"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

1.19.2006

ain't just slappin' your knee

Today is Robert E. Lee's birthday, which here in Texas we actually celebrate in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as "Confederate Heroes Day." The counterargument to those who think we should perhaps not commemorate a regime that rebelled against our country over slavery 150 years ago usually runs along the lines of, "we celebrate Juneteenth, so it's only fair." Sigh.

Nasty little racist issues aside, some Texas in Africa readers may not know that I am the descendent of lots of Texans who became Confederates, including a former Texas Secretary of War who got himself killed as the commanding general at Shiloh. That plus growing up in a town that's obsessed with its battlefield, legendary mansion, and Largest Private Confederate Cemetary in the World, and has only the stars and bars on diplomas at the high school, and plus having had parents who took us to lots of historic homes and battle sites through the years means that I do have a side interest in the late unpleasantness. So what better way to commemorate this day than by talking about dead Confederate horses?

Last summer while on a research trip (no, really) to DC and New York, I drove through Virginia. After stopping to pay my respects to Jerry Falwell at Liberty University, I visited Appomattox Court House (one of the best national parks in America) and the Confederate White House in Richmond (Quote from the tour guide: "Yes, it's actually grey, but it's less confusing to call it the White House). Appomattox was amazing; Richmond was frightening; and it was all topped off by a visit to the fabulous Walton's Mountain Museum near Charlottesville (aka, just about the only place outside of Texas I would even consider moving to.).

On the way back from points north, I stopped at the idyllic campus of Washington and Lee College in Lexington, Virginia, where, just outside the chapel, one can visit the grave of Traveller, Robert E. Lee's trusty steed. The fact that anyone would construct a grave for a horse (much less have a tombstone printed) is somewhat surprising until you head next door to the campus of the Virginia Military Institute, where, in the VMI Museum, you just walk around the corner and bam! you're standing face-to-face with Little Sorrel, the horse of Stonewall Jackson. Actually, it's just her hide. Mounted. Life-size. With eyes. It's one of the single most disturbing things I've ever seen in my life. I'm still in shock just from the photo. (Why? Why would you do that?!?)

Happy January 19th, everyone!

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