Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 22, 2013

They may be old, but they’re still pretty good

Happy Birthday, West Virginia!

My home state’s 150th birthday was on June 20, but I don’t write a column for Thursday’s paper, so this had to wait.

Also, I’m supposed to talk for half an hour today about Mineral County in the Civil War, and some of those who attend might actually read this. No previews here.

It’s at 2 p.m. in the American Legion post on Main Street in Keyser. Call this shameless self-promotion if you wish, but one or two of you may say, “Where? When? Idiot didn’t tell us,” and I hate to leave people hanging.

However, I will do that in one regard: West Virginia became the 35th state less than two weeks before the battle of Gettysburg. Did any of the Union regiments have a 35-star American flag? Answer this afternoon or next week.

A tour guide who usually ignores Capt. Gary and me stopped with his charges and stood beside me.

“Who are you impersonating?” he asked me.

I told him I represent First Sergeant Theodore Field of Battery C, 1st West Virginia Volunteer Artillery, which was at Cemetery Hill and put fire down on Pickett’s Charge ... and went on from there.

At the same time, the 1st West Virginia Cavalry was at South Cavalry Field, leading the assault that turned back a Confederate cavalry attack that might have broken the Union line.

The 1st West Virginia Cavalry’s soldiers received more Medals of Honor than those of any other regiment in the Civil War — 14.

While all of the above was going on, the 7th West Virginia Infantry — which had been the 7th Virginia Infantry of the Union Army two weeks earlier — was fighting hand-to-hand against the 7th Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army. They captured a nephew of their own regimental commander, and the fighting was especially vicious.

It would be interesting to ask those men why they tried so hard to kill other men they knew were from their home state ... men who may have been their friends or even family.

There was great misery and suffering, but also a surprising amount of humanity.

When the situation allowed, Union and Confederate units who had members of the same family sometimes called a truce to allow them a chance to meet and maybe trade coffee and tobacco.

After the reunion was over, they’d call out to each other, “Keep yer heads down, boys! We got to start shootin’ agin!”

The thing about the Civil War is that much of what’s been passed down is contradictory or confusing and subject to argument. Everything you learn leads you to something else.

My late friend Jack Sanders probably knew more about the Civil War in our area than anyone else did. I wish he were still around for a variety of reasons, including those of picking his brain.

Jack said his favorite Psalm was the West Virginia (121st) Psalm, which goes, “I will lift up mine unto the hills, from whence cometh my help ... .”

Capt. Gary and I wear Yankee uniforms and talk to tourists at Little Round Top on the Gettysburg battlefield.

He has little patience with people he says “became experts after reading one book” and leaves me to deal with them.

Having spent 20 years covering the court house and watching lawyers at work, I enjoy this. I don’t know how many of them I convince, but I know how to confuse them.

Gary has read at least 200 books. One of many I’ve read is my high school American History book, which goes only to about 1960 — but for thoroughness up to that point I would put it up against any American History book used in our schools today.

I also refer to my old Encyclopedia Americana, which was sold one volume at a time at the A&P grocery store.

Both were written less than 100 years after the Civil War, before anyone knew what it was to be politically correct.

A few weeks ago, The Charleston Gazette ran an editorial about West Virginia and slavery that was informative and interesting, but said some things my friends and I would disagree with.

It said West Virginia would never have become a state if Virginia hadn’t joined the rebellion to preserve slavery.

That is not only wrong, it oversimplifies a complicated situation. Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky and what became West Virginia were slave states, but did not secede. Virginia and North Carolina were reluctant to secede.

The western counties of Virginia wanted to get away from the rest of the state for the same reasons the western counties of Maryland probably would like to escape from their state government in Annapolis today.

Slavery wasn’t abolished in Maryland until November 1864, almost two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. West Virginia didn’t abolish slavery until two months before the war ended.

The Gazette also said it was ironic that Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was born in Clarksburg, but fought to preserve slavery.

Jackson never said much about slavery, but when asked what he thought about the Yankees said, “Just kill them. Kill them all.”

Jackson’s widow, Mary Anna, said he would have preferred to see the slaves free, but believed the Bible sanctioned slavery — which was a common view — and that slave-owners had a Christian duty to their slaves.

He taught slaves how to read in violation of the law and founded a Sunday school for blacks. Two of his students asked him to buy them, and he did. He allowed them to make enough money to eventually buy their freedom.

I’ll leave you with what Capt. Gary and 1Sgt. Goldy often tell people:

If you run across somebody who would lead you to believe he knows everything there is to know about the Civil War (or anything else), get away from him because he’s a damn fool.

That would not be me. Next week, I’ll tell you some more of what I think I know.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • Peanuts and Cracker Jack beat any foam finger

    Times have changed, and for the better, as this week marks the third year in a row NFL training camps have opened and have not taken center stage in the cities of Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington. That, of course, is due to the play of the three baseball teams that inhabit said cities, the Orioles, the Pirates and the Nationals — two of whom hold first place in their respective divisions, with the other one entering play on Wednesday just 2 1/2 games out of first.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big loophole Big loophole

    How ironic — and how sad — that the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority plans a closed executive session to discuss the open meetings law.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don’t do it. Don’t do it

    Temperatures have been moderate recently but are projected to rise to the upper 80s and low 90s later this week, so we want to remind you: Never leave children unattended in a vehicle.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • He means well, and this time they spared his life

    Our pal Phil is the only re-enactor certified in writing by both the Lee and Custis families to portray Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (whose wife was Mary Anna Custis Lee). When he’s in uniform, he generally stops at the bottom of the path that leads to the summit of Little Round Top, salutes Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy and asks permission to join us. (Get it? Generally ... General Lee?) We always return his salute and grant him permission, in part because he’s our friend and also because the real Lee never got to see what it really looks like from up there. (Get it? Grant ... Grant? U.S. Grant? Real Lee ... really? OK. I hear you. That’s enough. Seriouslee.) Phil gets a kick out of being able to sneak up on us while we’re distracted by tourists.

    July 20, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Mike Sawyers and his father, Frank Sale of quart-sized Mason jars lagging, merchants claim

    The opening day of Maryland’s squirrel hunting season is Sept. 6 and I am guessing you will be able to drive a lot of miles on the Green Ridge State Forest and see very few vehicles belonging to hunters of the bushytail. It wasn’t always that way. In the early 1960s, when I was a high school student in Cumberland, there was no Interstate 68. What existed was U.S. Route 40 and in the last couple of hours before daylight on the opening day of squirrel season there was an almost unbroken line of tail lights and brake lights between Cumberland and Polish Mountain.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hugo Perez Columnist, son are range finders, but where are .22 shells?

    We feel pretty lucky on this side of the Potomac to have a nice shooting range to utilize for free and within decent driving distance.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Opposition and inclusion understood

    Those of you who have been here before know how I feel about the late great Len Bias, who I will remember foremost as Leonard Bias, the polite, spindly Bambi-eyed kid from Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School, who could throw a dunk through the floor, yet had the most beautiful jump shot I have ever seen.

    July 17, 2014

  • Stopgap

    Kicking the can down the road was one of the things American kids did to pass the time in the old days, particularly if they lived in rural areas where there was little traffic to contend with.

    July 16, 2014

  • Further proof you should never bet on baseball

    Had you known in March that ...

    July 16, 2014