Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite historical figures is General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Why? I’m not sure. It probably has something to do with his confidence and stunning competence. His dashing good looks are only a bonus.
A Sunday afternoon well spent.
In fact, long ago he edged out Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain because he (Hancock) doesn’t seem to have this weird, idealistic, Victorian misogyny. It was either by the end of high school or the end of freshman year of college where I knew Hancock was my guy. During my freshman year of college, I took a brave stab at being an engineering major, but it turns out I was incredibly not good at physics, calculus, chemistry, programming, and engineering. To comfort myself, I spent a lot of time on the 10th floor of the Hesburgh Library, reading through the Civil War section (which should have told me immediately that engineering was not my calling…) and my favorite find of this time was Hancock the Superb.
Just about every time I went back to campus, I would visit the book – up to the 10th floor, around to the right, third shelf up from the bottom on the 4th stack back. It would usually be a drive-by: I would locate the book, take it out, pet it a couple of times, and put it back.
Anyway, I came across this book in my local public library and decided to read it again to see if all the nostalgia was warranted. Verdict: It was.
On the fourth and final day of our historical vacation, Mel and I packed the car, took leave of our host, and drove back to the Industrial Park in time for the big surrender ceremony. As an added bonus, we were early enough we actually got parking on site.
It was only about 10 am but the camp was already a movin’ and shakin’. Half of the sutlers had already packed up and left. Many of the reenactors were also packing up. There were a lot of trucks driving around the camp like modern day horses, with trailers and canon of various sizes in tow.
Al Stone’s final appearance as Lee
Again upon recommendation from our host, we got breakfast at this local indoor marketplace that’s only open on Saturdays. The crepes were a little bit of a wait but totally worth it, and we got to browse the variety of hand-made items for sale.
This day, Mel and I decided to to go to the industrial site, the one with loads more reenactors and sutlers that looks like an historical themed county fair. We couldn’t figure out how to sneak in (we tried), but we did get the schedule booklet and canvas bag (emblazoned with “Appomattox 150th” and credits) for free. I’m not sure if they realized I didn’t pay for it, or if they were being nice because I told them it was my birthday. I threatened to show my ID – a Virginia license, April 9 birthday, at the 150th Appomattox? It’s like I’m a nerd or something.
Day 2 began with a leisurely morning, breakfast on the go, and a return to the Court House site. This day was filled mostly with pictures and wandering around the town. Fortunately there were many interpretive signs scattered through the town to read and many people to watch/overhear/interrogate. In the back of the town was a sign that said “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Site” with an arrow, so naturally we had to go check it out, as our mutual affection and appreciation for Chamberlain brought us together in the first place. (It was a path that eventually led to the highway so it wasn’t very exciting.)
History friend Mel and I found a place to stay on Airbnb in nearby Lynchburg, VA. Lynchburg is a really cute city and the loft we stayed in was a refurbished shoe factory. It looked old and historic on the outside and was right on the James River. Actually, it was a fantastic location and we enjoyed the few places in town we visited. I would consider living in Lynchburg. [ Please note, it was named after John Lynch in 1757, and *not* because people got lynched there…just clarifying because I had this conversation with someone.]
We arrived at the Court House on the 9th of April just after a reenactment of Lee’s surrender to Grant. (I noted with some sadness it was not Al Stone of Lee’s Lieutenants.) We spent the rest of the day weaving in and out of clusters of people while looking through the buildings. There was a lot of history to absorb while avoiding people and horse droppings. The National Park Service was the designated authority on this site, and between herding people and answering questions, they too were discussing the historical events and aftermath surrounding Appomattox. Park Rangers make me so happy.
They were discussing what sort of superpowers the Union would need. This conversation also included the words “spidey senses” and “jazz hands.” I love park rangers.
This is a little bit late, but better late than never, I say. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than by taking an extended weekend trip to Appomattox Court House and going absolutely nerd-wild. Can you?
Keep reading behind the cut…
The town of Appomattox Court house bursting at the seams
… or four and a half hours of my life I won’t get back.
The impetus for watching this film was actually inspired by St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a scene during the Battle of Fredericksburg where the Irish Brigade of fame, led by Gen. Thomas Meagher, attacks Marye’s Heights and meet the 24th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, or Georgia’s Irish Brigade. In the film, the Georgians are shocked and appalled both that their fellow Irishmen are fighting for the Union and that they are actively shooting their fellow Irishmen. When the Federals retreat, the Georgians send up a cry to honor their dead and retreating brethren. What a way to celebrate a day most everyone else takes as an excuse to drink excessively. The Irish love their misery, I guess, and my father, being 3rd generation Irish, made sure us kids knew the ways of his people.
Southern Irish: Fighting against a tyrannical government, which only makes sense from the States Rights Cause perspective. Because the British had been ruling Ireland for centuries, was extremely discriminatory against them, and had just allowed millions to die during the Great Famine, a tragedy which the Crown could have prevented.
Northern Irish: fighting against slavery and for a unified state, as generally the Irish were the lowest of the second-class citizenry in the UK, hardly better off than slaves. Also for the Union, and very American, ideals that what status you’re born at doesn’t mean you’ll die there, that you can bootstrap yourself up the societal chain.
I’m one of those people who can’t just cherrypick a clip of a film. I have to watch the whole thing. And I did. I did not actively take notes, so what follows will be general impressions of this rewatch. Also, please note that I saw the movie when it came out in 2003, and this might be the first time I’ve seen it since. On principle, I generally don’t watch it. (The soundtrack, on the other hand, is amazing.)
And so without further ado, Gods and Generals: