Sunday, August 05, 2018

BBQ & bloodstains: Tales from Civil War road trip in Tennessee

At a Civil War relics show in Dover, Tenn., a presentation cup for Winfield Scott Hancock.
 It's yours for $50,000. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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It's 9 a.m. on Saturday in Nashville, Skinny State of Tenn., and boredom quickly has set in. What should I do? Well, there is never a bad time for a Civil War road trip. I know of a relic show in Dover, site of Fort Donelson, where a guy named Grant made a name for himself. I am a massive sucker for relics. Our 20-year-old daughter could use an artillery shell. My wife loves when I spend money on photos of people who have been dead for 150 years. Hey, that's how the Banks family rolls. Let's go!

11:45 a.m.: After a 90-minute drive from Nashville, I arrive at the relic show. And I feel so ... young ... and "Northern." (I'm originally from Pa.) It's time to show intense interest in the stack of Nathan Bedford Forrest books at a front table. Dealers discuss purchases for thousands of dollars. Jealous. I glance at my wallet. Yup, no cash. Thankfully, show admission was free. On a long table, next to the display case with Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering cufflinks (true!), rests a large, silver presentation cup. Once belonged to Winfield Scott Hancock. Asking price: $50K. Perhaps worthy of a phone call to ...? Ah, no. No! Thirty minutes after arrival, I'm done. Attention span of gnat.

Barge with military equipment glides down river past Confederate battery position at Fort Donelson.
12:15 p.m.: Because I am the nook-and-crannies, backroads-loving type, I take a roundabout way to Fort Donelson. Near the fort, off National Park Service property, I find the site of U.S. Grant's HQ. Of course, I get out of the car and look. Dang, I'd love to sweep a metal detector over this yard. Wouldn't it be great if I found, say, a couple circa-1862 nails? Text to self: Wife. Would. Not. Appreciate.

Who wouldn't stop to take a photo of site
 of U.S. Grant's headquarters?
I take a photo of the large, metal Grant HQ sign. (Who wouldn't?) Finally, I make it to the parking lot near the Confederate batteries at Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. Uh-oh, there's is a large group of bikers here. Look menacing, so I park a good distance away. Must bulk up. I take a detour around bikers, scampering down a hill to the Upper River Battery. Suckered by sign into taking photo of long-gone powder magazine. (Picture massive mounds of dirt.) A huge barge jammed with military vehicles glides into view on the river. Photo op! After scrambling for the perfect angle, I shoot a few images from behind one of the large cannons. Gotta go, but where? Well, I always wanted to see inside Rippavilla Plantation mansion in Spring Hill.

Chicken, pork, ribs and brisket and a little history: What a great combo!
1:30 p.m.: Curses to you, Google Maps! The app takes me on every blasted one-lane, winding country road in the state. Hey, why’s that car tailgating me here in Tennessee? I think dark thoughts. And then ... a Civil War Trails sign! You know you're a history geek when you always stop at one of those wayside markers. I park. I feel guilty when I don't read all the text. Every. Damn. Time. Curses to you, too, Drew Gruber! Back to the sign: Forrest’s cavalry and Confederate guerillas put a scare into the Yankees in this area in '62-63. Thankfully, here in off-the-beaten path Yellow Creek Valley I'm also in a parking lot for place called Family BBQ. I'm hungry, and I love barbecue. After all, I'm 18.8 percent Texan, according to my AncestryDNA test. Locals eye me warily as I tiptoe through the front door into a barren, gray room. It feels like a scene out of Marathon Man. Is it safe? A man sporting a ponytail is chopping at the carcass of something. Perhaps it's a hog. Hey, I grew up in the suburbs. I ask if he accepts a credit card. All cash, all the time, he says in a friendly, I have zero-intention-of-slicing-you-with this-meat cleaver type of way. But there's a place down the road several miles that will take my credit card and ... WWFD. (What Would Forrest Do?) Too complicated. Math’s not my thing. I'm back on the road...

Rippavilla Plantation mansion: Lots of beauty and history. But no bloodstains.
3 p.m.: Spring Hill, Tenn., and Rippavilla. At last! In the bookstore, once used as a garage, a late-60s-ish man named Spence sits in a chair. He's wearing a fine pair of cowboy boots. They look uncomfortable, but he insists they aren't. Heck, my feet would hurt in bathroom slippers. Achy wheels today. I blame the bikers. A native of Franklin, Tenn. Spence hates the way the Civil War-rich area has grown. Used to grow crops in this area, he says, now they grow rooftops. I sympathize. Bulldozers are pitiless in these parts.

The impressive, original columns at Rippavilla.
I buy a book, purchase a house tour ticket. 33 bucks. This better be good. I want to see three things: bloodstains, where John Bell Hood supposedly chewed out his generals after the Yankees slipped past his army on Nov. 29, 1864, and bloodstains. (Told you I wasn't good at math.) The place was used as a field hospital during the War of Northern Aggression. Gotta see some blood on the floors. Our small tour group enters the house. Carpeting throughout first floor. No blood. Bummed. We see the Hood room. Spence points to breakfast table used by JBH and his generals for their long-ago morning chit-chat. (Newsflash: As I craft this report, local TV station reports 39,000 pounds of chicken nuggets spilled onto Tennessee road. "Chicken nuggets for blocks!" Must regain train of thought.) Back to Rippavilla: We go upstairs. Little carpeting, but original poplar floors covered by newer wood floors. Hmmm ... perhaps I can distract Spence and ... oh, never mind. Stuffed with knowledge,  our group departs, but a docent named Chuck allows me to take a few more photos. Although I am a Yankee, we all part friends.



4:30 p.m.: Civil War nerd heaven! I walk Rippavilla Plantation fields where the Rebs camped the night the Yankees snuck past them. Union boys were so close they could see campfires of enemy and hear 'em chatting. Wonder what it smelled like? Lots of grimy soldiers, you know. Thank you, Civil War Trust for saving this land. It’s so easy to envision 1864 from here today — if you can ignore the steady stream (and hum) of traffic on Columbia Pike and the massive GM plant in the near-distance. Just noticed I'm hungry again. Thank gawd there's a PeiWei over the hill, built atop core Spring Hill battlefield. I shoot a video, take some pics. It’s time for this Civil War nerd to roll home. Elapsed time: 8 hours. Miles traveled: 200-plus.

Now about those chicken nuggets ...

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