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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2


Haibun ~
Anita Virgil

Editor's Note: This issue's featured photo-haibun is 'Cornbread and Coffee' by Anita Virgil, with photographs by Jennifer Virgil Gurchinoff and Robert D. Wilson. I'd like to invite further submissions of photo-haibun to Simply Haiku and we'll try to feature at least one in future editions of the Haibun Column. Send your submissions to me, Paul Conneally, at: paul.conneally@ntlworld.com . —PC



CORNBREAD & COFFEE


The Civil War
Bedford County and Lynchburg, Virginia


a clatter of leaves’
descent into autumn
stillness  [1]

Cold November dawn. First frost. On my forest floor the leaves of summer fade crisp and gold. A mix of tulip, red maple, beech and hickory, walnut and dogwood, white oak, black gum. Terracotta as the sun comes up behind the pines and the few native red cedars Thomas Jefferson hated when he lived a mile from here. Tangles of brier climb and hang from the hardwoods, wait another season along with the died-back poison ivy, wild roses, honeysuckle—wintergreen and club tree moss beneath. Copperheads sleep. The stream gold with leaves, water invisible. Crawfish tucked away in its mud banks, water-striders vanished.

I light a candle in my still-dark kitchen, turn on the coffee, and soon cut out a wedge of leftover sweet cornbread to lightly broil. When toasted just so I add tiny butter slices and watch them liquefy and sink into the cake. I pour the ready steaming brew into my cup to sip—and muse on sustenance . . . .



[click on image for enlarged view]

A pitiful version of this simple and delicious fare a century and a half ago is what the Confederate soldiers lived on in that year before the Civil War ended in April 1865 at Appomattox, thirty-five miles from here. Their corn—parched field corn, scavenged along the broiling dusty summer roads they march. Coarse-cracked, not fine like my soft golden meal scooped from a clean jar. Mixed with any water they could salvage, cooked over small smoky fires somewhere in a woods’ clearing like mine, it cut their guts, made them vomit and shit blood. That April 1865, bedraggled and defeated, they stack their guns before General Grant. All Confederate supply trains out of their major transportation center, Lynchburg, captured by Yankees. Cut off. Those very same tracks that bear today’s Norfolk & Southern [then called Virginia & Tennessee] freight trains night and day, in and out of Lynchburg, also pass through Forest.

  far below the stars a tiny train travels
into my dream  [2]

But that June in 1864, with Sherman on his way to Georgia, Ulysses S. Grant orders another attack: Major General David Hunter is sent to destroy Lynchburg--transportation and supply hub with three railroads, the Kanahwa Canal on the James River, munitions factories; it is also the hospital city for the Confederacy.

Fifteen thousand strong, Hunter’s army coming from Staunton heads up the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains to their left. June 15th it begins its hot eastward climb through the pass between Sharp Top and Round Top mountains--The Peaks of Otter, heading into Bedford County and thence northeast to Lynchburg.

Unobserved, Confederate scouts watch from high up Sharp Top as the Union soldiers halt for the night part-way down the mountain. The group ahead of them have already reached its base—tent under the oaks and on green lawns of Fancy Farm. [It still exists in the 21st century. Thomas Jefferson stayed there in the early 1800s.]

“the stars and silvery moon shine,
while all around us the campfires and signal lights
add brilliance to the scene.”  [3]  

wrote Thornton M. Hinkle, a correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette traveling with Hunter’s army.


[click on image for enlarged view]


quiet evening:                     
the long sound           
                     of the freight train fades  [4]

Morning. June 16th. Those camping on the mountain, when “the sun had not yet baked off the scattered wispy clouds down below”  [5] arise and along the way cut branches of Sharp Top’s rhododendron blooms. Stick them in their rifle barrels. So many, they were “like a moving bank of flowers as they came down Sharp Top” [6] heading for Lynchburg.

Skirmishes occur all along the way through Liberty (now renamed Bedford City) and up the Old Forest Road [now Rte. 221] towards Lowry. One Federal officer’s horse is injured during this action near Lowry and it is left to be cared for at Byrne’s farm, not far from the highway. In the summer of 2003, I was told this by Mrs. John Byrne, married to a descendant who is still farming this land one hundred and forty years later. She is portrayed in my eBook Summer Thunder (2004):

the plain farm wife’s            
red hibiscus tower              
      against the summer sky        [7]

The officer’s name? Captain William McKinley, later the 24th president of the United States.

the heat . . .                       
  waiting at the railroad bridge  
while the clouds pile up   [8] 

 

On the 16th, the Federals move on the 25 mile run into Lynchburg. Some travel via what is now 221. Some of the Federals march further east and then turn left onto the other major artery into the city, the Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike [now Rte. 460].

Those going up 221, after Lowry pass Goode, then Forest, peppered all the way by delaying attacks carried out by Major General John D. McCausland and General John Daniel Imboden’s cavalry. This slow-down buys valuable time for Early, who is coming into Lynchburg from across the James River to set up inner defenses for the city--entrenchments, earthworks. All citizens are enlisted to help.

