Start: W Memphis AR (33190)
End: Murfreesboro TN (33513)
It's morning, and everyone is in the parking lot hauling out maps. It's an easy day's ride from here to get to Murfreesboro, so we're all looking for alternate routes, small side trips, interesting roads to take us to our destination. Marsha and Marion are eyeing a Mississippi highway, US-72, they've heard it's a good two-lane to take for a ways east before swinging north again into Tennessee. I peer at the map with interest. I, of course, want to do a little Civil War sightseeing. Hwy 72 will take me to Corinth, the site of Beauregard's withdrawl from Shiloh, and from there I can cross the state line and go to the Shiloh Nat'l Battlefield itself. I'm on my own today, no other Civil War geeks. Everyone takes off, waving and hollering a cheery "See you in the 'Boro!"
I-40E to I-55S to I-240E to SR-385E to US-72E takes me out of Memphis and into the Mississippi countryside. It is here that I become a convert to The Church Of The Backroads. Most of my long-distance travelling to date has been on interstates, because they let me cover a lot of miles in a day. But the road here is so pleasant, so entirely different from riding the superslab, I resolve to travel this way whenever I can from now on. It's on the secondary roads that the character and flavor of the locality really shine through. I'm no longer seeing only major gas stations and fast food chains; instead, I see mom-and-pop stores, private residences that also serve as restaurants ('Elmo's Catfish And BBQ - Open Thurs-Sun!!!') or groceries or beauty salons or auto parts stores or anything else you can imagine in small-town life. I see front yards converted to five acres of corn, a clearing left unplanted for the kids' swingset and the tractor parked next to the pickup truck and the old Buick Riviera in the drive. Mailboxes on back roads are an art form. They're wonderful. Very, very few of the driveways are paved. I imagine how treacherous the gravel would be on a motorcycle. US-72 is a four-lane highway that soon dwindles to two, and it's a pleasant morning's ride. Soon I am in Corinth MS, where I get gas, then head northward on SR-22 towards the battlefield. I begin seeing signs marking points of interest.
Reaching Shiloh Nat'l Battlefield, I ride slowly along the good park roads. The land is wooded, with numerous small clearings. Markers are everywhere, blue, red and yellow. I am tempted to stop, but I don't know yet what I am looking at, so I keep going to the Visitor's Center, which is located a good ways inside the ground. Some of the monuments raised here are very impressive. Large stacks of cannonballs mark the headquarters locations of various commanders. Finally, I reach the Visitor's Center, which is within sight of the Tennessee river and Pittsburg Landing. Details of history snap into place in my head. Parked in front of a line of cannon, I realise that I am at the Union's final line of defense, where they had been driven back to by the end of the first day's fighting. I go inside the center, to pay my fee and get my map, and to watch the video that's always available at these places. It's about 25 minutes long and pretty low-quality ... why are these things typically cheesy? Heh. But, I'm in luck. Immediately after the film, a park ranger puts on his period costume and gives a little demonstration of The Equipment Of The Civil War Soldier. He explains what he is carrying, then gives a demo of "load in nine times," the procedure for loading and firing an 1860's muzzle-loading rifled musket. It's a good little speech he gives, and he ends it on a somber note, saying, "Remember as you walk these grounds today, that it was Americans. Fighting Americans. Good day." The group stands in silence, respectful of these words. It's as though a spell has come on us, and the meaning of the battle here lies deep on us all. I turn and walk away, blinking back unexpected tears, as the spell is broken by Mr Tourist In His Tourist Shirt, who starts asking Stupid Tourist Questions. It's time to see the rest of the battlefield.
First, I walk through the Shiloh National Cemetary, which is on the bluffs just above Pittsburgh Landing. Union soldiers were removed from gravesites on the battlefield and re-interred here with military honors in the 1890's when the brand-new National Park Service took over the battlefield site. About a third of the soldiers can not be identified. Their markers sometimes bear a company or regimental identification, a simple "unknown", or sometimes just a number.
Then, on to the driving tour. It's a beautiful warm day, and I tie down both my jackets on the back of the bike, and ride in shirtsleeves. The tour has about eighteen stops, and I spend time walking around many of them. The Hornet's Nest, a pivotal place in the battle, is particularly moving. Here, Benjamin Prentiss's two brigades held firm while the rest of Union army was driven back in disarray by the fury of the Confederate charge on the first day. Prentiss understood Grant's order to "maintain that position at all hazards" and held up the Rebel advance for six hours. Massing and firing from a sunken country road, the Federals threw back a dozen separate charges, until Dan Ruggles massed, at point blank range, all the artillery pieces he could find and command on the field. 62 cannon shattered the Union position, but too late in the day for a Confederate victory. During the night, Don Carlos Buell and his army arrived to reinforce Grant, and the Union was able to sweep the field the following day.
Ghosts walk here.
Somber and moved, I finish the driving tour. (The Peach Orchard has been replanted with actual peach trees and will once again be an orchard, I am pleased to report.) Then, I leave Shiloh behind me, and proceed onward through the Tennessee countryside, once again heading for Murfreesboro on the back highways. I'm still in my t-shirt, which feels strange since I hardly ever ride without full gear, but it's wonderful on this lovely day. Eventually, however, I realise I've given myself a wicked sunburn, along with strange tan lines from the gauntlet gloves I wear. D'oh. I pull on my jacket at the next gas stop, and resort to main highways again, and get myself to Murfreesboro. I arrive at the RSBS Annual by late afternoon.
Folks will be arriving today and tomorrow. I'm handling some of the registration duties, but it's not ramped up to full speed yet, so it's mostly meet-and-greet time. There are far too many names and faces for me to remember, but I know most of the Rumble Sisters from online forums even though I haven't caught on to who's-who in real life yet. This is going to be a GOOD event. Everyone is happy and elated to be here. My roommates, Shanon and Cindy, won't be arriving until late, so I get myself checked in to the room, then spend the rest of the evening just hanging out in the lobby and attached restaurant. My friend Nancy, from Nashville, drives down to have dinner with me tonight. I'm feeling tired after my five days on the road, so even though I wish I were more energetic, I have to say goodnight & tell her I'll catch up with her more later. I plan to spend at least one night in Nashville while I'm here in Tennessee.
BTW: the girls don't arrive until well after midnight, and I've been asleep for two hours when they sneak into the room quiet as mice. This I did not expect. I thought they'd come in noisy and boisterous. Miz (Cindy) said she didn't know if I slept armed (LOL) but she didn't want to risk waking me just in case. Jeez, they're nice. Like I said, this is going to be a GOOD weekend. :)
Next: Day Six