Thursday, May 19, 2022

In a Connecticut cemetery, two brothers are not forgotten

A before and after of the Hollister brothers' marker in a Middle Haddam, Conn., cemetery.

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More than a decade ago, I spotted a grimy gravestone for the Hollister brothers—Francis, 20, and Frederick, 18—in Union Hill Cemetery in Middle Haddam, Conn. Both served in Company K of the 14th Connecticut and died of disease within a half hour of each other in a camp near Fredericksburg, Va., two days before Christmas 1862.

“They lost their blankets at Antietam and for three months had to sleep out of doors or crouch scantily clad all night long over a smoky camp-fire, from which exposure they died,” according to a regimental history. The brothers' bodies were returned to Connecticut and buried "with appropriate ceremonies" on  Jan. 11, 1863.

Now the good news from Kimberly, who read an old post on the brothers on my blog. She and her husband cleaned the stone. Fabulous work.

“It took about three separate cleanings to get the gravestone as white as you see it. It could stand to use at least two more cleanings this season because there is still some very slight staining over the epitaph, and it's still a bit spotty at the bottom of the gravestone. This was one challenging stone to clean! It was black with years of biological growth and sticky tree sap, forming a thick cement-like layer on the gravestone. We also planted some daffodil bulbs (which have since bloomed) and placed a new GAR marker for the brothers.”

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

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  • Page, Charles, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Meriden, Conn.: The Horton Printing Company, 1906
  • Hartford Courant, Jan. 20, 1863

Thursday, May 12, 2022

An Antietam story comes full circle for me

A collection of documents and a war-time image of William Horton, courtesy of a
Horton descendant. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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When we lived in Connecticut, I visited an unforgettable cemetery in rural Stafford Springs. The place became seared into my brain for two reasons: the yapping (and unchained) dogs nearby and the beautiful, ornate gravestone of William Horton. On Sept. 17, 1862, the 31-year-old lieutenant in the 16th Connecticut suffered a mortal wound in the 40-Acre Cornfield at Antietam.

William Horton's gravestone in Stafford Springs, Conn.
Nearly 10 months later, another tragedy rocked Horton’s widow Laura: the death of the couple’s young son, James.

Ten years after my visit to the cemetery, Horton’s story came full circle for me. I recently opened a packet mailed by a Horton descendant. It included a copy of a wartime image of Horton, pension documents, and a copy of the sermon preached at his funeral on Oct. 8, 1862.

The crowd was so large at the service that Reverend Alexis W. Ide moved it outside and preached from the steps of Stafford Springs Congregational Church, "under an awning formed by the national flag."

Ide's 27-year-old brother, George, a private in the 2nd Massachusetts, had been killed at Cedar Mountain in Virginia nearly two months earlier.

Ide delivered a sermon that was equal parts eulogy, political diatribe and instruction on how the country should remember its fallen soldiers.

"A nation should mourn for its slain in view of the fact that the cause of patriotism is a holy cause," Ide said. “Human governments are institutions of God. The powers that be are ordained by God. Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God."

Late in his sermon, Ide addressed Horton’s 27-year-old widow.

"It is God who has removed your husband, your nearest earthly friend; and He thus designs to bring you nearer to Himself. He is the God of the widow and fatherless. A most weighty responsibility now rests upon you, for a wise improvement in this providence. Your husband, and the event, you must leave in hands of the supreme Ruler of the universe. Real good from your present affliction can only be found in God.”

Let’s keep history alive.

16th Connecticut monument in the 40-Acre Cornfield at Antietam.

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  • "Sermon Preached Oct. 8, 1862, at Stafford Springs, at the Funeral of Lieut. William Horton of Co. I, 16th Conn. Regt. Volunteeers, Who Was Killed at the Battle of Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862," A.W. Ide

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The epic, never-to-be-forgotten history of Oyo

OYO Hotel in backwoods Virginia. Bring your own mints for the pillow.

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When we lived in Connecticut, I asked Mrs. B one night what she was planning for dinner.


That sounded great. Probably a Brazilian dish or maybe Mexican. I was famished and exhausted, having just completed a two- or three-hour workday and some daydreaming about a Springfield musket or a 100-pound artillery shell. So I started mulling what kind of wine I should have with this “oyo.”

My specialty.
A little cabernet? Maybe a petite syrah? We both like great food, and Mrs. B is an outstanding cook, much better than I am, although I did make her one of my renowned "happy face" breakfast specials one day.

So I finally ask her, "What's oyo?"

"On your own."

Oyo? Oh, no.

So on a recent Civil War adventure, this sign appeared in some godforsaken, backwoods Virginia town I refuse to name because it’s not polite. (Pssst: It’s Wytheville.) Wonder if you must supply your own mints for the pillows.

Oyo? Ho-ho. 😃

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Thursday, April 21, 2022

How a smart cookie created Abraham Lincoln in Oreo icing

A closeup of careworn Abe Lincoln, The Cookie. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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Laura Van Alstyne Rowland has something probably no other Lincoln fanatic on the planet owns: an Oreo cookie with a profile of the 16th president in the white icing. And, yes, I’m jealous.

Laura Van Alystne Rowland poses with the cookie 
in her Lincoln Room.
In 2014, Tess Collett—an intern in a Utah hospital under Rowland’s supervision—created it with toothpicks and love. Then she gifted it to Rowland, now a retired clinical social worker. The cookie hangs in a frame in the Lincoln Room of the Rowlands’ historic home in Sharpsburg, Md., steps from a bust of Lincoln, dozens of Lincoln books, and framed snippets of hair from Abe and Mary Lincoln.

Like Lincoln, the Oreo isn’t perfect—the cracks snaking through the chocolate wafer and the flaking frosting make the eight-year-old cookie creation look careworn. But in its own quirky way, the thing exudes confidence, an aura even. So, I sought out the—oh, gawd, please stop—smart cookie who created it.

Collett, a 31-year-old, self-employed  testing psychology worker, has a PhD in clinical psychology. She splits time between Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Collett apparently also has a master’s in Oreo Cookie Crafting, which they didn’t offer last century while I attended West Virginia University for 13 years.

“Laura was such a supportive, amazing supervisor at the hospital,” says Collett, “and I was a young buck and knew she loved Lincoln. It was her passion.”

Tess Collett, "artsy" Lincoln
 cookie creator
So, Collett—an “artsy person” with “scattered passions”—found an image of Lincoln on Google and went to work creating the gift. She estimates it took 30 minutes to scrape away the icing with a toothpick to make Abe.

“It was like sculpting.”

Upon receiving the Lincoln Oreo, Rowland looked at it with "amazement and love," says Collett.

“It was a one-of-a-kind gift for a one-of-a-kind person.”

I recently persuaded Rowland to take the framed Lincoln Oreo on a road trip in the footsteps of the real Lincoln on his early October 1862 journey to the Antietam battlefield. What a treat. The Oreo, which refused an interview request, somehow survived the arduous round trip from Sharpsburg to Frederick, Md. But after examining a closeup photo of her long-ago creation, Collett expressed concern.

"I might have to make her a new one. That thing is really starting to look old."

No one, after all, wants to see a cookie crumble. 😃

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Saturday, April 16, 2022

A 'potato digger' and comedy: A day at military collectors show

"Potato Digger" machine gun, just like grandpa used in the garden.
Jefferson Davis inkwell ($3,000)

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So I’m at the Tennessee Military Collectors Association show in Franklin, Tenn., looking for Civil War artillery shells, firearms, bullets, and other stuff Mrs. B is really interested in. Then I spot a beauty, a World War I Browning machine gun. The dealer says it’s called a “Potato Digger” and can shoot 30 aught-six rounds that will put a hole about the size of your fist through a target. The weapon is still fireable, but it's probably not a good thing to try at your home.

Ancient scuba helmet: $450
Now Mrs. B surely could use a “Potato Digger” for our kitchen. So I figure maybe that’s my “in” for purchasing the thing. I mean, she loves cooking and gardening. So I text her: “Can I buy a machine gun?” Obviously, that’s a strategic error. I should have texted: “Can I buy a potato digger?” It takes awhile for her to reply, which is deflating. The only negative is the price of the beast: $25,000.

Mrs. B's tardy response is remarkable for its brevity: "No."

So I lower my sights, so to speak, and inquire (gracefully) about purchasing a real inkwell stolen by a Yankee soldier from the residence of Confederate president Jefferson Davis in Richmond. It’s only $3K. Mrs. B’s texted response after I text a photo and explain the historical significance of the inkwell is… well… kinda graceless:


Despondent, I walk the floor in a zombie-like state, looking for something she might OK. Then the morning becomes a blur of pineapple hand grenades; an Englishman showing me cufflinks with a specks of gold inside and a "Gentleman's Magazine" from 1775; a 100 percent original Japanese WWII winter pilot helmet with rabbit fur lining ($625); Nazi flags and faux “potato masher” stick grenades turned into beer keg taps (only 125 bucks apiece); an ancient scuba diving helmet ($450); a woman feeding her kid in a surprising way; a teen saying, “We need to bust a move”; a 20-something telling some geezer, “I get most of my news from Newsmax”; and overhearing some high-testosterone guy in weird glasses saying, “I don’t ever want to get married, I have a condo in Barcelona.” 

