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Published: April 20th 2008
Posted by Onaxthiel: Thanks to a good night's sleep at U's house, we were prepped for what would be a fairly long day of driving. We went with U to a local restaurant for breakfast, and the waitress shared a bit of knowledge on some of the local spots to see on our way towards Nashville. They were in an area known as land between the lakes, a zone we had been considering visiting anyway. With breakfast completed, we dropped Road Warrior off for an oil change and did a bit of shopping at the Paris Walmart. Thankfully, since Walmart wasn't actually in charge of the change this time, we were ready to drive on after only a fifteen minute shopping trip. We bid farewell to U under a drizzly sky and started the second to last day on the road. A half hour of driving east with a local sheriff's deputy shadowing brought us to the entrance to Fort Donelson, the location of Grant's first big victory in the West during the Civil War.
The Confederacy had placed forts along the rivers and lakes on the Kentucky/Tennessee borders, and this was the strongest of them for many miles. A
naval bombardment had succeeded only in losing one union ironclad gunboat and getting four others severely damaged, so it was left to Grant to lay siege and wait the Rebels out. The opposing generals consisted of two political appointees, an old classmate of Grant's, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Once the appointees had thoroughly botched the defense of the fort, they fled by boat towards Nashville, and Forrest led his cavalry out in the night to carry on partisan warfare, leaving Grant's old friend and classmate to try to work out terms. Famously, Grant offered no terms other than complete and unconditional surrender.
This was the first large scale victory (there were 13,000 Confederate troopers inside the earth works,) of US forces in the war, and it made Grant a hero. Driving the perimeter takes you to different batteries and trench systems for the infantry. There also is a large bald eagles' nest in the park, and we spotted a set in the trees, watching the rain-swollen river for prey. In the nearby town of Dover stands the inn that Grant received surrender at, and the town was later the site of a massively failed Rebel counterattack. After the short
stop in Dover we drove straight for Nashville.
It had stopped raining by the time we arrived, though the sky was still very gray. Much cruising and many wrong turns later, we found parking at the local farmer's market. From there one can see the state capitol, referred to as being in the greek revival style by our tour guide. I would say it's another for the list of states that have fairly unconventional state houses. Rather than having a traditional rotunda on top, Tennessee has a tower modeled on one found in Athens. The place is quite elaborate and lovely, only marred by the reverence with which the state treats James K. Polk, one of those almost unknown presidents that should be better remembered. Tennessee has made it their mission to honor him, with his grave on their grounds and lessons on how he provoked the Mexican American war to help manifest destiny believers toward their goal.
Our visit was a bit noisier than most. The Governor was having his picture taken with various notables as we walked in, and every catholic school student in the state seemed to be touring in shifts wherever we went. Perhaps
the most distinct part of the inside of the capitol is a cracked section of the banister. That and some dents in the nearby pillar reminded me of our Boston Ghosts and Graveyards tour leader. To paraphrase her: “This is a hit from a Union musket. This is a hit from a Union musket. This is a hit from a Union musket. This . . . is a deformity in the limestone.” But the point is that after Tennessee was conquered, Union troops forced the state assembly to quorum in order to ratify the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. Two of the representatives attempted to escape, and were fired on by the guards. They missed, but it was something I haven't seen in any of the other statehouses. (Obfuscator adds: I am also amused to note that the capitol of the Volunteer State was constructed by slave labor.)
Walking back to the car took us down a path that shows the history of the state. Milestones are marked by pillars with years on them, starting with a billion years ago, running to 1996 and understandably out of scale. The symbolism of the wall is apparent, with rifts and cracks running
through the 1860's and a gap in the wall to take the walker to a WW II memorial in the 1940's. At the end of the park is a series of small pillars all topped with bells for a clarion.
Onward we traveled to a campground in Mammoth Cave National Park, where we burned the last of our wood from the trunk (Obfuscator adds: We had been carrying this wood in our trunk since we camped near Sedona, AZ) and went to bed early for a quick start on the next day.
I have been considering how to end my last real entry to the Blog, from pretentious quotes (I even called up Imagisme to get the right one. It's W. Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream act five, scene one, lines 423-438!) to a last entry into the lessons learned category. But really we didn't learn anything groundbreaking today. There's really not much to say except safe travels and thanks for reading.
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