Monday, April 27, 2009

A Good Man

Many of my friends think that Hiram Ulysses Grant had no redeeming qualities. I beg to differ. Though I grew up believing Grant to be an inept, immoral, drunkard (this was the South, remember), as I studied the Civil War I still believed he had no redeeming qualities.

But then I visited his home near St. Louis, or rather the family home of his wife, Julia Dent.

Julia came from a prosperous and influential and rather "Southern" family. She was also cross-eyed. (Do you remember when kids wore patches to make their "lazy eye" stronger? We never see cross-eyed people any more. )

Grant, then Ulysses Simpson Grant because of a registration mistake at West Point, fell deeply in love with her. Even though totally devoted to the man's daugher, Grant encountered endless humiliation from his father-in-law and put up with so much crap because he loved that woman so profoundly.

The victor at Appomattox, the president of the United States, at one time Grant was the most beloved figure in America. When he was president, his father-in-law sat on the porch and entertained guests with the feats of Robert E. Lee. Grant should have shoved him under a passing coach, but no, he tolerated the old man because he loved Julia so dearly.

What a lucky woman to find a man whose deeds matched his actions, at least when it came to her.

P. S.--I have friends on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line who not only find redeeming qualities in the 18th president, but also revere him. We call them "Yankees."
Michelle's Adventures

While wandering in the wilds of the West yesterday, Michelle Martin snapped this photo of the wild weather. Whoa, Nellie!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Southern Belles, a Rerun

Michelle Martin and I were on the phone catching up for a while this morning and started reminiscing about our Glory Days (which are still in progress, I might add) and decided we're going to do a remake of our popular Homeland Security photo made 3 or 4 years ago at Mine Creek. Perhaps we'll get the chance at the Battle of Black Jack reenactment that's coming up. Yup, protecting our men in every era--that's us! (PS -- that's me with the shotgun!)

Michelle has been busy scouting shooting locations for NBC. I've been searching for experts on various topics for another film project. Gosh, we know some wonderful, creative people. Speaking of which, talked with Fred Chiaventone today (and his lovely and talented wife, Sharon). Fred's always full of projects and his book, Moon of Bitter Cold, will become a mini-series. Fred, as I have said before, is one of my top five favorite writers and Moon is one of my top five favorite books. The thought that these characters--Margaret Carrington, Jim Bridger, Red Cloud--will come to life on the big screen is so exciting I can hardly stand it! The same producers who were involved with Lonesome Dove are putting the project together which gives me great hopes it will done as well as the Larry McMurtry novel (one of the best screen adaptations ever).

Speaking of film projects, Ken Spurgeon of Lone Chimney Films checked in today. His kids were competing at History Day here in Topeka. He said that the film Bloody Dawn, which includes moi, as well as Fred Chiaventone and Michelle Martin, will air on PBS soon. Will keep you posted.

Back when Bloody Dawn was being filmed, some of the shooting was done at my house. On the patio, front row: Drew Gomber (of Wild West Tech Fame); me, Fred Chiaventone; back row: Ken Spurgeon, Nathan Miller, and Jon Goering.

Tonight, headed for a "Barn Party" in Lawrence with dear friends and great music. . . if the tornadoes don't get the best of us. Betty Lou Pardue just cancelled on our plans because she got called into the TV station.

Life can be pretty darned exciting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rathbone and Campbell

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about Basil Rathbone, most famous, of course, for portraying Sherlock Holmes. Rather than discussing his movie roles, I discussed his service in WWI. Well, a few other folks were interested in his military service as well and my blog came up in a search from a forum in Great Britain. Referencing my blog, there was some discussion as whether or not the photo was actually Basil or his brother. I contacted them and asked them to please let me know so I could correct it if necessary. I received a warm welcome to the blog and this considered response:
Hello Deb,
Welcome to the forum. In my opinion the photo is of Basil Rathbone in the uniform of of the Liverpool Scottish (1/10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King's (Liverpool Regiment) of the Territorial Force. We have no evidence of a brother being a member of the battalion. Rathbone won the MC with the battalion and was the scouting officer. If memory serves me correctly, he served first with the 2/10th KLR (that is the 2nd Battalion of the Liverpool Scottish) in the Erquinghem and Bois Grenier area prior to the amalgamation of the two battalions in April 1918 but will verify that tomorrow. My credentials at
PS Nice blog.

I was so happy to make Ian's acquaintance. The Great War Forum is interesting and these guys really know what they're talking about. I encourage all you interested parties to check it out.
And in the meantime, check out the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. It is an unforgettable experience.
I'm thrilled to be conversing with the Brits and hope to learn more.

Happy Birthday Glen Campbell

The troubadour was born on this day in Delight, Arkansas, in 1936.

