No, it’s not literally my bridge, but this structure – which I’ve yet to see on location – has become a symbol and inspiration. I’ll try to explain…
Last autumn when ECW ran the railroad series, I delved into the history of the tracks between Richmond, Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee – ultimately focusing on the Virginia portion of the line. However, I looked at sources and maps for the tracks into Knoxville and discovered that town was quite the hub and vital link in the Confederate transportation network which made it a target for the Union. Also, the majority of east Tennessee’s citizens supported the Union and Abe Lincoln himself wanted that territory back in Federal control as quickly as possible.
I reached out to a friend who lived in Knoxville and asked if he could do a favor for me: take a photo of a railroad bridge in his hometown. I’d read that this particular bridge has footings that date back beyond the Civil War, and I wanted to use the image in an article about Knoxville tracks. He agreed and I sent over the map coordinates. Well, life rolls on, and it was quite a while before he had a chance to get down to the river and take a photo. I had almost given up. Then, one day in January my phone blew up. (That’s what I call it when it blings, buzzes, and chirps repeatedly.) Six photos. My bridge!
Meanwhile, I’d been tentatively building a research bridge into the Western Theater. I’ve always been an Eastern Theater gal, but I’ve never meant to be a snobby about it. It just sort of happened. Lee, Jackson, and Stuart pulled me into Civil War military history when I was kid. Later, I found the Army of the Potomac II Corps, so why leave and study something else? Sure, I know about the war outside Virginia and have even written about western theater battles and campaigns for my own blog.
Still, my impression of western theater had been less than positive. I found/find Braxton Bragg irritating. The Army of Tennessee and the Army of the Tennessee is just plain confusing at first. Chain of command and order of battle is all over the place. I’d have to remember admirals as well as generals. And, to crown it all, I have spent time in Virginia so I know the land, the locations, and the towns much better than in states I haven’t really visited.
To me, Western Theater loomed like the party you know you should attend, but you don’t know anybody at the prestigious house and it’s easier to just stay home and pretend like it wasn’t going to be interesting anyway. I know – that’s lame. Happily, I found I had “friends” already at the party.
About the time I was waiting for my Knoxville bridge photo, I read the manuscript for Dave Powell’s Missionary Ridge book (All Hell Can’t Stop Them). And I got hooked. This was fascinating, not so difficult to understand, and – best of all – I found a few “familiar faces.” John C. Breckinridge – one of “my guys” from New Market. Joe Hooker – of eastern theater Chancellorsville infamy. Oh, this was tolerable!
Then I learned about Longstreet and Burnside at the Siege of Knoxville. More familiars, just a new place.
I’m pleased to report that I’m slowly bridging my way into Western Theater history. Maybe, I’m a scaredy cat for not leaping all the way to the Mississippi River, but I’ve inched into East Tennessee. Let me tell you – there is some crazy good history there! In fact, I’ve succumbed and bought three books about E. TN and the Civil War.
Soon, I’ll have my boots on the ground for a couple days in Nashville, Knoxville, and east Tennessee to see what Civil War history I can find and to see if the land and stories deeply inspire me. Wish me luck and watch for blog posts about east Tennessee history in the coming weeks and months.
I’m learning to try new things. I can always run back to Virginia, and it may always be my favorite for Civil War history. But I should learn new things in new places. We never know unless we try. If we’re too afraid to leap, build a bridge. Who knows – maybe I’ll find a story or two that needs to be written about east Tennessee and its colorful history!
What “historical bridges” have you built over the years in your interests or research? (Doesn’t all have to be Civil War era related!)