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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"The Oldest Voice in the Parlor"

In the summer of 2009, Iva Katherine McNabb Meneley (born 1928), the granddaughter of Iva Neal McNabb Cochran (born 1870), gave a family heirloom to her niece, Julie [McNabb] K______. [My wife of nearly 30 years.] The piece had belonged to her Grandma Cochran. It's more than 110 years old, but it is as beautiful now as the day it was first unloaded from a horse-drawn wagon.

My wife and I enjoy antiques. Through the years, we’ve purchased well over half of the furnishings of our home at estate sales, garage sales, auctions, and in the musty labyrinths of antique stores. A few were handed down as family heirlooms. It is dealers who assess the "worth" of such things, but their value is found in the people stories behind them. Of all the antique pieces in our home, the ones I enjoy the most are those whose contextual stories were not lost in the dust of decades. It is through story that "things" connect to flesh and blood and underscore the linear nature of time and generations on earth.

This is a long post for a blog. (I will be adding to it shortly after my daughter helps me download some pictures from her camera.) I'm writing a short booklet as a "thank you" of sorts to Aunt Katherine.

Part I of this booklet is taken from a letter dated 1918. The letter was from Grandma Cochran’s father, John Wesley Neal, to his granddaughter Lorena who wanted a written account of the stories she had heard him tell so many times as a child. He was 72 at the time. Perhaps, it occurred to Lorena that first-person accounts from primary sources of the Civil War would soon be impossible to gather. Perhaps it was more personal. Maybe she wanted a record of his safe journey home, knowing that if he had not survived the war, her mother would never have existed, and obviously neither would she.

The fact that someone else's existence (beyond our parents) led to our own is a realization that makes folly of absolute individualism or any notion that puts "self" above family or "self-determination" above divine Providence. The history of our forebears is, in fact, part of the mystery of life itself. And so it is a good thing now and then to make an effort to better understand the branch on which we are a twigs in an oft-forgotten family tree (and to remember that somewhere down that gnarly trunk...we are all connected). [This huge sprawling elm tree still stands on one of the family farms in Kansas. The house and barn are gone, but the tree remains.]

Part I: "Scratchless"

(Part I begins one generation before "The Oldest Voice" existed. If you wish to skip details of the Civil War, and go to the final detail that made Grandma Cochran’s life possible, you may want to come back after I've added Parts II, III and IV to this post.)

Iva's father, John Wesley Neal, had been born in 1844 on a farm near Enterprise, Sullivan County, Missouri. He lived on that farm until the Civil War broke out in 1861, when his loyalty to the Union prompted him as a sixteen-year-old to leave “the Compromise State” and head to Fountain Green, Hancock County, Illinois. Soon after he turned 17, he joined 84th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, serving until June 8, 1865. [This photo was taken in 1925, seven years after the letter was written.]

Here is his first-hand account of the war from the letter of 1918:

“[We] drilled two and one half months, then started for the Front. Joined the Arm at Louisville, Kentucky. Was assigned to the 10th Brigade 4th Division, 21st Army Corps…and chased the Rebel Army to Perryville, Kentucky…from there to Bowling Green...from there to Nashville.... On December 26th and 27th (1862) we commenced to move on the Rebels at Murfreesboro or Stone River. We numbered 45,000 and the Confederates 50,000. [On December 31 began] three days of hard fighting [which eventually] gave us the city. Our losses were15,000, and the Rebels 17,000. [A few days later,] the army was reorganized. I was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 4th Army Corps, Department of Cumberland at Chickamauga, Georgia.

In the first part of May we started on the Chattanooga Campaign…had three or four light engagements…flanked Brag out of Chattanooga on the 19th or 20th of September [then] one of the hardest battles we were in was fought. We were compelled to fall back to Chattanooga ([in other words] we got licked). The Rebels besieged us nearly three months. We were on one-fourth rations but Grant and Sherman relieved us and gave us a chance to get it all back with big interest at Lookout Mountain and Mission Ridge. We rested until the 3rd of May, 1864, when we started [what is now called] the Atlanta Campaign, 140 miles to Atlanta. We were in 17 battles…. Each side lost 50,000 men, got Atlanta, Ga. Rested one month. [We followed the Confederates] to the town of Graysville, Alabama, there we wintered [until] General Sherman took 65,000 of the Army and started to the sea—and got there. [After that I was in five battles] in Tennessee: viz Pulaske, Duck River, Columbia, Spring Hill, and Franklin. [The last] was the most desperate battle fought during the war. The Rebels had 45,000 and us 21,000, but only 15,000 were engaged as 6,000 had crossed the Harpeth River, and could not assist us. The Confederates lost nearly 7,000.... We lost 1,400. We were behind good breast works.

One more battle, the battle of Nashville, Tennessee, the last battle of the Western Army. It was fought on December 15th and 16th.... We captured 30,000 men, 65 battle flags, 60 cannons. We destroyed their Army.

In conclusion I will say I was in 27 hard battles, besides numerous skirmishes, traveled 8,000 miles and never got a scratch.”

To be Continued: The remaining parts of this booklet will be added here (not a separate post)within a day or so.[8-4-09: Sorry that didn't happen... went with separate posts instead.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a word....WOW!!! Well maybe more than "a" word! That's incredible!


30/7/09 4:51 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Just more proof to my theory that war is humanities favorite pass time. Not saying he enjoyed t but he was one of the fortunate souls in that particular one. My kin of that era lost life and limbs at Gettysburg.

31/7/09 5:23 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

This writing project has been much harder than I anticipated. Sorry about the delay. Hope to post the rest this weekend.

I know what you mean. It was a different time when men came back from wars and joined "clubs" where men sat around and talked about the war. When you consider the tens of thousands who died at Gettysburg alone, it was a war that changed the demographics of generations and the future of our country. The next part includes a detail that makes this even more interesting.

1/8/09 11:15 AM  

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