My Belated Intro to Richmond’s Civil War Past

July 14, 2015

By Karen

Until recently, most of my Civil War knowledge came from Gone With the Wind.

Since moving to Richmond, Virginia, in 1972 and watching this city nurse a chip on its shoulder over the “Lost Cause,” I just assumed Richmond somehow suffered similarly to Atlanta during Sherman’s march to the sea, although I knew Sherman never laid a paw on Richmond.

As it turned out, no Northern army ever invaded Richmond, although it was the capital of the Confederacy and a prime target. However, battles were fought all around it.

My ignorance in this seems incredible, I know, but I went to school up North, and the Civil War was a chapter in American history. Down here, I’m told it’s a whole high school year’s curriculum.

Since 2015 marks 150 years since war’s end, Richmond has reveled in it yet again — until the Charleston massacre and its aftermath brought everybody up short.

The daily Richmond Times-Dispatch, which was in overdrive publishing Civil War dispatches and articles to avoid the real work of covering current events, opened my eyes on Richmond’s past, and it was jaw-dropping in light of the decades of pouty “Yankee Go Home!” attitude I’ve seen.

Picture this

Early April 1865 and the Union Army was attacking Petersburg, south of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, when the Confederate Army faced the fact that it couldn’t defend Richmond.

President Jefferson Davis lammed off to Danville, deserting his mansion for U.S. Major General Godfrey Weitzel to use as HQ when he arrived. During his stay, Weitzel found in a desk a letter to Davis from General Robert E. Lee dated October 1864, containing the news flash that the cause was lost and they should make the best terms they could. But Davis sat on that intel and let the killing continue.

Before abandoning Richmond, Confederate soldiers broke open all the liquor and either poured it into the streets or drank it, then they set fire to warehouses holding munitions and tobacco so the Yankees couldn’t have them, and looting broke out.

The fires quickly raged beyond control and began consuming most of the downtown business district while the rebel soldiers marched away, leaving the civilians defenseless and in utter chaos and confusion.

When Gen. Weitzel and his men rode into Richmond, which no Yankee army had yet laid a finger on, it was being rocked by explosions, burning to the ground, and ransacked — by its own inhabitants.

The Union Army quickly distinguished the blazes, restored order, and began distributing food and tending to those in need.

And here’s the most ironic twist: Robert E. Lee had a brick residence downtown, near the fire zone, where he’d left his daughter and invalid wife. Unable to evacuate, they introduced themselves to the Union soldiers, who posted guards and kept an ambulance on standby for Mrs. Lee. General Lee was able to return to his unburned home after his surrender at Appomattox a week later, thanks to the Yankees.

Gen. Weitzel later wrote his memories of all this, stating that the people of Richmond (especially the blacks) were so thrilled by his army’s arrival that they kissed his soldiers and their horses.

Two days later, Abraham Lincoln himself came to assess the damage. Lincoln showed great compassion and mercy, and the future looked promising. That lasted less than two weeks, when an actor and Southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth, who’d spent some time performing in Richmond, assassinated Lincoln.

Resentment, spite, and racism have been allowed to flourish in the South ever since, and statues of defeated Civil War players are everywhere. It took the killing of nine innocent black people by an ignorant little white bigot wrapped in a Confederate flag to get the rest of the country to finally do a double-take at the South’s festering obsession and the latent racism that usually goes with it.

By all reports, many Southerners seem to be accepting that the Cause was wrong, the South lost, it’s part of the United States again, and it’s time to move on. And a good first step is to pull down that divisive flag that has become America’s Swastika.

In Virginia, we’re getting the Confederate flag off a few license plates, but a huge one still proudly waves beside Interstate 95, on private property, to signal that not everyone is welcome here yet.


Speaking of the Arthur Ashe Statue…

July 4, 2015

By Cole

Karen’s probably somewhere shooting off fireworks for the 4th, so I’ll fill you in on the latest with Arthur Ashe.

On Thursday as Karen was typing her previous post, somewhere in Richmond, Doug Wilder, a former Richmond mayor and Virginia governor (the first black man ever to be elected a governor in the U.S., no less), was tweeting about the weeds growing around the weird Arthur Ashe statue.

All the other Monument Avenue statues of Confederate generals are pristine. How quintessentially Richmond.

The Ashe statue was erected before my time in 1996, but I can just hear its staunch opponents when they finally gave in to letting a black man, a mere tennis player, stand among their Confederate generals.