This place is comedy gold.

Sure, this will stop me.
Then I see a note on a binder cover that reads, “WARNING! If you are offended by female nudity, DO NOT open this binder.”

I'm stopped in my tracks.

And then I see “it.” No, not nudies. It’s my real quarry, a cancelled check from Charles Bronson, the macho actor from the 1970s. It’s among a stack of cancelled checks from such notables as Telly Savalas, Sandra Dee and Tony Danza. Dude wants 35 bucks for the Bronson check. It's a popular seller, he says. But I don’t have the courage to run this past Mrs. B.

I probably need to go.

By the way, those hand grenades are probably gonna look great on somebody's fireplace mantle, especially if they're deactivated.

Let’s keep history alive. 👊

An early "Gentlemen's Magazine," long before Playboy.
Checks of the stars.
Someone's going to put these on their fireplace mantle and bad things will happen.
German World War I medals.
Faux Nazi stick grenades turned into beer keg taps. Yours for only $125 apiece.
Toy tankers. Keep them away from the pineapple grenade above.
WWII Japansese pilot helmet. Doesn't look safe.

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Civil War-related animals (and parts) I've met on the road

I shared a special moment with Nibbles at the Cumberland Church (Va.) battlefield.

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It just occurred to me that I’ve sure met a lot of interesting people recently on my Civil War travels. Shoutout to Barbara, the docent/receptionist in the grist mill “Little Phil” Sheridan tried burn in Edinburg, Va., in ‘64. I’ve also met some interesting animals. So here's my first Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Civil War animal recap: 

Louie, the 325-pound boar, who eats “whatever he wants,” according to his owner, who once found a five-foot black snake next to his bed in the historic Cedar Creek (Va.) battlefield house he leases. Louie, whose gleaming tusks must impress his dentist, is such a boar.  

An unknown bat just hanging out in Harrisonburg, Va., at the Melrose Caverns, where I examined a bunch of Civil War soldier inscriptions on the walls. 

Finn The Groundhog Killer in Columbia, Tenn., site of an epic Confederate wedding attended by notorious ladies’ man Earl Van Dorn. Jason Whatley, the owner, is shown with Finn, who's probably contemplating another groundhog murder.

Cows named Nibbles (left) and No. 3 on the Cumberland Church, Va., battlefield. Cattle farmer Dirk Warner, who owns core Cumberland Church (Va.) battlefield, is a huge Nibbles fan. So the animal will never end up on your kitchen table. As for No. 3 ...  

Jake, who relishes walking the Antietam battlefield. He distrusts journalists.

An unnamed Amish horse somewhere in Virginia. 

A giant turkey (statue) in Rockingham County, Va.

Twin mules at Mule Day in Columbia, Tenn. I was thinking about the Civil War this day, so I'm counting the twins.

Redd (named for Redd Foxx of Sanford & Son fame), Addi and Rooney. Met their master, Myron the Mason, at the Stonewall Jackson's HQ in Winchester, Va. He was prepping for opening day (April Fool's Day).

Courtesy: Old York Road Historical Society, Jenkintown, Pa.

The left (or is it right?) hoof of Old Baldy, the favorite horse of “Old Snapping Turtle,” George Gordon Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac. The hoof and I had a “virtual” meeting via email. I also saw a lot of squirrel, skunk and possum parts on rural roads.

 Thanks for all you do, Civil War-related animals. Let’s keep history alive. 👊

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Friday, April 08, 2022

Virginia man: I'll be buried on my battlefield someday

Cattle farmer Dirk Warner on his Cumberland Church (Va.) battlefield.

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Meet Dirk Warner: former musician in amateur rock bands Captain Jack and Radio Silence; a 30-year cattle farmer; longtime producer at a Richmond TV station; owner of a Siberian Husky-American Eskimo mix named Izzy, who tried to kiss me; and a black Angus named Nibbles, whom he doesn’t have the heart to take to market.

Oh, and Warner owns core battlefield.

Nibbles and I share a special moment.
Not just any battlefield. The Cumberland Church (Va.) battlefield, where Robert E. Lee earned his final victory of the Civil War on April 7, 1865. Warner cherishes the place, plans to be buried someday on this very field—“over by those red buds,” he told me during the chilly, deep-blue sky morning we walked his farm.