When I was a kid, I had pink 45 rpm record player where the records slid in and out like a CD player. I bought a copy of Galveston and played it until it warped in the sun one day. Fortunately, this record player was made in such a way that the record played anyway. I loved that song.
(Photo from the movie True Grit)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Apple Blossom Time

Apple blossoms are my favorite flower. When I was a child, our house sat on a hilltop overlooking Granny and Grandpa's house in the hollow. One of my most beautiful and vivid memories is looking out our picture window down the hill; the spring rains had left a mist around the blooms of those old fruit trees, bright white flowers with pale pink edges and the first hints of green leaves. These brief blooms--lovely and fragile and filled with potential life.

I planted two apple trees in my yard, one yellow delicious, one red. They have a few blossoms this year, and they make me nostalgic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bluegrass, Bloodstains, and Bob Gordon

The last few days have been hectic, literally and historically. From bluegrass to assassination, it's been a busy April.

Sue Ann Seel and I again visited the Little Grill near Manhattan where Chris Biggs and Steve Hinrichs were playing. Folks, they are so good and that little Jamaican grill has just about the most interesting eclectic decor I've ever seen(outside my own house, of course). From bait bucket light fixtures to grass-skirted overhangs, it screams "good time" when you walk in the door. They also have absolutely the best waitstaff in the world. Try it sometime, but especially on Wednesday evenings when Chris & Steve are playing.

On the 14th, Andy my Yankee informant, emailed to remind me that this was indeed the day Lincoln had been shot in 1865. Does he think I need reminding, for Pete's sake? Anyhow, he was indeed correct, and the 15th is the day Lincoln actually died. By the 16th, it was Easter Sunday and folks referred to it as "Black Easter." Cities, homes--the entire country were draped in black. This story has fascinated me endlessly, as well as countless others, and I was privileged to speak in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago with a group of folks including Gary Grove. Gary is a wonderful, generous man who has made quite a bit of news of late. He is the scientist who has been contacted about examining Lincoln's DNA from a blood stain owned by a Philadelphia museum. Well, I happen to know those museum folks as well. Read more at : I gotta tell ya, that Hugh Boyle tells of an encounter he had with a skunk one time that just about tops anything Jerry Clower entertained audiences with. I wouldn't begin to recount it; just ask him to share it with you sometime.
Bob Gordon Theater

I want to write now of happier things. Time Tunnel is on television. I remember it would come on Sundays as part of the lineup on Bob Gordon Theater on WSJS in Winston-Salem. Bob was a local celebrity, a ventriloquist who would interview local folks between episodes of classic TV shows. We would often be at Grandma and Grandpa Coalson's house and Grandpa would be enjoying his Dr. Pepper. These were good times. We didn't talk very much--my sister, my brother, my Grandpa and me, but we laughed together.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 12, 1861

And what does that devastatingly handsome actor Montgomery Clift (above, and shirt-tail relative of Paul Miles Schneider) have to to with the Civil War? Read on. . . .

Again, Andy Obermueller emailed to remind me that on this day in 1861, Rebel forces began the bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Unlike the other reminders Andy (the Yankee) has sent me, this one resulted in a Rebel victory when the fort's commander, Robert Anderson, surrendered on April 14.

Robert Anderson (below and below right) breaks my heart. A Kentuckian by birth, a Virginian by heritage, he was pro-slavery and pro-Union and all soldier--one of those quandaries of the Civil War. His pedigree is Southern from his stately bearing to his gentlemanly ways. He was a cousin to Chief Justice John Marshall (a Virginian) and one of his brothers was a Confederate sympathizer who moved to Mexico in hopes of establishing a Confederate colony there.
A West Point graduate, by the time the major commanded Fort Sumter, he was an experienced soldier, having served in the Black Hawk War where he both mustered in and mustered out Abraham Lincoln. He served in the Mexican American War where he was severely wounded.
The spring of 1861 found him defending Fort Sumter against the bombardment of his former West Point student, P. G. T. Beauregard. Such are the endless ironies of this war.
Acknowledging defeat, Anderson lowered the 33-star American flag, folding it carefully and carrying it North with him.
Four years to the day, he raised that same flag over Fort Sumter with a flotilla of Yankee ships cheering in Charleston Harbor. The ceremony brought tears to his eyes, as did the death of Lincoln which he learned only hours later.
Anderson was a good and honorable man and is buried in West Point Cemetery, next to George Armstrong Custer.
According to my sources, this handsome Kentuckian is also the great-grandfather of Montgomery Clift. Quality is sometimes inherited.

Quote of the Day
"If a man don't go his own way, he is nothing." --Montgomery Clift as Robert E. Lee Prewitt in From Here to Eternity

PS--The flag had 33 stars until January 29, 1861, when Kansas entered the Union. Obviously, there had not been enough time to update all the flags.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10, 1865

April is such a sad month in Civil War history, even more so if you're of the Southern persuasion. This may be the saddest, however, as Marse Robert issued his final, eloquent order. I can scare read it without weeping and know legions who feel the same. Please take the time to read this. While it is a military order, it is the most heartfelt, sincere, prayerful sentiment, and so much a reflection of the man who wrote it:

Commanding Army of Northern Virginia.
After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard-fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them. But, feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous considerations for myself,
I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
R. E. LEE, General.

Bluegrass Tonight

. . .at the Classic Bean, Fairlawn Plaza, Topeka. Pastense will be playing and they make an espresso martini to die for!!!!
Invitation to a Raid

. . . as a Southern Belle of questionable reputation, I get the most interesting offers. I won't repeat the entire invitation, but for the weekend of May 15-17:

To Arms! Oppose the Invaders!""Guns and Horses for General Price!"

Our story is simple and accurate. We are time period correct and authentic to the very region. We're not necessarily Pro Secession. We're more Pro Missouri. We wanted to remain neutral, but the invaders were pushing us and continuing to prosecute their terrorism against us. With the election of Lincoln, the people of Illinois supposed it their divine right to ride into Missouri and destroy or carry back whatever they saw fit. And from Iowa too. Jayhawkers you don't hear much about. You don't hear about that part of the war, not because they didn't do it. You don't hear about it because they were so good about covering it up. Too the Victor go the Spoils and so forth.

If you and your girls want to come along, I don't see why we couldn't get you setup
somewhere in the camp. Your most obedient servant. . . ,

Now I ask you, when did you get such an irresistible offer?
(Statue of General Price in Keytesville, MO)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 1865

Andy Obermueller reminded me this morning that today marks the anniversary of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. (Leave it to a Yankee to bring up such anniversaries.) There were many men from Patrick County there--among them, A. D. Reynolds, brother of R. J. Reynolds (yes, the very same.) Abram David Reynolds came back home to find guerrilla bands marauding, looting, and killing in the mountains. The only time he was wounded was after the war was supposedly over.

Robert E. Lee's surrender to U. S. Grant marked the end of the war in the minds of many, but not in reality. There were still armies in the field, prisoners of war in far flung prisons, hundreds of thousands of refugees some of whom might, or might not, see home. With the assassination of Lincoln, the fear that swept the country was palpable: Would the war start again? Would slavery be reinstated? Would the reunited country indeed split in two? Would four years of bloodshed be for nothing for either side?

I am often amazed that we psychologically survived the war and its aftermath, and as I watch history unfold around the world, I am continually amazed by the ability of man to survive and overcome. We are doomed to destroy but we appear equally compelled to survive and conquer.

It's a paradox.

And now dear friends, before retiring for the evening, a toast to Marse Robert and the Army of Northern Virginia.
(Top photo: Sayler's Creek, see earlier post; inset photo, home in Richmond where Robert E. Lee returned in April; for more accounts, see The Day Dixie Died; for more on Patrick
County in the War, visit; for more from Andy Obermueller, visit


Today, April 8, is my birthday. The bad news is -- they keep coming. The good news is -- they keep coming.

I share this day with a remarkable woman -- Elizabeth Bacon Custer. Today, I feel very jealous of Libbie who spent most of her life as a widow. She was wildly in love with George, "Autie," and followed him in one adventure after another until he and four other members of his family died at the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876. Libbie lived until 1933.

I am envious of this awesome love--that even though the man died this love did not. I've always struggled to be myself in a relationship, sometimes losing myself in an effort to please. On the other hand, when I try to be open and honest, it just seems too much for someone else to handle. Many of us struggle with this, I suppose, striking that balance of what to share, how open to be.

"Never wear your heart on your sleeve," my mother reminded me. I never got it. When I feel, I just pour it out. After all these years, all these broken hearts, I still trust too easily, believe too easily, believe that love happens again and again.

Some romantics are never cured. We believe in love and continue to fight.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Happy Birthday to the Hag

Country music legend Merle Haggard was born this day in Bakersfield, California, in 1937. The son of Okies who migrated to the promised paradise of the Golden State, Merle's home was a converted boxcar and his dad died of a brain tumor when the boy was only 9. His biography is too unbelievable and rich to edit or shorten, so visit this site and read the entire entry:

That face pretty much tells the story.

Civil War Update

On this day in 1865, General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia lost its last battle at Sayler's Creek. One of the significant events of this hard-fought battle was the second Medal of Honor awarded to Tom Custer (right), George Armstrong's younger brother.

Tom Custer was the very first to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. His first was for action near Namozine Church, Virginia on 3 April 1865 and his second was for action at Sayler's Creek, Virginia on 6 April 1865 - three days apart. Not so astounding when you consider Brother George was the recommending officer (not to detract from Brother Tom's gallantry and courage). (from

Thereafter, whenever Tom showed up at an event wearing the medals, George referred to them as his "baubles."