“OK, fine. You can put your silly old statue on Monument Avenue. Just don’t be expecting us to keep it dusted and polished!”

Wilder’s tweets hit the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Friday morning, and by day’s end, the city had cleaned up around Arthur Ashe.

Without Confederate flag kerfuffle putting the spotlight on the South right now, I have no doubt Wilder’s tweets would have been dismissed as sour grapes. Those weeds didn’t grow overnight. If the powers that be had any respect for the Ashe statue, it would have been maintained along with all the others. But better late than never.

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

I learned there’s yet another big Confederate monument. It honors Soldiers and Sailors and stands in Libby Hill Park. Thursday or early Friday, some fool scrawled in red spray paint what might be the word “cracker” and the initials “RBGz” with an up-arrow beside it.

Let’s not get into what this illegible, wit-free gibberish says about the quality of a Richmond education.

“Cracker” may be a reference to Southern white racists but, according to the Times-Dispatch, “RBG” could refer to a rap album, a Pan-African flag, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I’m going with “Rebel Billy Goats” or “Really Bad Grafitti.”

So far, this bit of vandalism has no suspects, so at least they got their getaway right.


Lose the Confederate Flag, Keep the Statues

July 2, 2015

By Karen

I moved to Richmond, Virginia, from the North 43 years ago this month, and it only recently hit me that I’ve been here nearly one-third of the time the Civil War has been over, and I’ve been reminded of it nearly every blessed day and resented it every time.

After the Charleston shootings, words can’t describe how thrilled I was to see some Southern states begin rethinking the preservation of their blockheaded “heritage” and getting with the 21st century.

In Alabama, without asking anybody’s permission, the Republican governor ordered four Confederate flags removed from the statehouse grounds. Amazing!

In VIRGINIA, our Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, ordered Confederate flag license plate issued only to the Sons of Confederate Veterans discontinued and all such plates in use (1,600) replaced. Hallelujah!

The plates were a small gesture, yet the SCV have vowed to fight it — even after the exact case in Texas recently went to the Supreme Court and LOST. (That old, “The South shall rise again!” mentality.)

OK, the flag once stood for the Glorious Cause, but the SCV refuse to acknowledge it’s been hijacked by racists, and racism is what it stands squarely for today.

Some Southerners are wringing their hands over the flag, saying it’s a slippery slope, and what comes down next?

Richmond has a big statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, on Monument Avenue (more on that in a sec) that just got defaced twice. One guy spray-painted an “L” on it to signify “Loser” (which was pretty “Lame”). Someone else painted “Black Lives Matter.”

Monument Avenue is a beautiful tree-lined boulevard with a wide green median, lined with lavish, historic homes and dotted with impressive statues of prominent Civil War figures like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback.

It also has one odd, puny statue of black Richmond native and tennis great, Arthur Ashe, who’s posed as if lobbing a book to a bunch of sawed-off kids. Trust me, getting him on Monument Avenue caused everyone no end of angst.

Anyway, people are worried these statues will get torn down à la Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

If that happens, are statues of slave owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson safe?

I’d say the distinction is that the statues haven’t been embraced as racist symbols. They’re of people who played key roles in significant events in our past.

Let’s leave the statues of major historical figures alone. They don’t bother anybody, and in most cases they’re works of art that attract tourists and may be a comfort to some.

But statues and busts of relatively minor figures, like Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped start the KKK, belong in museums as curiosities.

Even though all the funerals in Charleston are over, I hope the South keeps progressing toward accepting that the United States is one country again, founded on the principle that all men are created equal — in spite our many, many lapses and some people’s lingering refusal to face it.


The South Finally Gets Real

June 23, 2015

By Cole

In my nine lives, I never thought I’d see the South accept the fact that the Civil War is over, that most of us are sick of hearing about it already, and that the Confederate flag has become nothing but the American Swastika.

It must be a real punch in the gut to Dylann Roof to see that massacring nine innocent black strangers didn’t start a new race war, but gave blacks and whites reason to bond. And that bonding comes thanks to the victims’ families, who displayed superhuman grace and forgiveness when they were asked to tell Roof what they think of him.

Their utter refusal to take his hate-bait freed whites to finally admit that their obsolete flag belongs in a museum — not atop or near any government building that purports to represent all citizens.

Hot as it is around here, we’ve now got a snowball rolling downhill. Mississippi is thinking twice about the Confederate stars and bars in its state flag. Tennessee may remove a bust of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from its statehouse.