When Warner is out here on his tractor, near a stretch of the Old Jamestown Road that snakes through his field, he often relives the battle. This hallowed ground—Union Army headquarters for the unheralded, five-hour brawl—is part of his soul. He relishes sunsets from a chair near his fire pit, the history unearthed in the fields, the poignant stories uncovered—everything about his battlefield.

“This is sacred ground,” Warner told me. “I’m out here baling hay some day and it hits me, ‘Holy crap! I live here.’ "

At Cumberland Church, Ulysses Grant asked for Lee’s surrender. “Not yet,” James Longstreet told Lee. Two days later, at Appomattox Court House, roughly 30 miles away as the crow flies, it was all over.

Warner may bawl his eyes out on his battlefield someday. A 148th Pennsylvania soldier, decapitated by Confederate artillery, may rest somewhere on the field. His descendant plans to walk the farm this year with Warner—an experience guaranteed to be emotional for him and his host. Maybe he and Warner will discover the soldier’s remains.

Warner’s father-in-law once owned this farm. The man had two requests of Dirk when he married off his daughter: “Promise to look after my daughter and look after my place.”

Sir, it’s in fabulous hands. Consider this a perfect marriage of person, passion and place.

Old Jamestown Road snakes through Dirk Warner's battlefield.
Sunset on Warner's Cumberland Church battlefield.

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Saturday, April 02, 2022

A Cedar Creek (Va.) battlefield snake killer and Louie the boar

Jesse Rudolph, farmer and snake killer.

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Meet Jesse Rudolph, who farms hallowed ground with his dad and once woke up to a five-foot black snake next to his bed in the historic house he leases on the battlefield. That’s one of the perils of living at the circa-1780s Dinges place, used as a hospital during the battle on Oct. 19, 1864, which happens to be Mrs. B’s birthday. (But not the same year!)

Louie. What a boar.
Jesse was alerted to my presence by the yapping of his dogs, Stella and Hank. During our brief visit, he lamented the development in the area. Pitiless bulldozers have destroyed many battlefield acres throughout Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, so that’s why your support of preservation organizations such as the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation is so important. Nearby, a housing development sprouted up recently on hallowed Cedar Creek ground.


Jesse and I also discussed snakes.

“Black snakes have germs in their mouth,” he said. “They’re disgusting little animals.” Jesse has been known to dispatch the beasts with firepower. So beware, black snakes. I also had the pleasure of meeting Louie, Jesse’s 325-pound wild boar. Now I’m not exactly positive he’s a boar—I usually skipped the “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” show on TV as a kid—but the animal is definitely in the hog and pig family. I can confirm, however, meeting many other bores during my journalism career. Louie’s gleaming, white tusks must impress his dentist. The animal, however, refused an interview request.

“What does Louie eat?” I asked.

“Whatever he wants.”

At the Battle of Cedar Creek, Phil Sheridan mounted his grand counter-attack against the Rebs near Jesse’s place. As Nick the Guide took me to another secluded battlefield location, I silently cursed those damn black snakes and shot an image of the field where the Yankees advanced.

Until next time, Jesse, Stella, Hank and Louie.

Phil Sheridan’s grand Cedar Creek counter-attack occurred here.
This once was battlefield.

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Saturday, March 26, 2022

A walk at Andersonville, the Civil War's deadliest ground

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On a gray, gloomy morning in Andersonville, Ga., I walked the grounds of the notorious prison camp where nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died from February 1864-April 1865. “Words cannot describe the horrors,” said 16th Connecticut Private Wallace Woodford of Andersonville, also known as Camp Sumter. Emaciated and beyond help, Woodford died at home in Farmington, Conn. When we lived in Connecticut, I often visited his grave in a cemetery across the road from our house. Dozens of Woodford’s 16th Connecticut comrades were buried in the national cemetery near the camp.

"This," park guide Teri Surber said as we walked in the camp, "is the deadliest ground of the Civil War."

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The spirits of Andersonville and '800 paces to hell'

Nancy Garrison poses near where U.S. prisoners disembarked at a railroad depot in 1864-65.

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Meet Nancy Garrison, 3/4 quarter Cherokee, grandma, former mayoral candidate, character, and proprietor of Nancy’s Treasure Chest in Andersonville, Ga., the village next to the notorious Civil War prison camp.

“How many people live in Andersonville?” I ask.

“Well, about 230. Make that 229 since we just lost one.”

Business is slow Saturday, so we wave to strangers and swap stories while sitting on wooden chairs in front of her shop. My topics: Unimportant. Hers: Evolution, grandchildren, a local dude named Jimmy Carter, and the spirits of Andersonville.

“You oughta come back here in August when the ghosts come around,” she says, instantly grabbing my attention.

