(July 31, 2017) In Texas author William Humphrey’s second novel published in 1965, the contemporary narrator describes learning about his deceased Great-grandfather through family lore. The ancestor fought with the 52nd Tennessee at Shiloh, which was the first massive battle of the Civil War. Most of the regiment ran away at first contact but two companies, including his, remained.
They were in a hot part of the fight along a sunken road when he was wounded, left blinded and crippled. After a convalescent period at home, his wife led the family to Clarksville, Texas during the second half of the war. Along the way they barely earned a living by taking-on the former work of slaves that had abandoned their plantations as the federal armies advanced.
Much like William Faulkner wrote in Intruder in the Dust, Humphrey’s mid twentieth century narrator described his reaction to the family legend:
As for every Southern boy, it was learning that the war was lost that [prompted me] from that time onward [to resolve that] each battle had to be refought. The finality of it being inadmissible, my mind drew up short, clinging to that last moment when there was still time.
For me it was always noon on July 2nd at Gettysburg, and now that the cost of delay was clear, Longstreet would delay no more. Pickett’s charge moved forever up Cemetery Ridge, and at Chancellorsville meanwhile there was still time to warn the sentryman that the figure upon whom he was drawing a bead was his own beloved general, Stonewall Jackson.
But of course it was not still noon at Gettysburg, and Longstreet had waited until too late. Picket’s charge had nobly failed and Stonewall Jackson had crossed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees. I had to lose each of these battles not once, but countless times. So it must have been for my Great-grandfather.
On the trip to Texas the family camped one night on the very spot where the soldier was wounded. “He minutely toured the battlefield…searching for some flaw in the sequence of events which would…declare that day void and bring it back to be played over again. He was hoping on that spot where he had lost it, his sight would be restored by a miracle.”
“Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.”
Waiting for Snow in Havana
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