Only twelve days earlier, June 4 of 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor was fought. Major General Jubal A. Early, who is to defend Lynchburg from General David Hunter’s impending attack, needs troops. He expects to cull them from the thousands of soldiers who just fought and defeated Grant at Cold Harbor.

“It was a thirteen days’ walk from there to Charlottesville, Va.. From Charlottesville to Lynchburg these soldiers were to ride the Orange & Alexandria railroad. Major General Robert Emmet Rodes--one of my favorites, a good man—Alabama outfit when he came to Lynchburg, could not board but half his men because there were so many of Major General John Brown Gordon’s men on the train!” [9] [LM] This forces Early to come up with some alternate plan to defend the city with a sudden terrible shortage in manpower.

Elsewhere, in advance of the impending battle other preparations are being made. Major General James Longstreet (one of Robert E. Lee’s closest advisors who was with him at Gettysburg) was wounded and is in a hospital in Lynchburg. Just before the battle is to begin, he is evacuated to Rustburg, a town south of the city which is off that same Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike the Federals are marching in on. Unaware of his presence, they march right by him! [10]

There are two streets off Lakeside Drive in Lynchburg that bear the name Moorman. In June 1864, a man named Moorman, whose business was dealing in country hams, had property which ran some two miles’ distance up Blackwater Creek in Lynchburg. It included a place called Watermelon Hole, where 89 year old Lewis Meredith, who told me the following story, used to swim as a child.

“Before the battle, citizens of Bedford County and Lynchburg were burying valuables. Moorman put a wagonload of his hams in a huge hole. The Federals found them—and had a picnic. Lynchburgers always say a black man told the Federals where the hams were!” [11] [LM]


General Hunter and his men make it up the last part of the macadam turnpike, arrive at the tumbled down 18th century stone Quaker Meeting House built by John Lynch, founder of Lynchburg. The land is open farmland and the vista broad, falling off as it does towards the array of near mountains of the Blue Ridge. Hunter leaves his soldiers there for the night and continues off to the left and down a slope leading to a fine old house called Sandusky. I was there last autumn. Federal style, old brick made of local red Virginia clay, double chimneys, oak trees.

cat-pee-smelling         
    boxwoods crowd the path
to the manse  [12]       

Instead of his habitual property destruction, Hunter appropriates this house for himself and his officers, among whom is Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes who will become our 19th president.

Hunter knows Sandusky’s current owner, Major George C. Hutter. They fought in the Mexican War together. There is a barn (no longer there). This home, built back in 1808 by wealthy merchant Charles Johnston who counted among its guests President Thomas Jefferson. They were neighbors. Jefferson’s other home, Poplar Forest, restored now, is in Forest, Virginia. A mile and a half from my home. On December 6, 1817 Jefferson dined at Sandusky. The very boards I walked one silent autumn afternoon when the house was all but deserted. Just the curator. And me. Breathing in the past.

June 17th. The day the battle begins. Hunter’s officers climb the roof of Sandusky, use it for an observation post. By the noon hour, up the Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike (now Route 460, which becomes Fort Avenue close to town, a road I drive all the time), the Federal army approaches. At the Quaker Meeting house, General William Averell’s cavalry opens fire on them. Federal infantry forces charge. For two hours the fight rages. By afternoon, Hunter joins the battle. It heads up a ways to Fort Avenue to the earthworks Early has had constructed.

that old green rise still          
at the high point of this road?
a redoubt                            
to defend this city                
 I drive into  [13]                      
                                                                              Fort Early, Lynchburg
                                                                 1864 & 2004



[click on image for enlarged view]



But the city is way short of able-bodied people to defend it. As Hunter’s men await the next day’s battle, so too, high on a hill in the Old City Cemetery not far from the James River east of Lynchburg, VMI’s [Virginia Military Institute] Cadet Corps bivouacks. Waits for daylight.

almost gone                     
under the great tree root    
the rebel’s headstone  [14] 


[click on image for enlarged view]


It is now the railroad plays a unique role in the Battle of Lynchburg. General Early of the Army of Northern Virginia has come up with his “alternate plan” for defending the city. He orders hospital convalescents and a few militia to board empty box cars of the Southside railroad, then all through the night he has the train run back and forth across the James River bridge. The ‘passengers’ whoop and holler mightily. Military music plays. And the Federals within earshot, Hunter included, believe thousands of Early’s remaining delayed troops are pouring in to defend Lynchburg!

June 18th. Preparations continue inside Lynchburg: “A Confederate artillery man from Staunton, Virginia by the name of Berkley, cannot get his cannon uphill from Church Street to Court Street via 8th Street which connects the two. So McCausland and Imboden get off their horses though they are heading for Ivy Creek to hold back Duffié from his western attack on the Outer Defense to Lynchburg. They help Berkley push his cannon into place.” [15] [LM]

No direct Union attack makes it into the Inner Defenses of the city that last day. "McCausland whom the Federals called 'The Bee' because he stung them so much!" [16] relentlessly pursues them, crosses Ivy Creek and gallops down across the railroad tracks, then veers right, heading south onto the Old Forest Road which extends all the way to Liberty where they began their long march.

“What today is called Langhorne Road was then Old Forest Road and it extended all the way to Liberty.” [17] [LM]  These name changes are important to this story for they verify that the Federals did use both of today’s Rte. 221 and Rte. 460. Hence it validates the story of Capt. William McKinley’s wounded horse being left on June 17th at Lowry, which is directly east of 221. Retreating down it on the 18th, he collected his horse from the Byrne family farm, exactly as Mrs. Byrne told me.

Hunter evacuates, fearing he will face defeat by a superior force—the one his troops thought they heard all through that summer night . . . Back the Federal army flees under constant sniper fire.

Sandusky also served the Federals as a field hospital. When the fighting ceases and the Union soldiers are gone, Confederate soldiers find outside the barn (no longer there) “a waist-high pile of arms and legs.” [18] Inside, a hundred wounded Union soldiers are left behind. And Sandusky has been robbed of all its valuables.

Down the two main summer roads the Union army flees. Those on the Old Forest Road have the Blue Ridge Mountains off to their right, with the dominant Peaks of Otter, their destination, in sight as they pass through Forest. They continue on to Goode, then Lowry, on towards Liberty. “Ramseur catches the rearguard of the Federals going west through Liberty (now Bedford City), still after them. . . Those Confederates—they could really cover the ground. They could really move, couldn’t they?” [19] [LM]

 


[click on image for enlarged view]

At Liberty they march through the still-smoking and battered little town. On they go to Rte. 43, which takes them to The Peaks where they climb the gap between Sharp Top and Round Top once more. They clamber towards the lush Shenandoah Valley into history.


[click on image for enlarged view]


Now, serene Lake Abbott submerges their path, then meadow, forever.

at the edge of the lake 
fingerlings mingle        
with clouds   [20]         


Anita Virgil
Forest, Virginia


SPECIAL THANKS: On November 23, 2004, Mr. Lewis Meredith (b. June 9, 1915 in Louisa County, Virginia) granted me an interview. He has been a resident of Lynchburg since 1926, and has been a Civil War buff for fifty years. Mr. Meredith is also a long-time member of the Round Table Club, to which renowned Va. Tech Civil War expert, Professor James I. Robertson, also belongs. Mr. Meredith’s anecdotal material and confirmation of the facts in this piece were invaluable.

His last words to me serve as EPILOGUE.

“When the war was over, General McCausland received a gift from the City of Lynchburg. They gave him a sword and silver spurs. After the war, he settled in West Virginia on his land consisting of 6,000 acres. He lived to be nearly 100. And in Spring Hill Cemetery there stands a monument to Major General Jubal A. Early. My mother, who died in 1974, is buried right close to General Early.”


REFERENCES

1. Anita Virgil, One Potato Two Potato Etc (Forest, VA, Peaks Press 1991).
2. Ibid.
3. Peter Viemeister, Peaks of Otter: Life and Times (Bedford, VA, Hamilton’s 1992).
4. Virgil.
5. Viemeister, op. cit.
6. Ibid.
7. Anita Virgil, Summer Thunder (Forest, VA, Peaks Press 2004).
8. Virgil, One Potato, op. cit.
9. Lewis Meredith, interviewed by Anita Virgil.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Anita Virgil
13. Anita Virgil
14. Virgil, One Potato, op. cit.
15. Meredith interview.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. James I. Robertson, Jr. narrator, The Battle of Lynchburg.
19. Meredith interview.
20. Anita Virgil.

—Anita Virgil © 2005—

 


Anita Virgil lives in Forest, Virginia. She is a past president of the Haiku Society of America. She was a member of the three-person HSA Committee on Definitions which included Harold G. Henderson and William J. Higginson. As a member of the Book Committee for A Haiku Path (HSA, Inc. 1994), she edited the two chapters on Definitions.

Books: A 2nd Flake (1974), one potato two potato, etc. (1991, Peaks Press), on my mind, an Interview of Anita Virgil by Vincent Tripi (3rd edition, Press Here, 1993), PILOT (1996, Peaks Press), A Long Year (2002, Peaks Press), and summer thunder (2004, Peaks Press).
Her poetry and essays and book reviews have appeared in all major haiku magazines and anthologies for 35 years. Most recently, she appears in the anthologies Where Dogs Dream (2003, MQP London), Haiku for Lovers (2003, MQP London), Haiku (2003, Alfred A. Knopf Everyman's Library edition). Poems and essays have also appeared on the Internet and in magazines in Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, Russia and Serbia/Montenegro.

Of her work, Anita writes: I always had and still have a single goal for haiku: that it be poetry, that it sit comfortably in its uniqueness amid the literature of the world. There is no reason for it not to since the best artists speak "to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives: to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain."*


* from Nigger of the Narcissus by Joseph Conrad.

 

[Photograph credit: Jennifer V. Gurchinoff]


Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku