A Vote for Satan

I was born and raised in West Tennessee, the western division of the great state of Tennessee, the region lying between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. West Tennessee is part of the purchase of land from the Chickasaw orchestrated on behalf of the United States by Tennessean Andrew Jackson and Kentuckian Isaac Shelby in 1818. The northern part of the purchase became part of Kentucky and is now referred to as “The Purchase” while the rest became part of Tennessee and became West Tennessee. After the purchase, the land was opened up for settlement and settlers – including my ancestors – began coming in from the Carolinas and elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee. The rich bottomlands along the Forked Deer, Hatchie, Obion and Mississippi Rivers were settled largely by slave owners who established large cotton farms while the higher ground to the east was settled by mostly livestock farmers who owned few, if any slaves. Consequently, the region had divided loyalties when Tennessee seceded from the Union – my home county, Carroll, was one of several West Tennessee counties that voted to remain. Large numbers of West Tennesseans fought in both armies and the region, which the Union initially captured but abandoned, saw warfare between irregular Southern guerrillas and Unionist “bushwhackers.”

After the war, West Tennessee remained in turmoil as some of the guerrilla and bushwhacker bands continued fighting both with each other and together as outlaws. Most of the history of that period has been obscured and by the time I was born right after World War II, no one knew what had happened during those terrible times. However, one thing remained – the Democratic Party dominated Tennessee, and West Tennessee Democrats, many of them at least, were so devoted to the party that they’d vote for Satan if he ran on the Democratic ticket. I know; my grandmother was one such Democrat.

My mother never talked about her family much and it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I found out why. She once told me that her grandfather was “a bad man” and went on to say that he was “a grand dragon” in the KKK. I still don’t know much about him and never knew him because he died as a result of injuries suffered when he was hit by a car when I was ten months old. (I do have a memory – my earliest of all memories – of looking down on him in his coffin and my mother’s teenage cousins crying.) I still don’t know much about him other than that he wasn’t born until after the Civil War and that his father apparently was not a soldier but I do know that he was a staunch Democrat. I also know that while he probably was not a “grand dragon,” he was definitely a member of a group of night-riders who went out at night as an enforcer. I haven’t found anything to indicate they ever lynched anyone but the Madison County night riders were real. My aunt tells me that they went after people who ran afoul of the mores of the time.

My grandmother was like so many of her time – and since. She was a staunch Democrat who, although she never voiced hatred for Republicans, at least not in my presence, never voted for a Republican. Neither did my grandfather, whose grandfather evidently was a Confederate cavalryman who rode the legendary Nathan Bedford Forrest – until he apparently deserted and went home. They had three daughters, one of whom, my mother, came to her senses and became a Republican after she met my father, one who was as staunch a Democrat as my grandmother and one who recently left the Democrats, or so I’m told although I’m not certain she has.

Democrats like my grandmother are like those in the Piney Woods of East Texas who are called “Yellow Dog Democrats” because they’d vote for a yellow dog if it was on the Democratic ticket. I’ll take it a step further – such Democrats would vote for Satan if he was on the ticket. In fact, I heard a black Hillary supporter say on TV recently that she’d vote for Hillary even if Jesus Christ Himself endorsed Donald Trump. There’s no doubt that such voters would vote for Satan. This time, they are.

 

 

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King of the Wild Frontier

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Back in the 1950s, Walt Disney’s Disney Land television program aired a series about “Davy” Crockett, the “King of the Wild Frontier.” As a boy of nine, I really wanted to watch the series but being that I was in Training Union and church at Lavinia Baptist on Sunday nights, I was unable to unless I played sick so I could stay home. The series was accompanied by a song that started out “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, raised in the woods so he knowed every tree….” Every kid in America was singing it and many lusted for “coonskin” caps and Davy Crockett rifles so they could play at being “King of the Wild Frontier.”

What I didn’t know, or didn’t understand, was that the ‘wild frontier” Davy was king of was right there where I was growing up in West Tennessee (all of West Tennessee was and still is rural except Memphis, Jackson and a couple of smaller cities and towns.) When I did see the series, it indicated that Ole Davy lived in the Smoky Mountains. In fact, for much of his life he lived only some 40 miles from where I grew up and at the same time as my ancestors, who knew him. David Crockett was born in East Tennessee but not in the Smokies. He was actually born and spent his childhood west of the Smokies in the Appalachians southeast of Bristol and Johnson City. Actually, he spent part of that time on the road driving cattle, beginning at the age that many American boys were so enraptured with the Crockett story. He left East Tennessee as a young man and settled initially in Middle Tennessee nearFFayetteville, which is not far from where my MacGowan ancestors settled at about the same time. He moved several times, each time to counties in southern Middle Tennessee and finally ended up near Lawrenceburg. After a creek flooded and destroyed the grist mill he had invested in, he left Middle Tennessee in 1821 at the age of 35 and crossed the Tennessee River to find land for himself and his relatives in the new lands Andrew Jackson and Issac Shelby had purchased from the Chickasaw three years before. He found land on the Obion River in what was then Carroll County, the county where I grew up. According to one recent biographer, the land was owned by his father-in-law, who deeded it to David. A few years later, he was one of a delegation that went to Nashville to propose the formation of a new county out of the western section of Carroll to be called Gibson County.

Crockett’s narrative of his life is available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37925/37925-h/37925-h.htm. It covers his life  up until two years before he left Tennessee to meet his fate in Texas.

In the late 1970s I went to work for Taylor Aviation at the Everett-Stewart Airport at Union City, Tennessee. It is an old airfield, dating back to World War II when it was used as a primary training field. Several of the original buildings remained and were rented to various tenants. One was a somewhat eccentric woman in her late 40s named Mary. The wife of a professor at nearby University of Tennessee, Martin, Mary was an accomplished artist. Her wildlife art was fantastic. I wished then and I wish now that I had been able to afford to buy some. Mary was also a pilot. She either had or was working on her commercial pilot’s license. She loved to fly Taylor’s Piper Arrow, but she didn’t want to fly by herself. Shortly after I went to work there, I went up with Mary. We were flying south from the airport over the Obion Bottom. Mary pointed down and said “that’s Crockett’s Bottom.” After reading Crockett’s narrative, I realized that indeed it was.

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Crockett’s new land was on the edge of what was and still is pretty close to swampland. However, it was very rich land and there was an abundance of game. He sent for the rest of his family and several of his relatives to follow him to West Tennessee and claim land of their own. They did. After building cabins and clearing land, they raised cotton and corn to sell as well as vegetables for their own sustenance. Crockett supplemented his income by hunting bears, both for their meat and their fat which was prized for bear grease. He ranged far and wide around West Tennessee hunting bear. A few months ago when I was in West Tennessee for a family reunion, my aunt rode with us from Jackson, where we were staying, to Huntingdon where the gathering took place. I took a back road that passed by where my grandmother grew up. “There was a tree over there where Davy Crockett killed a bear.” After she said it, I vaguely remembered Daddy telling me something about there being a tree on his grandmother’s place where Crockett had killed a bear. My grandparents lived on that place for a few years before they bought a place of their own. My great-grandfather’s farm wasn’t far from the Obion River South Fork. There is  record in the Carroll County Courthouse where Crockett collected a bounty for a wolf he had killed in the Obion Bottom near Huntingdon.

Crockett was not a wealthy man. In fact, he was often deep in debt. He came up with a scheme to cut timber in the recently created Reelfoot Lake (the lake was created by an earthquake which changed the course of the Mississippi a few years before Crockett moved to West Tennessee) and float it down the Mississippi to New Orleans to sell it. He and his associates cut a large number of trees and constructed a raft. Unfortunately, they had not reckoned on the force of the river. Soon after they cast themselves on to the river, the raft hit a sandbar and came apart, spilling its occupants on to the river. Left with nothing but what they were wearing, the survivors somehow made their way to Memphis where a “wealthy benefactor” bought clothes and a hat for Crockett. The wealthy benefactor was Marcus Winchester, one of the founders of Memphis. Winchester would later be ostracized after he married a beautiful young woman from Louisiana who obviously had negro blood. Shortly afterwards, Winchester convinced Crockett to run for Congress and gave him money for his campaign. As soon as Crockett got to Washington, he drew a bank draft and sent it to Winchester to pay him back.

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Except when Congress was in session and he was in Washington, Crockett remained in Gibson County until he left for TExas in November 1835.. His last home was near Kenton. In the 1950s during the Disney Crockett craze, the town of Rutherford built a replica of Crockett’s last home and reinterred his mother Rebecca Hawkins’ remains from a nearby cemetery to the site.

Crockett, who detested the “Davy” moniker, spent almost half of his adult life in West Tennessee – from age 35 to age 50. Yet, both East Tennessee, which he left as a young man, and Texas, where he only spent some three months, lay more claim to him. When Tennessee built a state park and named it after him, it was located in East Tennessee near where he was born. Another park was located just outside Lawrenceburg, where he lived for four years before moving to West Tennessee where he spent the remainder of his life except for the last five months.

After David’s death, his family did not move to Texas. Although his son went to Texas, he didn’t stay. He returned to West Tennessee where he remained until just before the Civil War when he returned to Texas with his mother, who died in Texas but lived most of her life in Tennessee. Crockett’s son John Wesley ran for and won his Congressional suit. He lived for a time in New Orleans then moved back to Tennessee where he died in Memphis.

Was David Crockett really the “King of the Wild Frontier?” If he was, it was the same frontier on which my ancestors settled in the 1820s-40s.

Roy Clark may not have picked cotton, but I did

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Although cotton is associated with large plantations, much cotton production in the South was and still is by small farmers with only a few acres of cotton land. While slave labor was used on larger farms and plantations, many farmers and their families provided their own labor.  After slavery was abolished, Although some call it a tree, cotton is actually a shrub that grows in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Along with corn, or maize, it’s native to the Americas where its fibrous seed protector has been woven into cloth for at least 15,000 years. Cotton was the product that made the United States into an economic power and it was cotton, not slavery, that led to the secession of eleven states from the Union thus precipitating the war now commonly – but erroneously – called the Civil War.

Although cotton is associated with large plantations, much cotton production in the South was and still is by small farmers with only a few acres of cotton land. While slave labor was used on larger farms and plantations, many farmers and their families provided their own labor.  After slavery was abolished, many land-owners contracted with landless farmers, white as well as black, to farm their land for a share of the production. The land-owner typically footed the bill for all of the production costs and the sharecropper got part of the proceeds from the sale of the cotton. Another method was to rent land out to tenants.

Although cotton cloth has been produced for thousands of years in various parts of the world, it wasn’t until Eli Whitney invented his cotton gin that cotton production finally became economical. Prior to Whitney’s invention, cotton seeds had to be separated from the locks in which they grew by hand, a tedious and time-consuming task. Once seeds could be separated mechanically, the production of cotton became a major crop in the southern portion of the new United States because American cotton was found to be superior to varieties found elsewhere in the world. Reportedly, by 1860 cotton accounted for three/quarters of US exports and was the driving force behind the US economy. Although cotton could not be grown in New England, the region had become dependent on Southern cotton for fiber for its mills, most of which were water powered.

Modern Americans commonly believe that growing cotton was a laborious task involving the labor of thousands of slaves working in the hot sun. In reality, this is not true. Yes, some aspects of cotton production required manual labor, specifically the hoeing of the rows to remove grass and weeds and the harvesting of the mature locks, but much of the actual labor was provided by animals, particularly mules. Mules and horses, and sometimes oxen, pulled the plows that broke up the soil in springtime and the cultivators used to plow the rows until the plants were large enough to shade out the grasses and weeds that came up in the fields. Until mechanical cotton planters were developed, planting was by hand as was hoeing, commonly known as “chopping.” Hoes are metal blades attached to wooden handles that are used to cut grasses and weeds at the roots. Once cotton plants reach a significant height, the fields are “laid by” and receive no more attention until picking time.

Although cotton is a perennial plant in the wild, it became an annual in North America due to winter temperatures that kill the stalk. Cotton is planted when the danger of frost has passed; the tiny fragile plants are killed if temperatures drop to the freezing level. This can be as early as February in Texas and the Deep South or as late as April or early May in Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. Once the seeds have sprouted and have emerged from the soil, the plants may be thinned although modern farming practices have made this unnecessary. Neither is hoeing necessary due to the use of “pre-emergence” chemicals that are placed in the ground at the time of planting to prevent the growth of grass and weeds.

Lawrence Browning

In the Twentieth Century farmers discovered that their production could be increased by defoliating the plants, thus allowing sunlight to reach the bolls thus causing them to open sooner and more fully. The advent of the airplane allowed defoliating chemicals as well as insecticides to be dispensed quickly without damage to the plants. Insecticides became an important part of cotton farming to fight boll weevils, which can destroy a cotton crop if they aren’t eradicated. Prior to the development of insecticides, boll weevils had to be picked off by hand.

For a century after the abolishment of slavery, cotton production was essentially the same, although by the 1930s farmers were using tractors instead of horses and mules for land preparation and cultivation. Fields still had to be hoed and picking was mostly by hand. However, by the 1960s farmers were starting to use mechanical cotton pickers as they became more readily available at more reasonable prices. Wealthier farmers had started using them by the 1950s. The proliferation of mechanical cotton pickers came about at the same time as the civil rights movement and probably had a lot to do with it.  Cotton pickers eliminated the need for human pickers and thus put a lot of share croppers out of work. With no need for share croppers, landowners told them to get off of their land. Many ended up in tent cities until they were moved into towns or migrated to cities such as Memphis and St. Louis or to the North where many became part of a new welfare class when they were unable to find work due to lack of education and employability beyond the performance of menial tasks.

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As I said in the title, Roy Clark may not have picked cotton but I did. In fact, I was involved in every aspect of the growing and picking of cotton as a boy growing up in West Tennessee except planting, and then only because Daddy wanted to do it himself. We were mechanized farmers, except that we didn’t have a cotton picker. Daddy got one a year after I left home for the Air Force. As soon as I was old enough, at about ten or eleven, I started driving a tractor. At first, I mostly pulled a harrow but I eventually began disking and eventually breaking ground in the spring. Our plows were disc breakers rather than conventional turning plows but they did the same thing. Once the ground had been turned over, we went over it with a disc harrow, an implement with several rows of discs that broke up the ground into small clods. Sometimes we drug a spike harrow behind the disc to break the clods into smaller ones but sometimes we went back with the disc. Once the ground was prepared, the cotton was planted. We had a set of cotton planters that mounted on the sides of the tractor. Each side had two hoppers, one for fertilize and one for seed. The planters had plates on the bottom that were designed to space the seeds a certain distance apart.

Once the cotton was “big enough to plow,” meaning the stalks were tall enough that they wouldn’t be covered by dirt tossed up by the cultivators, we went through the fields row by row. We usually used scratchers, which were basically metal spring leafs with a small plow point on the end but we also had cultivators that used small plows. Plowing broke the surface and allowed air into the ground; it also covered the grass and weeds in the rows and cleared those from in between them. We plowed for the last time around the first of July then left the fields alone except for monitoring for boll weevils and other insects or blights.

Hoeing cotton or corn is not particularly strenuous work. We went down the rows, usually taking two at a time, and cut out the weeds and grass. I personally preferred to how corn because young cotton stalks are easy to catch with the corner of the hoe. We usually hoed in May and June when the weather wasn’t terribly hot yet. We had no hired hands so we did all of the work ourselves, sometimes with assistance from my aunts and uncles. We had a split vacation from school. We got out at the beginning of May and remained out until early July when the cotton would be laid by. We went back to school for the new year and remained in school until late September, when we got out for “cotton picking.” We were out for six weeks then went back to school in early November. Not only did those of us who lived on farms pick cotton, so did boys and girls from the surrounding towns as well as those who lived in the country but whose fathers weren’t farmers. As I recall, the going rate for cotton pickers was a nickel a pound. An average of 100 pounds a day was a pretty good average, with some pickers doing a lot better and others doing less. I knew a few people who could pick 200 pounds a day – sometimes – but they had to get to the field early and leave late to do it. I once saw something on the Internet where someone claimed they picked 600 pounds a day – uh, uh!

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While I can’t speak for those who picked cotton in the Deep South, in West Tennessee the weather conditions at picking time were pleasant. We’d start picking around the end of September and be finished by early November, although we’d go back again to pull bolls. Morning temperatures were cool and were usually in the seventies or low eighties during the day. Because wet cotton causes problems with the gin, we didn’t start picking until after the dew had burned off, usually around 10:00 AM. We stayed in the field until it was getting too dark to pick or Daddy decided it was time to quit for the day. We had no hired hands but family and neighbors often helped us, usually teenagers and older children. Some kids picked cotton to make money for school clothes but I’m sure some were boosting their family income. Picking cotton was not an unpleasant experience. Yes, we pulled a cotton sack behind us and we often were on our knees, depending on the height of the stalks, but cotton isn’t very heavy and a full sack didn’t usually weigh much more than fifty pounds. When someone’s sacks started getting full, we’d head for the trailer to weigh-in and empty it. The first weigh-in was around dinner time (lunch to Yankees) so we’d take a break to eat the sack lunch everyone had brought with them. Our family usually ate tuna or potted meat sandwiches – Mother sometimes mixed them together. Sometimes we had Vienna sausage. Some of the neighbor kids would stop by the store to buy something to take to the field with them. Some of those who  picked with us were teenage girls. Some were friends but some I barley knew before I met them in the cotton patch. Having them in the field increased my productivity because I’d pick faster to stay close to them. This is no lie – one girl I knew would come to pick wearing makeup. We were in about eighth grade at the time and I suppose it was for my benefit.

In some respects, picking cotton was a social event not unlike quilting bees and barn-raisings. Someone was always telling a story and we sometimes sang while we picked. Daddy would sometimes talk about his experiences in the war. I picked faster so I could stay close enough to him to hear what he was saying. I’d also pick faster to be closer to some of the older teenage boys (and some of the girls) who picked with us. There was sort of contest to see who picked the most each day. That was something I knew I was never going to win. I only remember a time or two when I broke the 100 lbs a day. I knew full well that I wasn’t going to be a professional cotton picker.

The skies were generally clear. if there were clouds, they were usually high cirrus clouds. Cotton picking time coincided with Indian summer, which is a great time to be outside. My main complaint was that it also coincided with squirrel and dove season. I often prayed for rain so I could go to the woods. If I recall correctly, we picked our fields at least twice then came back to pull bolls. Farmers today only pick a field once, and they use mechanical cotton pickers. Hundreds of dollars worth of cotton is often left lying on the ground where it spilled out when the operator was emptying the bin into the trailer and a lot of cotton is left on the stalks. I guarantee you that our stalks were bare when we finished pulling bolls. We didn’t get as much per pound from the gin for bolls. That money was our Christmas money.

There were potential hazards in the cotton patch, particularly the green caterpillars with the acid-filled spines we called “stinging worms.” if you accidentally brushed against one, you got a painful welt. They were one reason everyone wore  long sleeves. We wore cotton gloves to pull bolls but not to pick the cotton from the boll. Hands got chapped and somebody usually had a bottle of Corn Husker’s oil. Occasionally, someone would see a snake but they were usually non-poisonous. The copperheads were usually in the woods. Most of the snakes we saw were black or blue racers – and they raced off as soon as they were startled.

The cotton patch began changing in the 60s. I left home in July to join the Air Force, which I had wanted to do since I was about 13. It wasn’t but a couple of years later that Daddy bought a cotton picker. It was used, an International Harvester mounted on a Farmall C tractor frame and only picked one row at a time. But that was all it took. I remember being home on leave once right after he got it and thinking that if we’d had one sooner, I might not have left home. He also started growing soybeans which, like corn, are harvested mechanically. (We had neighbors who picked their corn by hand but Daddy bought a corn picker when I was still a little boy. Not only did he pick our corn, he picked corn for others as well.) More and more cotton pickers were appearing all over the South, and their advent meant the end of a lot of things, including share-cropping and split vacations for school children since kids were no longer needed in the fields to pick cotton. In fact, the cotton picker probably had more of an effect in the South than the civil rights movement.

My parents have been dead for some time, my dad since 2003 and my mom since 2008. Daddy farmed as long as he was able then started renting out the land to cotton farmers. After Mother died, their two farms were divided between me and my brothers and sisters. The same farmers who had been growing cotton on my part continued to farm it, until this year. They decided to get out of the business after a couple of bad crop years. Some other farmers are working it now. They’re growing corn.

A Southern Country Graveyard

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I’ve been considering what to make my first post about, and decided that since many are refighting the Civil War, or the Southern War of Independence, War of Secession or whatever you want to call it, a proper subject would be my ancestral graveyard in West Tennessee. My great-great grandfather, Jesse H. Carter migrated from Fishing Creek in South Carolina to West Tennessee sometime around 1830 or perhaps possibly earlier. He and a couple of his brothers and cousins their families settled in Carroll County. Jesse became a wealthy landowner who is believed to have owned several hundred, if not thousands, acres of land in and around the Obion River bottom south of McLemoresville. The Carters and their McKinney cousins were devout Methodists but there were no Methodist congregations (or congregations of any kind) in the vicinity. They started meeting in a brush arbor on my great-great-grandfather’s land and eventually erected a church and graveyard on land he donated. Carters Chapel Methodist Church is still an active  congregation and the cemetery is still in use. Many of my ancestors and relatives are buried there although my parents are buried in another cemetery a few miles to the south in the community where they lived.

A number of years ago my wife, then my girlfriend, and I visited the cemetery and spent an hour or so looking around. We had just stopped at Fort Harrod in Kentucky on our way down to Tennessee. I noticed some graves marked with sandstone in the same manner as the graves at the fort. I suspect they are the graves of the early settlers although my family claims they are graves of slaves. That’s not what this post is about. I also noticed a number of graves in the cemetery with white markings identifying the person whose remains are buried beneath them as a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans of the Civil War. Some, if not all, of them identify the person as a veteran of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry. At the time, I didn’t know that the 7th Tennessee was a Union regiment (I probably knew but had forgotten.) There are also graves in the cemetery of men who were on the other side, although their graves aren’t marked to identify them as having been Confederate veterans.

Americans today think that the Civil War was between North and South. In reality, it was between those who supported the Union and those who supported the right of the Southern states to secede. Yes, slavery was part of it but Abraham Lincoln didn’t raise an army to send south to free the slaves. His intent was to repress what he saw as a rebellion. After all, Confederates were called rebels. The Union Army included Southerners, large numbers of them, like the men buried in those graves. These particular veterans were men who enlisted in a regiment organized by Isaac Hawkins, a lawyer and slave owner from nearby Huntingdon, the county seat. Hawkins’ cousin was an officer in a Tennessee regiment serving under the legendary Nathan Bedford Forrest. In fact, the 7th Tennessee Cavalry (CSA) captured the entire 7th Tennessee Cavalry (USA) at Union City. After Union officers refused a prisoner exchange, the West Tennessee  Union men went to Southern prisons, particularly one at the tiny Georgia town of Andersonville where many of them died of disease aggravated by malnutrition. It was hard to feed prisoners since Sherman’s men had stripped the region of all food a few months before. Some of the 7th Tenn. (USA) veterans are my relatives although not all of them were still in the regiment when it was captured. One of my relatives, John Carter, spent a year in the 7th Tennessee but got out at the end of his one-year enlistment. He, like the rest of the 7th Tennessee (USA) was captured at Trenton. That time, the prisoners were exchanged.

My family has been in what is now the United States since the earliest days of the European immigration. Although my branch of the Carter family can only be traced back to the 1700s in Virginia, they are most likely descended from the Carters who established a plantation at Jamestown then spread out of from there. Jesse Carter’s wife Betsy, my great-great-grandmother, was descended from a German Anabaptist who immigrated to Pennsylvania then moved south to the Carolinas and from a Scottish immigrant who also settled on Fishing Creek. My McGowan ancestor was born in London but his father was a Scottish Baptist preacher who had settled in England after fighting with Bonnie Prince Charley at Culloden. (My maternal ancestors are not part of this particular narrative.) However, it wasn’t until late in the 19th century that my McGowan great-grandfather came to West Tennessee and pastored Carters Chapel, and his son met and married my grandmother.) I honestly don’t know if the Carters and McKinneys owned slaves or not. There’s no doubt that their ancestor, Alexander Carter, owned slaves in South Carolina. For years I didn’t think they did primarily because one elderly Carter woman who wrote a narrative about them said they were Union men and later Republicans. I think the latter is true but I’m not sure that all of the Carters supported the Union. I know my grandfather was a strong Republican but, then again, his father came from Middle Tennessee (and his grandfather was probably a Confederate soldier, although he never knew him.) I’m not sure about my grandmother. The 1860 slave census shows very few slaves in that part of Carroll County.

I was born in 1945 and grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s. There really was very little talk about the Civil War at either of the two schools I attended, Lavinia Elementary and Trezevant High School. There were kids whose families were strong Democrats but whether or not it was because they were descended from Confederates or whether they had become Democrats during the New Deal is unclear. No doubt, many were both. Tennessee was largely under control of the Democrats but that was largely because of the influence of “Boss” Crump, a Memphis politician who ran the Democratic party in Tennessee and was able to control the vote in Memphis, which accounted (and still does) for 25% of the votes in the entire state. There were no Confederate flags to be seen except in parks, particularly the Shiloh National Battlefield Park in the southeast corner of West Tennessee. I went there one time as a child. I don’t remember if it was a family outing or a school trip. There was probably one in Forrest Park in Memphis, since it was established in honor of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is buried there along with his wife. (The black mayor of Memphis wants to move them. They already changed the name of the park.) I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to the park. My family usually made a trip to Memphis every summer but it was to go to the zoo in Overton Park. My parents and grandparents knew men who had fought during the war. One of my great-uncles told me stories and sometimes mentioned veterans but he never said anything about the war itself. The men in the community socialized after the war, as did men who were on opposing sides in other communities.(There was a lot of postwar strife but it was due to outlaw bands that roamed the countryside immediately after the war.)

The Civil War centennial started while I was in high school but I don’t remember there being any attention paid to it. A famous battle was fought only about 10-12 miles from where I grew up, but although there’s a park there now, it wasn’t established until recently. If any of my classmates’ fathers were members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I never heard about it. If there were any Klan members around, they stayed hidden. (One of my maternal great-grandfathers was active with the Klan in the early Twentieth Century but I was in my 50s before I ever heard anything about it. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother but she never said anything about it.) I was stationed in North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina but except for Charleston, where Civil War cannon overlook the harbor in Battery Park, there was very little homage paid to the war. I knew no one who displayed the Confederate flag, not even the guys, most of whom were from  the north, who weren’t particularly fond of blacks.

Back to Carters Chapel – the people who lie buried in that cemetery are Southerners, Yet many of those who were alive at the time who lie in that graveyard supported the Union. Others didn’t. After the war, there was some animosity among the men who went to Andersonville but within a generation, families were intermingling. I have friends whose families lie in that cemetery who were staunch Democrats but I have more friends who were from Republican families. None of them wave the Confederate battle flag.

As for myself, I have never owned a Confederate flag of any kind. My first wife was from Virginia and while her mother was from New Jersey and the granddaughter of a Union naval officer, her father was a Virginia native. They had a Confederate flag that had belonged to an ancestor. If I remember correctly, it hung in the sunroom. My homosexual VMI graduate brother-in-law got it and later sold it. My wife’s grandmother’s house in New Jersey had two .45 revolvers and her (or her late husband’s) sabre in the sun room. Yet even though I have no particularly affection for the  flat of the Army of Northern Virginia, I am very disturbed by the big flap raised by political activists, the media and the Indian governor of South Carolina who has no connection to the heritage of the state she was elected to govern.

A Presidential Proclamation – #3382 Civil War Centennial Dec. 7, 1960

The years 1961 to 1965 will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the American Civil War.

That war was America’s most tragic experience. But like most truly great tragedies, it carries with it an enduring lesson and a profound inspiration. It was a demonstration of heroism and sacrifice by men and women of both sides who valued principle above life itself and whose devotion to duty is a part of our Nation’s noblest tradition.

Both sections of our now magnificently reunited country sent into their armies men who became soldiers as good as any who ever fought under any flag. Military history records nothing finer than the courage and spirit displayed at such battles as Chickamauga, Antietam, Kennesaw Mountain, and Gettysburg. That America could produce men so valiant and so enduring is a matter for deep and abiding pride.

The same spirit on the part of the people at home supported and strengthened those soldiers through four years of great trial. That a Nation which contained hardly more than thirty million people, North and South together, could sustain six hundred thousand deaths without faltering is a lasting testimonial to something unconquerable in the American spirit. And that a transcending sense of unity and larger common purpose could, in the end, cause the men and women who had suffered so greatly to close ranks once the contest ended and to go on together to build a greater, freer, and happier America must be a source of inspiration as long as our country may last.

By a joint resolution approved on September 7, 1957 (71 Stat. 626), the Congress established the Civil War Centennial Commission to prepare plans and programs for the nationwide observances of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Civil War, and requested the President to issue proclamations inviting the people of the United States to participate in those observances.

Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby invite all of the people of our country to take a direct and active part in the Centennial of the Civil War.

I request all units and agencies of government–Federal, State, and local–and their officials to encourage, foster, and participate in Centennial observances. And I especially urge our Nation’s schools and colleges, its libraries and museums, its churches and religious bodies, its civic, service, and patriotic organizations, its learned and professional societies, its arts, sciences, and industries, and its informational media, to plan and carry out their own appropriate Centennial observances during the years 1961 to 1965; all to the end of enriching our knowledge and appreciation of this momentous chapter in our Nation’s history and of making this memorable period truly a Centennial for all Americans.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

DONE at the City of Washington this sixth day of December in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and eighty-fifth.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, 34th President (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969