Boston’s Ted Williams, as his wingman. Glenn would record three kills in Korea and many citations including six Distinguished Flying Crosses. Glenn would fly a total of one hundred and twenty-nine combat missions over two wars. As a test pilot, he would become the first man to traverse the United States at supersonic speeds, Los Alamos, New Mexico to New York in a hair over three hours. Sandwiched in between his Mercury and space shuttle days, he had a successful tenure as Senator John Glenn. A true Renaissance Man.

Glenn just looked heroic whether it was in his Marine dress blues or the blue suit of a Senator. More importantly, he acted it. His television persona was of a quiet man who did not seem comfortable with his fame. Soft spoken he had the demeanor of a man who knew he was heroic but who had nothing to prove to anyone other than himself. Honest and straightforward, we need more men like John Glenn. We need more heroes like John Glenn…especially in this day and age.

At some point space exploration became humdrum. I remember watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon while I was standing at a crowded bar. It’s not that I thought it unimportant, I was at an age when girls were more important but at least I paused long enough to watch and cheer. After our quest for the moon was realized it seemed our interest waned with every successive trip to the moon. Even the Space Shuttle Program did nothing to renew our interest. It has waned so much we now must hitch rides to the International Space Station. I wonder what John Glenn thought about our hitching rides into space?

Age gets us all and John Glenn wasn’t going to get off our blue ball again alive. At least he got to see it in all its glory as we got to see him. “Godspeed John Glenn.”

For more of Don Miller’s musings, http://goo.gl/lomuQf will take you to his author’s page.

REMEMBERING PEARL HARBOR

I was a decade away from even being a glimmer in my parent’s eyes when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. I really have no true remembrances of the “Day Which Will Live in Infamy”. My remembrances come from listening to my father and his buddies talking, history books and movies.

My father, a single, twenty-six-year-old at the time, did what many patriotic young men did and with several friends headed to the Marine recruitment center to join up…only to find out he was 4F due to a birth defect he didn’t even know he had. Determined, he attempted to enlist in the Navy and Army but was turned down. Two years later, the now married twenty-eight-year old, would receive a postcard that began “Greetings, your friends and neighbors….” Drafting a married, twenty-eight-year old missing an entire row of ribs and vertebrae they attached to should tell you how dire the situation was in late 1943.

I remember sitting as a family in front of our black and white television on a Sunday evening, December 3, 1961. Walter Cronkite was the narrator of the CBS documentary program, The Twentieth Century. On this particular night, the Sunday prior to the fifteenth anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, we sat as a family watching and listening. The episode was “The Man Who Spied on Pearl Harbor” and Cronkite’s distinctive voice narrated the black and white action scenes, some made as the attack occurred, most staged for propaganda use during the war itself, as we remembered Pearl Harbor…and as I remember that night in 1961.

Over the years my thirst for knowledge about Pearl Harbor and my father’s war has caused me to read, watch or listen to most every available program, book, movie or interview about Pearl Harbor and World War Two. Thankfully I had access to the History Channel when it actually aired programs about history rather than programing about Alaskan truck drivers or pawn shops. I continue to remember Pearl Harbor, the men who lived it, died during the attack, the ships that were sunk, some later resurrected…and my father who was thousands of miles away at the time.

I have never outgrown my love for World War Two movies seen repeatedly over again, especially those taking place in the Pacific Theater, the theater my father said he didn’t fight in. “Which wave did you go in on Daddy?” “Son, I was so far away from the fighting the nurses went in before we did.” His admission did not deter my interest…or my pride. My favorite movies were movies involving Pearl Harbor on the periphery. Not quite the center stage like “Tora, Tora, Tora.” Instead it was movies like “From Here to Eternity” or movies starring John Wayne, the John Ford classic “They Were Expendable” and my absolute favorite, Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way.” My favorite line in a movie filled with them was uttered by Henry Fonda, portraying Admiral Chester Nimitz, “On the most exalted throne in the world, we are seated on nothing but our own arse.” Good words to remember. I’ve already checked today’s programing. If I want to watch any of my favorites, I’ll have to download them from something other than my TV.

I hope we continue to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and the generation characterized by Tom Brokaw as the “Greatest Generation”. We need to remember the sacrifices they made in our last righteous war before the concepts of good versus evil became so blurred during the Cold War. I watched a news story night before last on a one hundred and four-year-old Ray Chavez, the oldest known survivor of Pearl Harbor. He has worked for three years with a strength trainer to insure he would be strong enough to fly to Pearl this year. Ray Chavez boarded his plane this past Saturday and I could not help but cry. For him, for the ones we’ve lost and a bit for a father who wasn’t even there.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

LEGACIES

Near Sutherland’s Station April 4, 1865

He was dead tired but couldn’t sleep. Allen Kell Edwards had been on the run since…since early morning two days previous. Was it just two days ago? He and the remnants of his Louisiana “Tiger Rifles” had been overwhelmed at Sutherland’s Station. It wasn’t just the Tigers, one hundred men held a salient meant for a thousand. Damn blue-belly infantry hit in force before daylight and broke through, turning their flank. Falling back, they had rallied and fought off two attacks before being pushed aside by a third. Petersburg and the South Side Railroad were doomed as was the war effort.

Told to head west and attempt to hook up with Lee’s remaining forces, he and the other nine soldiers had eaten the last of their food a day ago. Allen Kell was down to just three musket balls, having run out of minie’ balls weeks ago. He wasn’t sure he had enough powder to even fire them. He still had a loaded Navy Colt revolver he had taken off a dead Yank officer but that only gave him nine rounds total…if the Colt even fired. He hadn’t tried to fire it, powder was too scarce. “I guess I can always use the old Mississippi Rifle as a Mississippi club,” he muttered to himself.

They were hiding and trying to sleep in a barn somewhere near the village of Dinwiddie. He was drifting into his memories. Allen Kell and his father, William, had joined the fight right after word Fort Sumter had fallen reached them on their small farm. Twenty acres of dirt, a four-room, dirt floor house, a small barn with workshop for cabinet making and the still. A one-horse, one-cow farm at a crossroads on what was simply called the river road. Five acres to feed the family and fifteen to grow corn to feed the still used to make the corn likker they sold to weary travelers making their way to the river and on to New Orleans. Word was the Yanks were all over southern Louisiana. He wondered if the Yankees had found their way north, about his sister Mamie, and his momma. He wondered how they were holding up and if James, their colored boy, was still there and helping them out. Allen Kell had seen the lines of “contraband”–the ex-slaves moving toward Yankee lines…maybe James had gone over too.

Allen Kell and his father, John, had gone to New Orleans and joined the “Tiger Rifles” volunteer infantry. Outfitted in those goddamned Zouave uniforms, he had wondered if the enemy would laugh itself to death. Might as well had a bullseye sewn on them with their stripped blue and white pantaloons, blue sashes and red fezzes with tassels. After First Manassas, they had been issued blue-gray uniforms with matching kepis. All he had left was the gray jacket, now butternut in color, and Yankee trousers. A floppy hat had replaced the kepi. He had kept his red, Garibaldi shirt and at least he had shoes courtesy of a deceased Yank soldier.

Seventeen when he joined, Allen Kell was a tall lad with blue-green eyes and unruly, dark red hair like his father. He had the beginnings of the powerful physique of someone not unfamiliar with physical labor. His hands had begun to grow the same calluses that characterized his father’s hands. No one would have described him as handsome…he was rugged with a long face and a nose that was its most prominent feature. The nose had grown more prominent as his face became gaunter from the lack of food and rest. A sparse, unkempt and tangled beard and mustache covered the lower half of his face. A smiling and happy child and young man, he had grown quiet, brutish and more unfeeling as the war progressed. Had he thought about it he would have realized he felt most alive when killing with the adrenalin rush that went with the act…something he would not realize until the war was over.

Instead of counting sheep, he tried to remember the battles he had fought and their order. First Manassas where he had first spilled Yankee blood. He remembered the taste of bile rising into his throat as fear swelled in his chest from musketry, grape, canister, round shot and shells bursting around him. Later that bile turned to a honey like sweetness as they chased the Yanks back to Washington in “The Great Skedaddle”. Along side Stonewall Jackson, the Tigers had fought at Guard Hill, Winchester, Port Republic, Gaines Mill and the hell on earth, Sharpsburg. He was at Second Manassas when the Ninth Louisiana beat back four Union attacks, the last with rocks when they ran out of ammunition. Later it would be Gettysburg where Papa William was killed, his blood coloring the sparse grass on Cemetery Hill. Battles near the Rappahannock, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. There were at least as many skirmishes. It seemed the Tigers were always on the cutting edge of the attack. Most of the originals had themselves been cut down. Somehow, he had remained unhurt. With men falling all around him, he had not one scratch. Allen Kell was a grizzled veteran at twenty-one. Finally, ten months ago, he had ended up in the trenches defending Petersburg and the last open railroad. Even they were now lost. Finally, he slept but his sleep was a restless slumber, dream filled with the horrors of the twenty-eight battles and skirmishes he had lived through in the past four years.

