Not Another F***ing Elf.

While this is only the third day of Christmas, there are already aspects of the season celebration that are growing old. Number One among gthe least desirable are elves. It's easy to understand how C.S. Lewis felt when he interrupted one of Tolkein's readings of "The Lord of the Rings" to his Oxford colleagues w/: "Oh no, not another (f***ing elf!" (Now before you write and attack me for such language, remember; don't shoot the messanger. I am simply replacing the Beloved C. S. Lewis who was much the wordsmith and still thought it the appropriate word when faced with even more elves. 

Other than David Saderis, it's time for all the elves to go away.

Georgia Center for the Book

Nell Dickerson & Robert Hicks

Cobb County Public Library - Marietta

September 29th , 7:00 P.M.

Hey folks, join photographer/architect/ friend Nell Dickerson & me to talk about ”The Role of Women in the Historic South,” or whatever else I decide to talk about as part of the 75th anniversary observance of the publication of ”Gone With the Wind.” Dickerson, a native of Mississippi. is the creator of the recently published book ”Gone: A Photographic Plea for Preservation,” which presents an eloquent case for saving some of the most important but decaying historic structures around the South. Her book is truly a must have & oh so beautiful.

I wrote the Foreword for that book.  The program is free and will take place at the Cobb County Central Library. 266 Roswell Street in Marietta.

Why The Civil War Matters

WHY THE CIVIL WAR MATTERS

As the nation is now well into the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War with the next four years to follow, there is a rebirth of interest and curiosity about the war. Much media attention is beginning to be devoted to its history and what it all means as professional and amateur historians alike try to place it within the context of the American experience. They will revisit the events and personalities that made up those tumultuous and bloody years that have been called ‘our national fratricide.’ And along with all the history that is coming down the pike, we are beginning to hear the endless discussions and accusations from some that our nation has not come far enough and from others that we have come far too far.

We will hear talking heads argue, to no end, as to whether the war, and by that they will mean secession, was about ‘states’ rights’ or slavery. Other folks will write letters explaining that it was not a ‘civil war’ and, hence, must be called ‘The War Between the States’ despite both Lee and Forrest, two who, for sure, really should have known, calling it a ‘civil war.’

Before you start that letter to the editor or burn my last book, don’t get me wrong or assume I have some liberal or conservative bias and you know what it is. I, like many of you, have strong opinions about all that will be discussed and rehashed.  As someone who grew up in the South, in a time when there were still real, living links to the past (my grandfather was born the year before the war began and had vivid memories of Grant’s army coming to his family farm in West Tennessee), I look forward to all the historians and pundits that are waiting around the corner. With the book-publishing world facing a not so glorious future in light of the ever-growing electronic media, the Sesquicentennial may be timed to be their last hurrah as they churn out books covering every detail and minutia of it all.

If it’s like the Centennial, which I have some childhood memory of, it will all begin to fade well before the four years are over. That would be a great shame because the battle I’m most interested in, Franklin, happened in late 1864, which means we won’t get around to it until 2014. But, then again, as Americans living in the second decade of the 21st Century, can we really keep focused on anything for very long? I hope so. For I love history and I know there are many of you out there just like me.

Yet, for the rest of America – those who are neither historians nor from my interest group – is their any real reason to keep looking backwards? Does the American Civil War still have any value or impact as to who we are, what this nation is, good or bad? Are there any lessons to be learned from the war as we move forward?

In the end, these are going to be the most important questions to come out of all the hoopla. Our biggest hurdle is not whether the war was about slavery or ‘states’ rights’ but whether the American Civil War is any longer relevant.

That’s the issue I would like to address. For if we don’t, I will predict, here and now, that the American Civil War will continue to travel that same road that The English Civil War took long ago and will fade into the darkest crevasses of ancient history. 

That would be the greatest of shames. For the truth is, if the line to immigrate into this country is longer than the line to immigrate into any other country on earth, it is because of the Civil War.

Let me be clear when I say the Civil War is not something reserved for those whose ancestors fought on one side or the other or even for those whose ancestors were freed from enslavement. The Civil War is important if you came over last year from Ecuador, Laos or anywhere else. For if you have chosen to throw your lot in with this country, the American Civil War is at the foundation of ‘why,’ whether you ever understand it or not.

That said it would be an equal shame if you never understood this. You see, all those glorious platitudes that our Founding Fathers were spouting ‘four score and seven years’ before were at the heart of the struggle.  Again, I will let others argue about what all those issues were (and believe me, they will) but there should be little or no argument about whether or not there were issues.

The truth is, in the end, when it was all over, those four arduous years had given birth to The American Century. While quoting Nathan Bedford Forrest may offend some, I feel that he summed up the future in his farewell address to his men on May 9, 1865 when he said;

“Civil War, such as you have just passed through, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings, and, so far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate feelings toward those with whom we have so long contested…whatever your responsibilities may be to government, to society, or to individuals, meet them like men.”

We should remember that while the Civil War was not a given, because of the way the constitution was set up, secession pretty much was. It was only time before some state or states, whether it was to be New England or the South, bolted over something. How can I say that? Well, that’s what was threatened and that’s what finally happened.

So more than just redefining who we are as individuals, as people, as humans, as if that was not enough, the Civil War sealed us as a nation. Shelby Foote liked to say that before the war our representatives abroad would refer to us as these United States and afterwards we became The United States.

Don’t be tricked, while Europe remained outwardly neutral, the powers that be overwhelming wanted The United States, as a world player, out of the picture. Out of our ashes, came the rise of their worst nightmare, The United States as a world power.

Do any of us really believe that we wouldn’t (at least in all official communications) be speaking German today without the American Century? Think about it, ‘Isolationism’ was rampant in the years before both World War I and II. What if each sovereign nation-state could have voted on whether or not to support a war-effort?

The truth is the Civil War not only redefined who we were, black and white, as a people, but also gave us the opportunity to do good and great things. Understand, I am not saying that we have arrived at our final destination as a nation or as a people. There is much that has been worked out, but there is still much to come.

So as we move into this Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, we have much to commemorate. Somehow, The American Century, the ‘Greatest Generation’ and all that has come about since the war is linked to those four years and it’s outcome and aftermath. None of it has been perfect, but I wouldn’t want to be here without it. 

If you’re like me and felt the attack ‘personal’ when those planes crashed into the towers, in a way that someone in France or Canada or wherever else could never have felt, then you will have good reason to commemorate the Civil War. If we are to remain that nation that 620,000 men and boys died for, we must understand what they gave us through their sacrifice. It would seem that the Civil War matters at this time in our history as much as it ever has, if not more. Besides, truth be told, my German is lousy.

I am reminded, again, of the words of Sam Watkins, a soldier from the 1st Tennessee, who fought as hard as anyone, when he wrote some twenty years afterwards;

“America has no north, no south, no east, no west. The sun rises over the hills and sets over the mountains, the compass just points up and down, and we can laugh now at the absurd notion of their being a north and a south. We are one and undivided.”

 

Reserve your seat at the next 2 pilots of A Guitar & A Pen Radio Hour

Hey, you can make reservations for the next two pilots of A Guitar and a Pen Old Time Radio Hour with Robert Hicks, Thurs, May 19th & Thurs, May 26 by calling PUCKETT'S GROCERY & CAFE, 129 South 4th Ave., Franklin, at (615) 794-5527. $15 each. Doors close at 6PM & show is over at 7:30.

On May 19th, one of America's finest writers, William Gay will join us w/ his son, Chris Gay (think John Prine meets Steve Earle) along w/ some surprise guests and then on the 26th, Eric Brace, Petter Cooper & Fayssoux Starling McLean join Rodney Crowell.

There is Very Limited Seating so call Puckett's (615-794-5527) before it is sold out. 

Gone: A Photographic Plea for Preservation by Nell Dickerson

I received this morning a copy of GONE - Nell Dickerson's Photographic Plea for Preservation w/ the short story, PILLAR OF FIRE by Shelby Foote and an introduction written by me. This handsome book is chocked full of Nell's wonderful photographs of lost houses & churches throughout the South. She rightly subtitles the project; A Heartbreaking Story of the Civil War.

GONE really should be THE BOOK this year for every member of the National Trust, for every preservationist, for every person who loves The South.

