Looking For a Secular Florida Umbrella School?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

-- George Santayana

I finally finished reading Gods and Generals. We watched the movies Gods and Generals and Gettysburg. I will be beginning The Killer Angels, the book that the movie Gettysburg was based on, next (even though I know how it ends.)

In the meantime, I pulled out my copy of Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War and have been poring over the photos once again.

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

As far as family heirlooms and books, and especially family heirloom books, I can say without a doubt, no.

Alexander Gardner was employed and overshadowed by Matthew Brady. He operated an ingenious mobile horse-drawn darkroom and traveled during the Civil War documenting battlefields, troops, camps, death, and destruction. He is also credited with copying maps for the Union generals and photographing Lincoln's funeral. He was present at the battle of Antietam (Bull Run to us Southerners) and many other early conflicts, and is credited with taking three-quarters of the photos of the Army of the Potomac. Very shortly after the war, in 1866, after he parted company with Brady, Gardner took his plates and published one hundred of them in this collection. Because the technology to reproduce photos mechanically was nonexistent, actual photographic positives were printed and glued onto the pages of the huge leatherbound volumes. They were never big sellers. The war had just ended and nobody was up for rehashing the past. In a report from the Library of Congress prior to 1958, only five copies were available in American libraries and only as many as five other copies were thought to survive in private hands.

I am fortunate to say that my hands were among those that held one of the original editions. It probably came into our family's possession by my great-great-grandfather, who though he was of the last generation born on the family's Virginia plantation, was raised in Baltimore after the death of his father and eventually became an Engineer in the Union navy. His commission, signed by Lincoln, sword, scabbard, and naval log books are on display, part of the permanent collection of the Tacky Museum*.

* (aka: my parents' house) Open Sun-Mon, 9:00 - 5:00, except Christmas, Easter, national holidays, family birthdays, days with scheduled doctor appointments, and days ending in "Y".

As a child I spent many long hours sprawled out on the floor with the massive sketchbook, fascinated, or maybe, "engrossed" would be a better word, with the gruesome spectacle. That explains so much, doesn't it?

Anyway, my parents inexplicably sold the book. I say "inexplicably" because though I'm sure it's that they thought they needed the money, their justification has never been satisfactorily explained to me. Now I must content myself with Dover's 1959 lightweight paperback reprint, a book which had I seen it as a child, would have scared the bejeezus out of me with its horrific cover. Pictures of men hauling wheelbarrows of body parts just weren't as scary when accompanied by the smell of old leather and feel of heavy, creamy papers. Strangely, reviewing the devastation brings back comforting feelings of time spent with a great companion. A companion, alas, forever lost and lamented.

My brother's children are returning from England this month, happily a year earlier than we expected, and the girls and I will be heading up to NJ to help out during his two week visitation allowance. I've been scouting airfares, and considering the cost of renting a vehicle for two or three weeks, and wondering about the availability of a vehicle that will seat seven people comfortably, and thinking about our proximity to Gettysburg, and reenactments, and my desire to revisit Fredericksburg where we briefly stopped in an unsuccessful attempt to meet up with Dy and her boys, and Chancellorsville, and the historical marker we blew by last time announcing the location where Stonewall was hit by the friendly fire that cost him his arm, and you know what I'm thinking?


Road trip.

No comments: