Monday, September 28, 2009

On Virginia's Sacred Soil

Folks, it pleasures me greatly to bring you yet another proud moment in Virginia history. . . .

On today's date in 1781, the siege of Yorktown was underway. The events unfolding would mark the end of the American Revolution and signal that the work of creating a country would go on. The scene above depicts the surrender of Britain's Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington of the Continental Army. This is a story we learn early in Virginia. . . . Lord Cornwallis--vain, arrogant, scoundrel that he was--claimed to be sick that day. He remained on ship, I believe, and sent an aide to surrender. Washington, proud (somewhat haughty man that he was, but he had reason to be proud!) in turn sent his aide to receive the sword of surrender, thinking it improper for a man of his rank to accept surrender from someone of lesser rank.

While at Fort Leavenworth a few months ago, there were some visiting officers from the French equivalent to the Command and General Staff College. After class, one of the Americans commented to the Frenchman seated beside him:

I know we're not supposed to make French jokes, but have you seen this?

Thus, he proceeded to type into the Google search engine, "French military victories."

Result: "None Found."
He laughed hysterically and I went up to the French officer, placed my hands on his shoulders and said, Direct your friend to the Victory monument at Yorktown (below). We really don't care if you've had a victory since. That's the one that counted.

In fact, the French outnumbered the Americans at Yorktown and without them we would never have gained our independence from England.

A toast, dear friends, to the heroes of our American Revolution and to the French people, to whom we still owe a debt of gratitude. A toast to Virginia. . . .where America began.

Photo of Yorktown monument by fisherbray on Flickr.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

History and Friends

Little Bighorn Associates in Indianapolis was the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

Sandy and Betty Barnard, of AST Press, (with me, above) hosted this auspicious event and it's worth the drive from Topeka to Indianapolis just to visit with them! Father Vince Heier of the St. Louis Civil War Roundtable was the dinner speaker and I joined colleagues for talks during the daylong seminar. New friends include Kevin Connolly (left) from Chicago who presented a marvelous paper on Custer during the Civil War. Later on, he and his lovely wife, Liz, joined us in the hotel lounge for historical and musical discussions. The lounge was a hoot. The house band invited Gary to sit in on keyboards and they had a blast and so did the listeners.

How can you beat a weekend that includes a hot tub, Custer, friends and music?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

Actually, it was in Fancy Gap, Virginia. My sister and I published a tabloid called A Comin' and A Goin.' We ran schedules of bluegrass/old-time music events and Appalachian cultural activities. One of those we published was from the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival at Winfield, Kansas.

I recall thinking, "What do people in Kansas know about bluegrass?"

Well, now I've been to Winfield and I can tell you, "Lots!"

I am embarrassed to admit that after all these years as a Kansan, this was my first trek to Winfield. A virgin, the oldtimers emphasized. (Well, it's been a long time since I heard that word but that's another book. . . .)

After a quick turn-around from the trip to the Little Bighorn Associates, we threw clean laundry in the suitcases and arrived about 11 p.m. last Wednesday night. We located our buds and proceeded to prowl. We snuggled into the tent around 3 a.m., and bright and early Thursday morning I awoke with a sinus migraine.

My good man (above right, jamming with his bandmate Preston Miller) loaded me in the van and we headed to Walmart for drugs. He jumped back in the van, I fairly crawled back inside--we were both eager to get back to the music. Click, click, click. The van wouldn't start.

A nice young man with a military background (Gary quickly figured this one out because he kept saying, "yessir!") took a look and said he thought it was the starter. So Gary got on the phone to call the motor club. They said they would call back when they found a tow in our area. I was dying.

We had about half unpacked and there was still a lounge chair stored behind my seat. Gary rearranged our stuff and opened up that chair so I could lie down comfortably, or as comfortably as is possible with a sinus migraine in a Walmart parking lot. So there we were, the back open, the hood up, a sick and incoherent woman in the back, and at least a couple of sorta mechanics checking out the vehicle. Did I add that there was a washboard in the back next to me that Gary is teaching me to play? Could this story get any sadder? Nice folks kept stopping and inquiring, "Do you folks need some help?"

Fortunately, Gary has lots of friends, two of whom came by to return me to camp while he took care of the vehicle. Just as we started off, I felt a wave of nausea and I climbed out and puked my guts out while crouching behind their vehicle in full view of about 10,000 people. Since we had only moved, say 20 feet, Gary was still there and he held me and kept me from just lying down and dying right there.

Sometime later. . . Gary came into the tent. Van's fixed. People are partying. Am I feeling better? I have to throw up, I told him, and as he escorted me toward the restrooms, a trashcan lured me away. Again, he was holding onto my middle to keep me from falling down and we were on the main road with people everywhere believing I am a lush. Again, that's another book. . . .

After hours more of nursing, cold washcloths, ice, and all the curious friends coming by to see Gary's pathetic girlfriend, I was finally able to walk and talk and be somewhat normal. It was 6 o'clock in the evening and Cafe Luigi (below, photo by Chris Frost) was open. We had reservations. The maitre'd, Luigi (aka John Lane), met us and escorted us to the red-checked tables with wine and candles. The spaghetti and meatballs were the best I have ever tasted, and this incredible Italian bistro was located in the heart of the "Bucket Camp" and hosted by folks from Nebraska. It was the most beautiful setting, with music provided by our fiddling friend Chris Frost (who lives down the street from me). Then his bandmates Stuart Yoho and Tom O'Brian joined him with gypsy tunes. (Their group is called the High Falutin String Band. . . . updates to follow!)

I was taken into the Win-fold.

PS--The band photo in the center is the Freestate Revival from the Kansas City area. They are awesome!!! More on them in the coming days.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nerds of a Feather

Gary considers himself a "nerd in training" now. This was his first "vacation" that included cemeteries.

On the return trip from Indianapolis, stopped to see our dear friends Dave and Teresa Chuber and went with Dave to Fort Leonard Wood yesterday morning. He was addressing a new class of soldiers and we joined them on their tour of the Chemical School Museum. Outstanding. In the top photo, Dave is explaining the trench warfare characteristic of WWI. The exhibit was really excellent.

Today, onto Winfield where we'll leave behind the nerds and progress to obsessive/compulsive musicians.

Details on the trip and the Little Bighorn Conference to follow._______________________________________
And now, from the Civil War World. . .

a word on my man Jeb from the good folks in Philly. . . . I would love to attend this conference!

Chambersburg Civil War Seminars - Oct. 8-11, 2009:
“Riding with J.E.B. Stuart”

Dear fan of history,

Come to Pennsylvania, just a few miles from Gettysburg, to enjoy a
weekend Civil War seminar in October with some of the top Civil War
historians in the nation.
“Riding with J.E.B. Stuart” will be offered by the Greater
Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce from Oct. 8-11 at the Four Points
Sheraton in Chambersburg. Tours and discussions will focus on the brave
and resourceful cavalry commander and feature authors and historians Ed
Bearss, Eric Wittenberg, Jeffry Wert and others.
James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart – then a federal soldier -- was
among those who crushed John Brown’s raid of a federal arsenal in Harper’s
Ferry in 1859. Brown had planned the raid while staying in Chambersburg.
Three years later, Stuart led his Confederate troops in a raid of
Chambersburg in 1862 and masterfully eluded 100,000 Union troops during
their return to Virginia.
Some of the nation’s top Civil War historians will discuss that raid
and its impact. Historians Ted Alexander, Ed Bearss and John Thompson on
Oct. 9 will lead a bus tour, “Stuart’s Chambersburg Raid,” which will
follow the route that Stuart and his men took on the first wartime raid of
Chambersburg, an event that shook the Union all the way to the Oval Office.
“Stuart`s Chambersburg raid was an event of national significance,”
said Alexander, chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield and the
coordinator of the seminar. “The national publicity generated by Stuart’s
Chambersburg raid was an embarrassment to the Lincoln Administration. It
also was one of the final nails in the coffin of the military career of
Union General George B. McClellan. He let a Confederate raiding party slip
around his army, penetrating onto Pennsylvania soil, taking hostages,
livestock and inflicting tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. A
few weeks after the raid, Lincoln relived McClellan of command,” Alexander
The seminar, “Riding with J.E.B. Stuart,” also will include Stuart’s
work as a frontier soldier, his reputation as a cavalry commander and his
retreat from Gettysburg, which includes a bus tour on Oct. 10. The tour
will be followed by a period-style dinner.
The seminar concludes on Oct. 11 with a discussion of Stuart’s death
during the war, and a panel discussion about Stuart in the Gettysburg
For more information about the seminar, contact Cindy Baker at (717)
264-7101 or see the Web site,
Costs vary depending on the sessions attended. Price includes motor coach
transportation for guided tours, seminar materials and some meals.
Click here to see J.E.B. Stuart brochure

Civil War seminar to honor historian Ed Bearss and Ted Alexander

Since 1989, the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce and historian
Ted Alexander have offered several Civil War seminars each year and
donated more than $125,000 for battlefield preservation.
To celebrate the milestone, the Chamber will honor Alexander and
historian Ed Bearss, considered the dean of Civil War experts in the U.S.,
as part of the kickoff of the Chamber’s October seminar focusing on J.E.B.
Stuart, the Confederate commander who raided Chambersburg in 1862.
A dessert reception will be held at Four Points Sheraton, 1123
Lincoln Way East, from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 8, and will include presentations
to Alexander and Bearss. John Thompson, author of a book about Stuart’s
raid of Chambersburg, will be the featured speaker. Cost is $25.
Chambersburg is about 25 miles west of Gettysburg and just a bit
farther from Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Md.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Here in Topeka, the rain keeps a'fallin' . . . .

On the Cox Oldies Station, Elvis's "Kentucky Rain" was just playing. I love that song. It is my all-time favorite by the King, written by Eddie Rabbit, also one of my favorites. It is filled with love and longing and loneliness and hope and determination. . . .

The song suits this day well.

Headed to Indianapolis. . . .

First stop, Hannibal, MO. . . .

I love Hannibal. It lives up to the imagination of Mark Twain. We'll be staying downtown on the river within walking distance of all the sites. . . provided, of course, we get out of Topeka today.

Then on to Springfield, IL, and we'll do the Lincoln stuff. . . maybe a stop in New Salem. . . or, maybe we'll just lay on the riverbank. . .

Old Man River, just keeps on rolling. . . .