“Wake up Allen Kell! We got company!” It was the Irishman Dugan.

Allen Kell was instantly awake. He could tell from the gray light, dawn was about to break. “What is it?”

“Looks like Yankee cavalry. About fifty of ’em. What we gonna do? They bound to come in here lookin’ for forage. We got what, fifty rounds betweens us. Ten against fifty ain’t good odds.”

Because Allen Kell was the oldest among them and the most seasoned, the other nine looked to him for guidance. He had already decided on his only option.

“Everybody gather round.” There was a quiet shuffling as they all moved in close. “We got two choices. We can rush’em and hope we can confound ’em enough for some of us to get away or someone can find me a white piece of cloth for a flag. I ain’t gonna make the decision for y’all but I’m gonna say this. The war is as good as over. We ain’t got nothin’ left to fight with or for.”

“What will happen if we surrender?” He was the youngest, Wyatt, barely sixteen.

“We’ll still be alive.”

Dugan blew himself up, “I ain’t surrendering, I’ll die first but I’ll take as many with me as I can. I ain’t no yellow belly.”

“I ain’t neither,” Allen Kell angrily spat back at Dugan, “I’m just wore out. I’ve fought nearly non-stop since First Manassas. There ain’t no sense in dying for a cause that’s already lost. Somebody get me a stick, anybody got anything white?”

“Here’s an old feed sack will it work?”

“I guess we will just have to see. If the Yanks shoot me, you’ll know I was wrong. If they don’t, Dugan, you’ll need to be making a decision.”

As he made his way to the barndoor he heard young Wyatt praying to himself. Allen Kell had quit praying after Sharpsburg. If there was a God, and after four years of fighting he doubted it, there would be nothing but the hellfire and brimstone his mother had preached while teaching him to read from the big family Bible. No, they were all doomed to hell.

Fiction from a historical novel by Don Miller. “Legacies” will be published the Spring, 2017.

Until then works by Don Miller may be purchased at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

A PERSONAL GIVING OF THANKS

As a country, we celebrate the holiday known as Thanksgiving in different ways. I realize there are groups of people who have little reason to celebrate a holiday created by ancestors of white Europeans imposing their will upon groups of people and the land they lived upon some five hundred years ago. I am of white European ancestry along with a dash of Powhatan Native American and British-African seaman thrown in for good measure, so I guess it would be natural for me to greet the holiday with decidedly mixed emotions…but I don’t because I am the product of my up bring and will celebrate traditionally with too much food followed by napping through a football game.

This past Sunday our associate minister delivered a traditional Thanksgiving sermon in a somewhat non-traditional way which I would have entitled “In Praise of Celebration.” During his talk, he mentioned the very first Thanksgiving. Not the one we recognize on the fourth Thursday of November by law nor the traditional historical celebration that took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, eels and all. He spoke of a celebration which took place in Jamestown during the winter of 1610. In 1607, some two hundred “fortune hunters” had come ashore and seized the low, marshy, mosquito filled swamp we now call Jamestown. After three years, their numbers had been reduced to only sixty due to disease, starvation and skirmishes with local native tribes. Due to a delayed supply ship from Bermuda, they were forced to boil their own shoe leather to feed themselves despite the undiscovered oyster beds located in the knee-deep waters feet from their encampment. Much like the cavalry arriving in the nick of time in some old John Wayne movie, the supply ship came to their rescue and not a moment too soon.

My minister made the point that, despite the loss of eighty per cent of their company, the survivors celebrated their good fortune and I don’t believe (my words not his) it should be taken as a “hurrah for me and the hell with everybody else” kind of moment. I understand the feeling of thankfulness despite the feeling of loss that I am sure those sixty souls were experiencing.

Like most folks of my age, I have become used to the loss of friends and family…no not used to it, but rather, accepting their loss as the “circle of life” we will all experience. Rather than dwelling upon my sadness, I choose instead to celebrate my good fortune; still having my health, my loving wife, my immediate family, grandbabies, my friends, food on my table and a roof over my head, much in the same way sixty starving settlers celebrated when their “ship came in.”

It has been a tough six months for those of us who still believe in Superman’s mantra, “truth, justice and the American way.” Rather than lament on the lack of those ideals in our presidential candidates, I shall choose to believe the AMERICAN PEOPLE will find their way back to truth and justice FOR ALL and help create an AMERICAN WAY FOR ALL GOD’S CHILDREN regardless of who happens to be sitting in the White House. Americans have always been resilient, I am thankful we will prove to be again. I am thankful that most of my true friends feel the same.

I am thankful to have discovered a group of people from different geographic areas, political beliefs, religious backgrounds, races and sexual preferences. I have learned to celebrate and embrace their differences and have discovered our similarities far outweigh those differences.

Finally, I am thankful to have the freedom to say Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to those same people who are observing some thirty different celebrations between Thanksgiving and the end of January. May your God’s good graces shine upon thee. Happy Thanksgiving to all, friend, foe or yet undecided or misunderstood. I love you all.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

TIME HONORED TRADITION

It was 5 am when I stepped out my front gate a decade or so ago. A pre-dawn fog still hung low. Swirled by a light breeze, it periodically blotted out a particularly bright September full moon that glowed brightly enough to cause shadows. There was just a hint of chill in the morning air to mark the change in seasons soon to come. I would walk and jog an hour until Linda Gail joined me for a forty-five-minute walk before I showered, shaved and began my thirty-seven mile drive to work.

There was just a hint of an aroma hanging with the fog. As I stretched before beginning my jog I tried to recall what I might be smelling. As I inhaled the redolent odor I found it almost “tasted” sour in a pleasing way. It was almost familiar. At that moment the fog briefly cleared revealing a beautiful full moon and like a “light bulb” going off in my head I had it. Corn whiskey being made “by the shine of the moon.” Sour mash being turned in to “moonshine,” “white lightnin’” or “corn squeezins’”. The making of illegal corn liquor was, AND IS, a time honored tradition in these foothills of Appalachia called the Dark Corner of the Carolinas.

We have a rich tradition of “boot legging” in the United States. From “rum running” to avoid the British tax on molasses to the Whiskey Rebellion when George Washington would again ride at the head of his army to “compel” Pennsylvania farmers to pay the first federal excise tax and remain in the infant United States. Folks in the United States just don’t like having to pay taxes on…well…take your pick but in this case it was home brew. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, making “shine” became a way to make ends meet for Dark Corner farmers who could not have survived without it. According to local historian Dean Campbell, the Squire of Dark Corner, a poor farmer, and they got no poorer than those in the Dark Corner, could expect to realize a profit of about two dollars and fifty cents on five bushels of corn. The same amount of corn could be turned into twelve gallons of moonshine and a twelve-dollar profit with no “spoilage”. I ain’t no mathematical genius but…that would be nearly a four hundred percent increase in profit.

Through the depression and into modern times, the Dark Corner was known for its production of moonshine. Not just any moonshine but what has been described as a particularly “fine moonshine.” That is not an oxymoron. The smoothness supposedly came from the water. In the late Seventies it was also known for producing a particularly high grade of “killer weed” known as “Glassy Mountain Gold.” Despite capturing the “Best Domestic” award in a magazine catering to those activities, “GMG” did not replace moonshining because moonshining was the traditional drug of choice and “them good old boys ain’t about to change.” I also wonder how I might know such things.

Linda Gail and I have spent many hours engaged in exploration, in and around our little piece of heaven. We have seven, year round streams, three which bubble to the surface on our land. Over several millenniums I guess, all three have cut deep ravines. If you explore, back into the deep and dark recesses of those ravines, you will find the metal barrel hoops that held wooden barrel staves together along with newer metal barrels with curious holes shaped like those made from “buck shot” or an axe. I wonder if those damn “gubment” revenuers paid the moonshiners a visit sometime back in the fog of time. Recently we added a three-acre parcel of land to our little piece of heaven mainly to keep people from moving in next to us. Yes, we are hermits. While exploring, I think we found the still I smelled “cookin’” a decade ago on the wide stream at the base of our waterfall. Not in good enough shape to fire up but in good enough shape to be recent.

I was somewhat shocked to see the face of a distant neighbor pasted across my TV screen on the Six O’ Clock News. He was, and is still, a respected “gentleman peach farmer” of high means. His offense? Making “shine.” His defense was that his daddy had made it and his daddy before him had made it and…. He did not need the money to pay his taxes or even take the kids to Disneyworld, nor did he appear to be very apologetic or remorseful. It was a time-honored tradition to make the “family recipe” free of “gubment” taxes and he was “sot in his ways.” My guess is that despite the hefty fine that he paid, he is still “sot in his ways.”

This is an excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released book THROUGH THE FRONT GATE. For more humorous non-fiction go to check his site at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM