Saw this old sign in Corinth, Mississippi. You can’t find a Sin Alco in the United States these days but apparently it’s still the third most popular soda in Germany.
Both Corinth and Vicksburg, Mississippi have Coca-Cola related museums, and of course Atlanta is all about Coke. It got me wondering if the spread of Coca-Cola was connected to the total devastation of the South in the wake of the Civil War. Recall that Coca-Cola was invented by John Stith Pemberton, a former Confederate officer wounded in the war who was experimenting with increasingly wild home brews in an effort to cure himself of morphine addiction. There were a lot of people around with shattered nerves looking for a tonic. There was a big demand for alternatives to alcohol:
The first successful effort to limit the sale of alcohol was an 1874 law that required anyone wanting to sell alcohol to obtain a license from a majority of the area’s registered voters plus a majority of all women over age fourteen
Strange and haunting to visit these parts of the country that were ruined by defeat in war and an occupying army. When you wonder why Jackson, MS is so messed up it’s worth remembering the city was burnt to the ground not once but twice during the war, nothing standing but a few brick chimneys. Maybe they should have their mess together by now, but it’s only a few generations ago. Irene Triplett was getting a Civil War pension two years ago.
Good slogan for a soda: “You’ll Like It”
Late season cotton along Highway 61.
Cherry Street in Helena. (I notice whenever I take photos that cars are ugly.)
The town was wide open. Cherry, the main street, which parallels the levee a block to the west, is reputed to have had forty or fifty white saloons in operation during the years preceding World War II, and Elm, which parallels Cherry a block further west, probably had a comparable number of black joints.
so says Robert Palmer in Deep Blues: A Musical And Cultural History from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago’s South Side to the World. No longer the case.
Levon Helm was from nearby Elaine.
Along the levee:
Sad tales by the river:
A doomed Confederate attack there on July 4, 1863 came too late to relieve Vicksburg, which fell the same day.
If you’re at the Delta Cultural Center at 12:15pm, you can listen to them broadcast King Biscuit Flour Time live.
These are well-to-do white women listening. I listen, every day when I’m doing the show, for the simple reason that there’s something there. They’re trying to tell you something, and if you think hard enough and listen hard enough, you will understand what it’s all about.
so host Sonny Payne told Robert Palmer (quoted in Deep Blues). You can listen to the show on the DCC’s Facebook Live.
One of the legendary players on King Biscuit Time was Sonny Boy Williamson.
Led Zeppelin biographer Stephen Davis writes in Hammer of the Gods, while in England Williamson set his hotel room on fire while trying to cook a rabbit in a coffee percolator.
The Mississippi Delta is strange and beautiful and also sad:
“You can’t out-poor the Delta,” says Christopher Masingill, joint head of the Delta Regional Authority, a development agency. In parts of it, he says, people have a lower life expectancy than in Tanzania; other areas do not yet have proper sanitation.
quoted in the June 8th 2013 Economist
The Delta Que and Brew is the place for lunch.
The sky had cleared, the clouds raveled to tatters, and at four oclock the sun broke through, silver on the bright green of grass and leaves and golden on the puddle sin the road; all down the column men quickened the step, smiling in the sudden burst of gold and silver weather.
So goes the first sentence of Foote’s book. You hear about things being unraveled, but “raveled” not so much.
From Stuart Chapman’s biography of Shelby Foote:
Faulkner would tell his son-in-law that Foote wrote as if he had been there himself.
He knows what he’s talking about.
We must agree, there are parts of Foote’s novel that are very vivid and feel very real.
Winston Groom is perhaps most notable as the author of the novel Forrest Gump. Don’t sleep on his narrative histories. They are terrific: compelling, clear, human, personal, funny even sometimes. Winston Groom was in the Vietnam War. When it comes to battle he writes like he knows what he’s talking about.
Civil War battlefields can be some of the most peaceful places in America. Some days tour buses or school groups must crowd the roads, but driving and walking around Shiloh in the late afternoon, a random Wednesday some days ago, I had the place to myself. On beautiful marked roads, stopping wherever I wanted to read some information. Walking in the woods, looking at the water, or the mowed fields. I was in a nine square mile park, quiet, undisturbed. Preserved landscape.
That the landscape is spooky, haunted, a burial ground, only adds to the draw. Certain places, certain moments, you can feel the reverie. A break in the veil to the past. Is there something worrying in being drawn to that? This place was the scene, for several thousand people, of the most traumatic event in their lives. At the end of the first day, there were something like two thousand dead bodies on the ground. An even higher number of people with an arm or a leg blown off or other mangling wound. And that’s not to mention the horses. Ambrose Beirce said dead horses were everywhere. Several soldiers in their accounts remembered some pitiful moment or another involving a hurt horse.
At night, after the first day ended, thunderstorms rolled in:
Flashes of lightening showed hogs feeding on the ungathered dead.
as they put it in the PBS Civil War series (holds up, Shiloh is in episode two).
If you want to visit a place where that happened, are you a bit of a sicko?
In War of the Worlds Tom Cruise’s son says:
Dad, I need to see this!
“Seeing the elephant.” Bruce Catton, asked to explain why boys joined the armies, says we shouldn’t overlook the simple fact that they were bored.
Shiloh is the cosmic joke answer to that desire. The twisted reward to a Devil’s bargain. Oh, you want to see what a war is like? Here you go!
One of Abraham Lincoln’s great and compelling qualities was a resolve to find some meaning in these events. Suffering and horror on this scale had to be worth something. Had to be made to be worth something.
Shiloh was decisive. Grant’s army could’ve been driven into the Tennessee River, or surrounded in the swamps and forced to surrender or retreat. Grant or Sherman could’ve been killed. Albert Sidney Johnston was killed. Many considered him the best of the Confederate generals. His conduct on the first day had changed the outcome of the battle, but then he was shot, and not realizing the extent of the wound he bled to death. Johnston has the biggest monument at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
Sherman was shot three times on the first day. One bullet passed through his hat. In his memoirs Grant gives much credit to the way Sherman conducted himself. Facing disaster the two of them, Grant and Sherman, managed to keep their cool.
At close to the last possible second, Union reinforcements arrived. The second day, their commander dead, the Confederates were driven away.
That would be more or less the furthest the Confederacy got in the Mississippi Valley. Some weeks after the battle, the Confederate army abandoned Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth was key: it was the crossroads where the railroad from Memphis to Charleston intersected the railroad that ran from the Ohio river to the Gulf port at Mobile, Alabama.
The crossroads at Corinth: it all connected here.
In the aftermath of Shiloh, the South was cut in half. Grant, assessing the situation years later in his Personal Memoirs:
The Confederates were now driven out of West Tennessee, and on the 6th of June, after a well-contested naval battle, the National forces took possession of Memphis and held the Mississippi river from its source to that point. The railroad from Columbus to Corinth was at once put in good condition and held by us. We had garrisons at Donelson, Clarksville and Nashville, on the Cumberland River, and held the Tennessee River from its mouth to Eastport. New Orleans and Baton Rouge had fallen into the possession of the National forces, so that now the Confederates at the west were narrowed down for all communication with Richmond to the single line of road running east from Vicksburg. To dispossess them of this, therefore, became a matter of the first importance. The possession of the Mississippi by us from Memphis to Baton Rouge was also a most important object. It would be equal to the amputation of a limb in its weakening effects upon the enemy.
By May 1862, something like this was the situation:
Once Vicksburg fell (not easy, Winston Groom has a whole book about it) it was all over but the crying. Of which there’d be plenty, there are places in the former Confederacy where they’re still crying.
The ground at Shiloh can be confusing. Almost every part of the battlefield was in the hands of different armies at different times. The Shiloh church for instance was the headquarters of the Union’s Sherman and the Confederate Beauregard at different points.
The church at the park today is a reproduction. The original was damaged, bloodstained, torn apart for souvenirs. You’ll notice all the pictures of the church are taken at the same angles. This is because no one wants to spoil the 1862 time travel aspect of their photos by including the modern Methodist church that sits just out of frame.
From the church’s Facebook page.
Everyone who was at the battle of Shiloh found it weird:
Everything looked weird and unnatural
recalled John Cockerill years later. He was sixteen at the time.
Actions took the grotesque form of a nightmare
remembered another veteran. Groom tells us:
At least two soldiers’ accounts report a lone woman walking across the battlefield in the midst of heavy fighting
In one forested part of the battlefield there are old Indian mounds. There were used as vantage points by Forrest’s cavalry, among others. At the time they were widely believed to be burial mounds, thus participants could believe they were fighting on an abandoned Indian burial ground.
It occurred to me that the closest thing to a battle I’ve been at is a huge concert festival. Ridiculous comparison but go with us. Take away the maiming and the killing: there were over 100,000 people at Shiloh. How many times in US history prior had there been a gathering of that size? Ever? I’m not aware of any Revolutionary battle that was close to that size. There were revival meetings, some even in the same area, but they never exceeded 10,000 or so.
Pittsburg Landing, where Union reinforcements under General Don Carlos Buell disembarked late on the first day of the battle, ensuring Grant’s salvation, is stop 22 on the driving tour. The National Park Service must have good reasons for that. But if you want to follow the battle as a narrative, take Pittsburg Landing as the starting place.
Follow the journey of Ebenzer Hannaford. Hannaford was in the Sixth Ohio. On Sunday April 6, they woke up near Savannah, Tennessee, broke camp, and marched ten miles. Late in the afternoon, maybe around five PM or so, an hour before sundown, he and his comrades boarded a steamboat and were ferried across the river. As they got close, they saw probably five thousand Union soldiers who’d taken themselves out of the battle and were huddled by the river, warning the guys coming over that they were doomed:
The same scene was witnessed by Ambrose Bierce, coming the same way as Hannaford:
Along the sheltered strip of beach between the river bank and the water was a confused mass of humanity—several thousands of men. They were mostly unarmed; many were wounded; some dead. All the camp-following tribes were there; all the cowards; a few officers. Not one of them knew where his regiment was, nor if he had a regiment. Many had not. These men were defeated, beaten, cowed. They were deaf to duty and dead to shame. A more demented crew never drifted to the rear of broken battalions.
A detail stuck out to Hannaford, when he wrote an account two years after the event, published as “Coming Up at Shiloh” in The Continental Review :
The antic drummer boy sticks in the mind. Shelby Foote may write like he was there, but in the end it’s pretend. Hannaford was there, and what he remembered was a boy pounding away on his drum, “to what purpose we could none of us divine.”
Travel tip: if you are visiting Shiloh, I recommend approaching via Corinth, MS. The Corinth Civil War Interpretative Center, built in 2004, is a stunning building and the film, exhibits and National Park staff there do a great job putting everything in context. They told me their site is designed to be a starting point on a journey to Shiloh. There’s a tantalizing library there for the serious buff:
The NPS guy in Corinth had so much integrity he would not recommend a lunch restaurant due to “favoritism,” but he allowed that The Rib Shack in Corinth was very popular. I recommend The Rib Shack in Corinth.
from this NYT article about a new revelation in Chaucer studies.
Trains of cars were heard coming in and going out of Corinth constantly. Some of the men who had been engaged in various capacities on railroads before the war claimed that they could tell, by putting their ears to the rail, not only which way the trains were moving but which trains were loaded and which were empty. They said loaded trains had been going out for several days and empty ones coming in. Subsequent events proved the correctness of their judgment.
That’s U. S. Grant, in his memoirs, talking about skillful rail listeners outside Corinth Mississippi, 1862.
[Conversation, 1805] There is only one thing to do in this world, and that is to keep acquiring more and more money and power. All the rest is chimerical.
[Conversation, December 3, 1804, the day after his coronation] I come too late, nothing great remains to be done… Yes, I admit that I have had a fine career, I have gone far. But what a difference with antiquity! Look at Alexander: when he had conquered Asia and presented himself to the nations as the son of Jupiter, the whole Orient believed him, except for Olympias, who knew better, and except for Aristotle and a few Athenian pedants. Well, if I declared myself the sone of the Eternal Father… every fishwife would hoot when she saw me pass by. The masses are too enlightened these days: nothing great can be done anymore.
[Conversation, 1816] General rule: No social revolution without terror
[Incident, Saint Helena, 1815, related by Las Cases] Several slaves carrying heavy crates crossed our path. Mrs. Balcombe told them angrily to make room, when the Emperor intervened saying “Respect for the burden, Madam!”
[Reminiscence of Chaptal] Once among many times, Josephine was to take the waters at Aachen. The First Consul had me called and said “Josephine is leaving tomorrow for her water cure. I mist dictate her itinerary and outline her conduct. Write.” And he dictated twenty-one large sheets of paper.
[Letter, 1810] Poland exists only in the imagination of those who want to use it as a pretext for spinning dreams.
[Dictation, Saint Helena] A battle is a dramatic action which has its beginning, its middle, and its end. The battle order of the opposing armies and their preliminary maneuvers until they come to grips form the exposition. The countermaneuvers of the army which has been attacked constitute the dramatic complication. They lead in turn to new measures and bring about the crisis, and from this results the outcome of denouement.
[1808, letter] You say you have four hundred thousand men under arms, which is more than your monarchy ever had. You want to double their number: we shall follow your example. Soon even the women will have to be conscripted. When things come to this point, when all the springs are thus strained, war becomes desirable in order to bring about a release. Thus, in the physical world, at the approach of a storm, nature is in a state of tension, so painful that the outbreak of the storm is desirable because it relaxes the exacerbated nerves and restores heaven and earth to peaceful serenity. An acute but short pain is preferable to prolonged suffering.
[Note, August 27, 1808] In war, moral factors account for three quarters of the whole; relative material strength accounts for only one quarter.
[Conversation, 1800s] Military science consists in first calculating all the possibilities accurately and then making an almost mathematically exact allowance for accident. It is on this point that one must make no mistake; a decimal more or less may alter everything.
[Conversation, 1813] When an enemy army is in flight, you must either build a golden bridge for it or stop it with a wall of steel
Napoleon speaks of how Wellington devastated Spain during his retreat to Portugal:
In all of Europe, only Wellington and I are capable of carrying out such measures. But there is a difference between him and myself: in France… I would be criticized, whereas England will praise him.
There are a couple of interesting pages in this book where Napoleon explains all the reasons why he should have won the battle of Waterloo. Shoulda woulda coulda. More on Napoleon, his mind. Got this book after the recommendation of Scott Locklin‘s website.
Note to devoted readers: the pace of dispatches on this site will likely be diminished in the future as I’ve been directed by the System to write and produce ten episodes of a TV show.
My in-laws took us on a special trip to see this grave, one county away.