Even Walmart is pulling all Confederate-themed merchandise from its shelves. Let’s hope other retail chains follow. If racist punks with an imaginary axe to grind want to rock that rebel look, let them sew it or draw it themselves.

May this phenomenal progress continue until mentioning the Civil War in a way that implies it was anything but a horrible, embarrassing mistake labels the speaker an ignorant bigot.

Certainly, the South can keep laying flowers on the graves of its Confederate dead. It can even admire the bravery of those who gave their lives. But it can also have the decency to admit they died in a self-serving attempt to continue degrading and exploiting people who had done nothing to deserve such treatment, and any claim to the contrary is just revisionist thinking.

It’s time for the South to free itself from the shackles of its history so everyone can feel welcome here — even Karen.

 


How the South Can Help End the Madness

June 19, 2015

By Karen

I’ve read conflicting reports, so I’m unsure if Dylann Storm Roof legally bought a Glock with birthday money, or used a 45-caliber pistol his father gave him for his 21st birthday (because every unemployed 9th-grade dropout needs fire power, right?).

Either way, Roof shot and killed 9 total strangers at a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, simply because they were black and Roof thinks he’s better than them.

What immediately followed were more futile pleas for strict gun control, a no-brainer in every other country. Unfortunately, we let the puniest-brained among us control that issue, and they love our reputation as the world’s most senselessly violent society.

Meanwhile, there’s one facet of this whole racist-serial-killer problem that might be easily rectified if anyone had the balls to mention it.

Today on CBS This Morning, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said this country needs to have a conversation about race.

Well, DUH. Hasn’t she noticed we’ve been having that conversation since an almost-daily event has become white police officers killing defenseless black people (even in Charleston)?

What we really need is an intervention. Someone needs to tell the South to shut up about the Civil War. Instead of perpetually keeping it front and center, let’s finally bury it so future generations of clueless punks will have to do some research to fuel their baseless bigotry.

Roof grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, which proudly flies the Confederate flag. Roof has that flag on his “Confederate States of America” license plate.

I’m a New Englander who has lived in Virginia for 43 years, well over half my life. But I will never, EVER identify as a Southerner because I refuse any association whatsoever with the Civil War.

Yet Virginia marinates in it because Richmond was once the capital of the Confederacy. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union, and it got the war rolling with the first battle at Fort Sumter.

If South Carolina is anything like Virginia, it has preserved battlefields so lame-brained re-enactors can refight the old fights, secretly hoping they’ll have a different outcome and “the South shall rise again!”

You can’t swing a cat in Richmond without hitting a statue of some defeated Southern general. The Richmond Times-Dispatch manages to dredge up late-breaking Civil War “news” most days. And it recently ended an interminable reprinting of ancient daily war-time dispatches to commemorate the war’s 150th anniversary, or some such bullshit.

I do my best to ignore every bit of it.

The South persists in nurturing this delusion that there was something noble about the Civil War. It’s as abhorrent to anybody else as if Germans waxed nostalgic about how wonderful it was to be Nazis.

In both cases, an entire race was ritually abused and died in unimaginable circumstances at the hands of another race that believed itself superior. In both cases, the oppressors were white.

Glorifying the Civil War accomplishes nothing but to sow seeds of racism and blind hatred so they take root in empty minds like Dylann Roof’s.

The Civil War had no justification. Period. Nobody was ever born to become somebody else’s labor-saving appliance.

Until the South lets go of its bizarre need to paint the Civil War as “the good old days” and sincerely acknowledges the equality of blacks and all human souls, it will continue to spawn racist killers.


Good Luck at Belmont, American Pharoah

June 5, 2015

By Adele

There’s no point analyzing or speculating on the third Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes, Saturday, June 6. We’ve got a horse within a whisker of being crowned for the first time since 1978, and I’m not going to jinx it.

It may bring good luck to actors on Broadway, but the one thing you never, EVER say to any horse before a big race is, “Break a leg.”

Now that American Pharoah is on the verge of making history, they’re emphasizing the fact that he’s the great-great-great grandson of Secretariat, who happened to be born not too far from here, in Doswell, Virginia, in Caroline County.

And my colleague Max never tires of reminding me that he was born in Caroline County. However, we don’t know, and he doesn’t remember, if he was brought to Richmond from a kill shelter or if someone found him dumped on the side of the road. (Considering how annoying he is, I suspect it’s the latter.)

And I never tire of reminding Max that Caroline County is the final resting place of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing creep’s big brother, because nowhere else would have him, even to throw dirt on him.

But I digress…

Firing Line and Dortmund are skipping the Belmont after failing to outrun the Pharoah in the first two Triple Crown races. The field will consist of only 8 horses, and only one (Madefromlucky) didn’t run in either of the previous Triple Crown races.

American Pharoah is the only horse to run all three, so he’s the least rested before the longest (1-1/2 miles), most grueling race. He’ll be in post position 5.

On his first spin around the Belmont track earlier this week, trainer Bob Baffert said Pharoah ran the wrong way, but he seems in fine spirits.

Cats Working wishes American Pharoah the best in winning the Triple Crown, and may all the horses cross the finish line safely.


Catching Up with Bourdain

May 26, 2015

By Karen

It’s impossible to “catch up” with Anthony Bourdain anymore. He’s always going at full steam in a dozen directions, but these are some noteworthy developments I’ve been tracking.

We’re mid-season with Parts Unknown on CNN. I particularly enjoyed Miami. I’ve been there a few dozen times, and did a double-take upon seeing our paths virtually cross for a split second when he flashed the Colony Hotel’s Art Deco façade. I stayed there in October.

Back in Tony’s Travel Channel days, you’d never imagine him becoming comedy fodder for the likes of Billy Crystal. But a recent episode of The Comedians on FX began with a parody called Unknown Parts, with Crystal strolling around in a silver wig, and then tasting several courses of human testicles, which all caused him to projectile vomit onto his co-star.

And then Tony popped up on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in a shot of his younger self out in some wilderness, saying armadillo tastes like chicken.

Speaking of popping up, something that has pooped out is a fourth season of The Taste on ABC. Not even Bourdain’s Emmy nomination as best host could save it.

I’ve always said the premise of cramming one meal onto a spoon was ridiculous, and the dwindling audience apparently agreed. It was the culinary equivalent of Dancing with the Stars staging all routines in a phone booth, or forcing aspiring American Idols to sing into an empty mayonnaise jar instead of a mic.

If The Taste accomplished anything, it was to give Nigella Lawson refuge and camaraderie while she was going through a personal nightmare. And it spawned worldwide franchises that may very well keep it a nice income stream for years to come.

Coming up June 2, Bourdain will be inducted in the RealScreen Awards Hall of Fame in Santa Monica as Person of the Year. Parts Unknown is nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Reality Series, and Tony for Best Reality Series Host. A&E is supposed to broadcast the awards live May 31.

Boudain hits the road July 7 for a 10-city personal appearance tour called Close to the Bone. Unfortunately, he’s coming nowhere near these parts. (I’m waiting for Tony to get wind of Richmond’s growing reputation as the newest foodie utopia and drop by for a few bites.)

And then there’s literary Bourdain. Still no word on the novel, but October 20 he’s got a prequel to his graphic novel, Get Jiro!, coming out. It’s called, Get Jiro: Blood & Sushi.

In addition, he’s co-authoring with Lauri Woolover a new cookbook called Appetites to be published by Ecco imprint in fall 2016. It sounds more down-to-earth than the French recipes and techniques he covered in the Les Halles Cookbook.

Speaking of Les Halles (as in, the market in Paris), Bourdain’s vision of a vast American counterpart in New York City took another step toward reality, after many months of speculation.

Bourdain Market will reputedly occupy 100,000 square feet (double the size of Mario Batali’s Eataly) in a new facility being constructed in the Meatpacking District on the Upper West Side at West 15th Street, Pier 57, on the Hudson River.

Here’s an excerpt from the linked Commercial Observer article…

Stephen Werther, Mr. Bourdain’s business partner, said that the food hall will ‘include a farmers market with an oyster bar, bakery, tapas bar and much more,’ according to Eater. It will house 100 vendors – some permanent, some for a few weeks at a time – and will include a rooftop beer garden.

The new food court will cost between $20 million and $30 million to build, Eater indicated.

‘We will work with the tourism boards to create a complete experience of the place. Not just prepared food or packaged food but serving ware, cookware, cookbooks, cooking demos, everything to promote the area,’ Eater quotes Mr. Werther as saying.

It sounds like a place where you could easily lose yourself for a weekend.

And, finally, in spite of the utter contempt he’s always shown toward the James Beard Awards, Bourdain’s series, Mind of a Chef, won for Best On-Location Food Program for the 3rd straight year.

If there’s one thing nobody can ever accuse Anthony Bourdain of, it’s being lazy.


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