When I was a little kid, my mom would let me run across the street to get the mail. We didn’t live on a busy road, but she taught me road safety. First, listen. Then, look to the left, right, and left again. If there weren’t any cars coming, I could cross the street. Pretty simple? As adults we do it without thinking, but maybe we should think about it more often – especially when touring battlefields and historical sites.
It’s summer! And that means it’s a great time to hit the road and explore historical battlefields and sites all across America. Personally, I am counting the hours until I climb aboard a jet and set off for the “distant battlefields of Virginia” and the ECW symposium. (I’m on the West Coast and don’t have Civil War battlefields in my backyard.)
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the East Coast. Eight years, to be precise. I learned a lot on that first trip and brought home some startlingly beautiful memories from the battlefields. There was one really important thing I learned from that trip. It was simple: look around. Let me explain.
We were in Lexington, Virginia. We had toured “Stonewall” Jackson’s home, Virginia Military Institute, Lee’s Chapel, and made our way to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. After standing for a few moments at Jackson’s grave, we walked through other parts of the burial ground. Near one of the gates, my mom found the grave-marker of General William Nelson Pendleton, and we read the lengthy inscription, detailing this man devoted life as a minister and family-man.
William Nelson Pendleton was a better preacher than officer, but he did serve as Lee’s chief of artillery for a while. Under his direction, the famous four cannons (now at VMI) were named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, supposedly because they would “preach the gospel” and force many battlefield conversions.
Eight years ago, I didn’t know much about the Pendleton Family of Lexington. Confession: my knowledge came from the movie Gods & Generals. (In fact, I was still figuring out that the Pendletons and Pembertons were different families. How embarrassing is that?!) Well, I was quite impressed with the list of noble attributes on General Pendleton’s tombstone and took quite a few photographs…being very, very careful not get any other gravestones in my pictures. Especially not that stone cross to the right.
Fast-forward a couple years. I’m reading Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton by W.G. Bean (a biography about William Nelson Pendleton’s son). I totally had a new historical hero and cried through a handful of tissues when he died in the non-fiction narrative…and was buried in Lexington. I desperately wanted to know what his tombstone said and exactly where he was buried in the cemetery. After an internet search, I was horrified to learn that the grave stone I had been so careful not to include in any of my photographs was my hero’s! Ugh…so disappointed.
Fast-forward a couple more years. Now, I’m researching Southern civilian ladies for a college paper. I wonder where Katherine Corbin Pendleton Brooke is buried? (She was Sandie Pendleton’s wife, but remarried after his early death.) Oh, wouldn’t you know? She’s buried in the same cemetery too, though not in the Pendleton Family plot. Still, I probably walked right by her grave. Ugh…
Now as I’m planning my travels in Virginia, I’m vowing to stop and look around. Of course, I will miss some things, but I want to take in everything at each location I’m able to visit.
Yes, I will be careful when I cross the road, but I’m also going to stop, listen, and look left, right, left at historical sites. Maybe you’ll want to do same?
Here’s to safe landings and happy travels. Who knows what we’ll discover!