Nancy weaves a tale that includes shadows outside the window of her house and a spirit blowing in her face. Crazy talk, I’m thinking. But here, where nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died, who knows?

Up the road, in the center of the village, stands the controversial monument to Henry Wirz, the Andersonville camp commander. Wirz Street is beyond it.

Across from Nancy's shop, Yankee prisoners disembarked at the train depot for their slow walk to misery. On the road — Prison Way, they call it — her husband painted a path of footsteps of those unfortunates leading to the camp. 

“Eight hundred paces to hell,” Nancy calls the route.

After our ghost talk, I bid Nancy goodbye. Seconds later, she flags me down and hands me a gift: two Andersonville magnets. A fitting end to a spirited afternoon.

The controversial Henry Wirz monument in Andersonville, Ga.
Andersonville has a street named for the notorious Civil War camp commander.
"800 paces to hell": Camp Sumter —Andersonville POW camp — is in the far distance.

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Friday, March 18, 2022

A Tennessee Civil War adventure: 'It's not a bus, it's a casino'

Tommy Roberts at the "Elmore Town Casino & Spa."

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So we head deep into the woods of moonshining country in Middle Tennessee, intent on finding the graves of two Civil War soldiers killed in the obscure Battle of Dug Hill. My guides are Tommy Roberts, retired Air Force, and his daughter Angela, retired intercontinental nuclear missile officer. (Truth.)

“Are there snakes back here?” someone in our group asks. “Oh, yes,” comes a reply. Gulp. 😗 And then we discover “it.” No, not that remote cemetery. “That,” says Tommy, pointing to a contraption abandoned near Mine Lick Creek, “is the “Elmore Town Casino & Spa.’” It looks like an old bus to me. Back in the day, the locals gambled and got liquored up at the “spa.”

Yes, we eventually find the graveyard but not the old homestead site nearby. This adventure also included a death-defying trip along a slippery, muddy path to a Unionist’s cave hideout; moonshining talk; a discussion of why local Republicans are raccoon hunters while Democrats are fox hunters (or was it the other way around?); and lava cake to die for at Cole’s Country Store. But the quote that sticks with me is ...

“It’s not a bus, it’s a casino.”

I’ve been invited back. Perhaps we’ll gamble in the spa and sip a little moonshine. Thank you, Angela and Tommy.

Much more to come about this adventure. Now, we're off to Andersonville, Ga.

I can’t believe we made it to the cave hideout of a Union soldier, an ancestor of my guide,
Tommy Roberts.
Guides Tommy Roberts and his daughter Angela at the remote gravesite of two Union soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Dug Hill.
Our objective: The graves of two 5th Tennessee Cavalry soldiers.

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Sunday, March 13, 2022

'Secrets' of a Tennessee battlefield: Let's go find The Rock!

A walk along the railroad track at Thompson’s Station, Tenn., where two 19th Michigan soldiers — brothers Judson and Pasqua Austin — fired at the Rebs from “a projecting rock” on March 5, 1863. Check out my re-launched Civil War channel (mostly) on YouTube. Also: Slava Urkaini!

Battle of Thompson's Station virtual tour here.

Friday, March 11, 2022

All about Roderick, KIA horse of 'The Wizard of the Saddle'

In 2008, Thompson's Station dedicated a statue to Roderick on the battlefield.

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On March 5, 1956, the Nashville Banner devoted a full page (below) to a poem about Roderick, the favorite mount of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the notorious slave trader (see below), reputed cavalry genius, and post-war KKK member. At the Battle of Thompson’s Station (Tenn.) on March 5, 1863, Roderick, a chestnut gelding, was killed. Forrest, "The Wizard of the Saddle," is said to have wept over his beloved horse. 

"The Wizard"
Now I’m no poetry expert, but “The General’s Mount” has several cringeworthy stanzas such as this:

“From mouths and nostrils
Sponged his wounds
Applied a stinging ointment
They washed his knees
And hocks And pasterns
It’s Roderick!
The General’s mount!
Bring the water bucket to him”

To this day, Roderick lives on in the imaginations of a few historians, horse lovers, and strange people like me. In 2008, Thompson’s Station dedicated a statue of Roderick on the ground where Forrest’s soldiers formed for their attack. Let’s just say the sculptor took a few liberties — hey, that statue is not a gelding!

In 2009, Thompson’s Station awarded the Roderick Award of Courage to a girl who performed the Heimlich maneuver to save her grandma from choking to death on a piece of chicken. But the town discontinued the award after only one honoree.

Let's keep history alive. 😆

An ad for Forrest's slave trading business in the Memphis Daily Appeal on Nov. 29, 1859.

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