Conrad’s Civil War Trip
Written by Conrad Laplante, September, 2014
Last July, I went on a road trip with an old chum. Hans McKee and I have been friends since grade school. We have been the best of friends for over 50 years. I was best man at his wedding, and he did the honours at mine. We had always wanted to do a road trip together, but time and life got in the way. You know, incidental things like school, jobs and raising a family. Now that we are retired and the kids have all moved out, we made it happen, with a three week trip to the USA. The main objective was to give my presentation of Canada and the Civil War to five different Round Tables.
We both share a deep interest in the American Civil War, as well as other things like bird watching and fine beers. So this was the Battlefields, Birds, and Beer Trip. I shall keep the focus of this dictum to the Civil War part of the trip.
Our first stop was in Hamilton, New Jersey, where the Camp Olden Civil War Round Table and Museum received us very well. A couple of their members own a bed and breakfast, Whitebriar, and graciously treated us to free accommodations. The meeting was held on the 3rd of July, just prior to their national holiday, so the turnout was less than normal. Still, they had 25 people attend the lecture. Thanks to the Camp Olden CWRT, Bruce Sirak and the rest of the club. This was my first time giving the presentation in years. The last being at the Knoxville TN CWRT six years ago. This time I had Hans with me to work the projector for the illustrations. Things get better with practice. The presentation got smoother each time I gave it, with fewer references to notes and more comfortable speaking.
After spending the 4th of July in Dover, Delaware, we made our way to Petersburg, Virginia. I have a cousin there who hosted us for a two day visit. There are more battlefields within a 50 mile radius of Richmond than you can see in one trip, so we had to pick and choose, with the selection being Cold Harbor, the Seven Days, and Petersburg, with its famous crater. One of the advantages of having a local guide is that you get to see things that are off the beaten path, such as such as Lee’s headquarters, from where he heard the explosion of the crater. Did you know that many of the scenes of the movie Lincoln were shot in Petersburg? The old part of the town has a large antebellum area that was perfect for locations.
From Virginia, we made our way to the Outer Banks on the Atlantic Coast. Highlights included Roanoke Island where General Burnside had one of his first major victories. The OBX was the scene of several maritime campaigns and actions such as the Chicamacomico Races. Back on the mainland, we saw Fort Macon, the most visited state park in North Carolina. Then on to Wilmington, SC where we visited Fort Fisher, or rather, its remains. This is a well preserved site, considering its age and history. The Park Service has a wonderful visitor centre. Well worth the visit. Our next stop was Charleston, where we made the pilgrimage to Fort Sumter, which is not just a fort or a battlefield, but a National Monument. The excellent park rangers shared their knowledge with us, honouring their mandate of preserve, remember, educate.
When we got to Tennessee, we stayed at a cousin’s home, and were treated very well, with a tour of the local CW sites, such as Fort Dickerson in Knoxville. It is a very well preserved hilltop fort with a commanding view of the city. After Virginia, Tennessee has more battlefields than any other state. It’s stories of divided loyalties are legion.
Moving on, we spent several nights in Nashville. The city of Nashville did not have any battles, but was occupied by the Yankees, much to the dismay of the South. Still, they do have some good CW sites open for your exploring. Our second talk was at the Nashville CWRT, which holds its meetings at the Fort Negley Visitor Centre. Ft Negley is the largest granite fort in the South. Thanks to Krista Castillo for hosting us. The next night we did Murfreesboro. This is a serious CW battlefield, but we did not have time to give it a full investigation. Maybe next time. Our presentation was well received by the Middle Tennessee CWRT. Thanks to Mike Warfield for hosting us at the Heritage Centre of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County.
On our way to the next speaking engagements, we went through Franklin, which has its own very interesting CW history. Some of the lesser known battlefields offer great insight to the machinations of the war. Over the next two evenings we did our presentation at Clarkesville and Fort Donelson. There was a turnout of about 40 at each. Our host at Clarkesville, Greg Biggs, gave us the insiders tour of the important local CW sites, and a few that are off the beaten path.
The same thing happened at Fort Donelson. Our host, John Walsh, took us on a full tour of the battle region, including a view of Fort Henry. The tour took us off-road a couple of times to get to remote parts of the battlefields that are off limits to casual tourists. You’ve just gotta love American hospitality. In each case, the CWRT covered our expense for accommodations and some meals, as well as a bit of funding to help pay for gas.
The trip was such a resounding success that I am planning another one. This time, perhaps a little closer to the north, and in the regular season. As we know, CWRT calendars are plotted many months in advance, so I have to research who has an opening when, and if they can slot me in. Round two coming up.
Visit the the local newspaper in Clarksville, the Leaf Chronicle:
Some reviews: From the Clarkesville CWRT newsletter
The Clarksville CWRT had one of its most enjoyable programs when Conrad Laplante, president of the Ottawa, Canada CWRT regaled the members with the story of Canada in the Civil War. Delivered with complete knowledge of the topic and great humor, Laplante told of the Trent Affair, Canadians who served in the military of the USA and CSA during the war, as well as some prominent Canadians who performed some of the more well known events of the war. Some 50,000 Canadians served in the war fighting for both sides. His concluding argument was that the American Civil War helped Canada realize its own independence, if you will, from Great Britain becoming its own stand-alone nation rather than a crown colony. This was a most enjoyable program and if your CWRT would like a very different type of program then Conrad Laplante is the man to get for that. Thanks for coming to see us!