West: Civil War talk triggers memories

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All this recent talk about the Civil War tickled a few memories loose in my old noggin.
And reminded me of a highlight of life.

Nope, it wasn't sticking bits of cotton in his ears while he unsuccessfully lead a charge against Hazen's brigade at the Round Forest.

Actually, it came slightly more than a century later. It was the Civil War Centennial, celebrated with extreme enthusiasm in Murfreesboro back in 1963 and thereabouts. Those were important days for me and my younger brother who has maintained quite an interest in history.

Personally, I've got to admit living in Murfreesboro back in those day that bustled with history events, including the daily firing of a cannon on the Square. The blast was a much-awaited event at the our house out in what was the suburbs in those days.

In those golden days, we lived on Jones Boulevard near Lokey Lane .... now called Medical Center Parkway. The cannon blast was even a bigger event than the 5 o'clock whistle at the Carnation Plant, which was the unofficial timepiece for the community. Our house wasn't far from Stones River National Battlefield, but it was even closer to the remnants of Fortress Rosecrans.

Construction of the fabulous Jackson Heights Shopping Center had claimed one of the Civil War biggest redoubts a few years earlier.
Artifact hunting was the perfect activity for youngsters who managed to slip away occasionally to explore vacant fields like the drainage ditch dug in case the mighty Jones Boulevard water tower blew a gasket.

The lucky few came up with an occasional minie ball or some other fragment of war. I was never that fortunate, but many of his friends were and brought their found treasures to show and tell at Mitchell-Neilson.

But adults even had more fun with the Centennial observance. Staid elders like college professors Homer Pittard, Joe Nunley and Bob Womack sprouted chin whiskers, donned Civil War uniforms and regaled listeners with tales of bygone times, which then were just a generation or two removed. And there was the fabulous Civil War Centennial parade with company after company of reenactors firing volleys in the air as they marched up East Main Street toward the Courthouse, which had been recaptured from Union forces by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in the summer of 1862.

Most boys back in those days, knew where cannon and musket fire had nicked the Courthouse and some of the stately homes on East Main. Our family also toured all the major battlefields in Tennessee.

His own great-grandfather had fought at Murfreesboro. His knife and old scabbard still remains a family heirloom.
Then Gov. Frank Clement came to Murfreesboro for the dedication of Stones River Battlefield's new visitor center.

How many people remember "Battlerama?" It was a model of the battlefield complete with tiny soldiers and artillery. It was located on New Nashville Highway ... the new main drag in those days.

TV shows .... "Johnny Yuma was a rebel".... magazines and newspapers were filled with stories about the Civil War. Kids wore Yankee or rebel caps and played with toys patterned after weapons from the war. Historians like Bruce Catton published countless books. Even Civil War music saw resurgence at a time folk music was nearing its peak. Musicians like Jimmy Driftwood and the popular Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded albums that sold well. Ford's "Songs of the North" and "Songs of the South" are still available.

It was a heady time for history, only rivaled by the Bicentennial in 1976. Those days made us wonder what the Civil War Sesquicentennial will bring?
We are in the midst of the Sesquicentennial now and 'things' are and have happened across Tennessee.

In little, ol' Woodbury, there's been some cussin' and discussing about the Civil War. And we got a brand-new marker on the Civil War Trail.

While I certainly can't take one bit of credit for that marker, I do know who was chiefly responsible. It was my little, ol' brother, Dr. Carroll Van West. He followed through on those childhood interests and is now Tennessee State Historian, is the co-chair of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and is director of The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. West serves on the board of advisors for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and continues to work extensively with the National Register of Historic Places program.

Yep, those Cannon County roots come through once again.

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Civil War, Mike West
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