She came to me several years ago with the project and asked me if I would write the introduction. She asked me how much I would charge. I told her my fee for writing the introduction was having her give me the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime goal to collaborate on a project w/ Mr. Foote who had such a role in where I am today.

Order Gone Today. Go to your bookstore, big or small, and say you want them to carry this book right next to the new paperback of A Separate Country. There is a real link between the two books. 

CBS SUNDAY MORNING

As I write Martha Teichner and the crew from CBS Sunday Morning are flying to Nashville to include my two cents in a piece on Why The Civil War Matters...More to Southerners. My goal is to try to convince them that the Civil War should matter to all of us, north, south, east or west. 

This will be the 3rd time I have been on the show, 2nd time with Martha. What a fantastic person, what a fantastic interviewer. Hopefully, the piece will air in April as we commemorate the firing on Ft. Sumpter. 

I'll let you know how it goes and when it will air. 

A Guitar & A Pen Old Time Radio Hour!

If I have been silent of late it is because of travels (to Marrakech for my birthday) and then my work on novel 3, coupled with starting a radio show (title above). The show has been fantastic and you can catch up with the first three pilots because we are broadcasting them on www.guitarandapen.com. 

Folks like Sam & Ruby, Vince Gill, Kenny Vaughn and Marshall Chapman have been on the show. Amazing performers, amazing performances. We are taking a break, trying to edit these three shows into a pitch for sponsors and hopefully will start back up soon. 

During part of this break I will be doing some needed writing and a bit of filming. More to follow on that. In the meantime, go to the radio show website and catch the first three shows. 

Let me add, I am grateful for all the folks like Bill McInnis, Jody Spence, Violet Cieri and Justin Stelter that made it possible...and, of course, our ace comedy writer, Emily...more about her later. 

What Remains?

In 1980, on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of I’ll Take My Stand by twelve Southern writers who had labeled themselves‘agrarians,’ Andrew Lytle, one of the original twelve, wrote an essay he titled Reflections of a Ghost – An Agrarian View After Fifty Years.

He reflected back on the agrarian movement, on the South they had known then and all that had happened since. He concluded,

“I’ve often asked myself: Why was it that so few people

listened to us, although most were sympathetic. The

kind of life they knew was at stake. I think the reason

of their seeming indifference is this: nobody could

imagine the world they were born in, had lived in, and

were still living in could disappear. Well, it has”

 Now, thirty years later, there seems even less of that world. I've ben thinking of this a lot lately as I work in preservation and continue to write. 

 

 

Pony Maples

I'm getting ready to meet friends for lunch and then go over to Pony Maples' home and his legendary 'museum in the basement.' It's always a pleasure to spend time with Pony. What an amazing storyteller he is. His passion for life, for history and for guns. 

It's always great to take folks over there and introduce them into his amazing world. After all, how many folks do you know that have a couple of WWII planes assembled in their basement? ...Or machine guns? ...Or any of the rest? All boy toys, for sure. 

A Letter to the Editor from a Veteran of the Battle of Franklin, 1907

“It has been said that the battle of Franklin was bad generalship, and a mistake.  It was neither the one nor the other.  It was the inevitable.  Had Hood failed to attack Thomas here, the Confederate soldier could never have been made to believe that he had not lost his supreme opportunity, and that a beaten, demoralized and routed foe had been let slip from his grasp.  It was the crowning wave of Southern valor, endurance and vengeance sweeping northward, that dashed its crest into bloody foam on the breastworks at Franklin; and sixteen days later it was the undertow of defeat that drove it south again, beaten, vanquished and discomfited forever.”

After visiting the McGavock Confederate Cemetery where so many of his comrades lay he wrote:

“We were met and taken from the railroad depot in carriages out to and around about the battlefield, and from there to the Confederate cemetery, a beautiful spot on a tree-crowned ridge.  To this peaceful, lovely spot these great-hearted people have removed, at their own expense, our dead from their graves on the field, and marked each soldier’s resting place with a neat head-stone.  Standing here under the trees and amid the graves, Major Aken, a gallant Tennessee soldier, said, ‘We could almost wish that we, too, had been killed in battle, so that we might be buried here.’”