For those of us who are Southerners, the story of Sayler's Creek is wrenching. With all the obstacles Lee faced--weakened, outnumbered forces being the greatest--he fought, hard, and his men fought, hard.
Three days later he would surrender to General U. S. Grant.

Tom and I visited Appomattox Courthouse, the surrender site, on our honeymoon. Since I was a Virginian, he assumed I had been there many times.

"No," I answered, "I've never been here. My daddy wouldn't stop."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 4, 1865

Abraham Lincoln walked into the smoldering city of Richmond on this day in 1865. His son, Tad, tagged along. (Not with him was his wife, Mary, who had desperately wanted to accompany him on this momentous occasion--but that's another story.) Most of the white citizens who were left retreated behind closed doors and shutters and grieved for all their losses. The Black citizens met his boat at the dock and flocked behind him as he walked up the hill toward the Confederate White House. The smell of whiskey, tobacco, tar, and smoke combined with the warm day made it stifling. Lincoln took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his forehead.
Surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of people, Lincoln entered the home of his Southern counterpart, Jefferson Davis. He sat at his desk, but he did not gloat. This victory had come at a high price. . . for the North and the South.

In recent years, a statue of Lincoln and his son (above) was placed in the Confederacy's capital. For a city of monuments, there was controversy over this one. There shouldn't be. At that point in time, Lincoln was the best friend the South had. Sadly, he, and his policy of "let them up easy," would soon be gone and the aftermath of this terrible war would become even more divisive.Italic
(For more, see our book The Day Dixie Died: Southern Occupation, 1865-1866. If you can't find it in the bookstore, email me for a copy.)

The Wonder of Kansas

Last night, my friend Janet and I were invited to attend the annual awards ceremony for the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (KACEE). While several educators were honored, the big award went to Rex Buchanan of the Kansas Geological Survey. In every Kansan's library is a book called Roadside Kansas written by Rex and my friend, Jim McCauley, with PHENOMENAL photos by John Charlton. For all you folks who think Kansas is flat and boring, get this book!!!! Both Jim and John were guests on my radio show and their knowledge and experience is endless. ( I nearly fell off my chair laughing when Jim got a question and pulled out his pocket guide to "Geological Eras" or whatever it's called.) You can see more at Visit this site. And again, I say, visit this site! The information and the photographs are priceless. What an incredible world we live in if we just take the time to explore and understand it.

Congratulations to Rex (right) on the John Strickler award last night and keep up the good work.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2, 1865

As they lay dying, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson called for A. P. Hill to bring up his division.

On this day in 1865, as the Confederacy was falling apart, A. P. Hill was killed as he demanded the surrender of his enemy. His men charged and recovered his body. He was buried as Richmond was burning. One of his soldier's penned this verse:

No Epitaph more noble or sublime
Hath e'er been written in all tide of time;
Nor yet can be. It doth all fullness fill
These -- Death's undying words -- "Tell A.P. Hill!"
Hill was already Fame's, and Jackson's death
Confirmed her verdict with his latest breath.
So LEE's last words, as his great heart grew still,
Were Fame's and Jackson's own -- "Tell A.P. Hill!"
"Prepare for action!" Ah, the action's done!
These three have met on fields beyond the sun.
But Fame endures, and shall endure until
Her trumpets cease to sound -- "Tell A.P. Hill!"

Hill's wife, Dolly, was left embittered by the War that had killed her brother, cavalry general John Hunt Morgan, and husband. She stopped using the name "Dolly" and returned to being called Kitty. In 1870 she married again, this time to a Louisville doctor named Alexander Forsyth. She bore him two children, but he fell ill and died at the Morgan home in the fall of 1875. She died on March 20, 1920 in Lexington, Kentucky, having outlived three husbands and four of her daughters (three from her marriage to Powell). She was buried on March 25, 1920 in Lexington, under a grave marked simply "K. Forsyth."

Hill's beloved wife Dolly led a long life. She died on March 20, 1920 in Lexington, Kentucky, having outlived three husbands and four of her daughters (three from her marriage to Powell). She was buried on March 25, 1920 in Lexington, under a grave marked simply "K. Forsyth." (Source:

On the phone with Rob Hodge this morning. He is describing the recording of a Confederate soldier, Julius Franklin Howell, 24th VA Cav. Howell was north of the James River and saw the plumes of smoke coming from Richmond on the 2nd as the Confederate capital was evacuated and burned in the wake. Howell described the world in terms of "pandemonium" and it was. April, 1865, may be the most volatile month in American history. Each day found some momentous, and emotionally wrenching, event unfolding.