Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Almost Innocently Stumbling Into War

(The Civil War) is the story of a crime of monstrous inhumanity, into which almost innocently men stumbled. ­– Robert Penn Warren

From my book-in-progress, Dear Father I Am Sorry To Tell You

          Interesting in joining my Cyber Focus Group?  See information at end of blog.

If you tune out the cars, trucks and motorcycles that corrupt Warrenton’s tree-shaded Main Street today, and if you ignore the latte-serving coffee shops, gasoline stations and Wi-Fi hot spots that inhabit historic buildings, it seems little has changed in this picturesque municipality since the turbulent 1860s.
Present-day courthouse
in  Warrenton, N.C.
            Soon after the Civil War broke out, Warrenton, ten miles south of Virginia, became a hornet’s nest of activity.  At nearby Fort Edwards, North Carolina’s first Confederate troops organized before marching north to banish the enemy from their homeland.  In July 1861, my ancestral cousin Lyndon trained with his new regiment at a horse racetrack just outside of town.  Two weeks later, the regiment was ordered to Richmond. To find out more, I set out for Warrenton.   
I traveled I-85 through the Carolinas. Just below the Virginia border, I took Highway 158 east toward Warrenton.  The asphalt ribbon meandered through forests of skinny loblolly pines, family farms with American flags waving from porches, and trailers scattered like weeds on manicured lawns.  Abandoned tractors gawked from baking tobacco fields.  I steered the Odyssey past the 1890 Browns Baptist Church near Boney Lambford Road, a housing development named Sherwood Forest, and a sign warning that cows might cross the road ahead.  On the outskirts of town, the ubiquitous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Highway took me to Warrenton’s historic business district.
            Tiny Warrenton’s eight hundred residents want the world to know their town’s big history. Warrenton’s official website offers a virtual tour of fine old homes, quaint shops and notable churches. Tasteful brochures promote a downtown walking tour and a driving tour of the county.
            Warren County took its name from a Massachusetts doctor killed during the American Revolution at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  The area today is economically depressed, but in 1861 Warren County reigned as the richest county in North Carolina. It even owned its own railroad, which of course Sherman’s men destroyed.
            I had no trouble finding a parking spot along Main Street. First stop: the Warren County Courthouse.  The charming, red brick building, built in 1906, dominates downtown from a grassy hill shaded by oaks and adorned with a monument to Confederate soldiers, “Our Heroes.”    The current courthouse replaced a courthouse built in the mid-1850s that burned down. The 1850s courthouse had replaced the town’s original frame courthouse, built in 1786.  A fire also destroyed that courthouse.
Monument to Confederate
war dead at courthouse
            At the clerk of court’s office at the end of a broad entrance hall, I asked a trio of ladies how I could learn of the town’s Civil War history. One woman ducked away and returned with the Honorable Richard E. Hunter, Jr., Warren County’s superior court clerk and keeper of Warrenton’s historical flame.  Hunter, spry and white-haired, invited me into his office.
            I asked Hunter if he could tell me anything about events at the courthouse in 1861.  Hunter pointed to a framed photograph hanging on the back wall, one among many historic photos and documents. The 1850s courthouse in the photograph, Hunter explained, would have been standing when the state’s Civil War regiments gathered.   The photo showed a brick building with four massive Corinthian columns on a wide portico.  The two-story courthouse looked more like a temple built in ancient Greece than a courthouse erected in a 19th-century, rural Southern state. 
            “So that’s what my ancestor saw when he came into town?” I asked, thrilled at my discovery. 
            “More than likely,” Hunter confirmed.
            I stared at the photograph.  I imagined Lyndon’s regiment gathered at the courthouse, a summer-sweet breeze whispering in their ears and women’s wails stirring their souls, as their chest-thumping commanders nudged their flock along the path of righteousness.

NOTE:  I am posting this letter from my Confederate ancestor  Lyndon McGee Welborn again, since this is where it appears in the book. 

Warrenton NC
July 5,   61

            Dear brother, (Robert)

            i received your kind letter yesterday with much gladness         i was going to write to you today if I had not got your letter     this makes two I have gotten      one a good while ago but I have not forgoten it     you want me to tell you if we had any fighting to do yet        we have not and I hope we will not have any to do       i would like to see you all  
we have got four Company in this Regiment       we all marched up in town
yesterday and they give us a fine dinner        we had beans and rosten (roasted corn) ears and everything that was good   
            Pa asked me one question I don’t think that I answered      that was about our Company       oficer Stokes is Promoted to Colonelship and has escepted (accepted)     J.B. Gordon is our capton      they have treted me very kindly so far                  
            we have met with clever folks everywhere we have went yet and have seen the most pretty girls       Yesterday the Court house was cramdfull of ladies       our Colonel and all of our captons made speeches and the ladies on hering this they wept biterly         we promisted them that they nead not fear the enamy for we would stop them if they don’t stop        we don’t want to fight if we can shun it, but if we have it to (do) we will do what we can for them       none of you need not fear the enamy becaus we will drive them back  
            We have ninety eight privates in our company       it is the best company i hav seen      I hav many friends in this company and would hate to leave them      if I left them they would hav thought hard of me    
 i did not like to join the regulars without leting you Pa know it but all of them beged me to stay and I did not want to leave them after i had started         if I had not joined i think that Frederick would have joined and I could not stay at home by my self                    I would be very well satisfied if Pa was but I don't feel that i am doing wright when i am doing anything against his will   

Want To Join My Cyber Focus Group?

As I write my creative nonfiction book about the Civil War legacy, tentatively titled Dear Father I’m Sorry To Tell You, I’m looking for people to participate in a cyber focus group.  The online participants will read excerpts, and possibly whole chapters, from the book-in-progress.

After I select the focus group, I’ll post questions to get feedback about such issues as the book’s organization, narrative/plot and characters. Responses will help me rework passages and plot and craft the remainder of the book.  And, I'll give credit where credit is due on my Facebook page.

If you’re interested in joining the group, please visit my Facebook page and complete the short Cyber Focus questionnaire for consideration. You’ll find it by visiting!/CivilWarOdyssey?sk=app_201143516562748  or by clicking on the “Cyber Focus Group” button on my Facebook page.

I’m excited about this new adventure.  I hope many of the 1,279 visitors that have checked out Civil War Odyssey with Author B.J. Welborn will join the conversation. I will select and notify the cyber focus group participants in the next few months.