In September 1948, on a trip to Richmond, Virginia, my father wrote a letter home to his mother in Rhode Island. He was searching for Libby Prison where his beloved grandfather, my great-grandfather was held as a prisoner of the Confederate army.
In the letter, my father details his struggle to find Drewry’s Bluff, the sight of my great-grandfather’s capture. When he found the spot where the old soldier had lay wounded, letters my great-grandfather had written came back to him.
|My Great Grandfather Edmund J Gibson
|Inscription in my father handwriting on back of photo
The memory of those letters sparked my father’s imagination. To his mother he wrote,
“The far-off crash of that old battle came louder and louder down the path of years. Leaves of the trees cut off by whizzing musket balls, and old-fashioned white powder smoke swirled around. I heard the shrill Rebel yell from the rear, and saw the first blue-coats, covered with dust, break through the trees on the run…I let my imagination run on until I can see the wounded Captain with the blood stained arm lying against the tree…”
As I read my father’s words, they reminded me of a visit I had made several years ago to the sight of another Civil War battle. My sister Sheila (a Civil War Buff) and I quietly talked as we walked along the hillside of the Manassas Battlefield. Standing below the majestic statue of Stonewall Jackson my two young granddaughters, Josie and Juliette started getting restless.
Attempting to liven things up, I spread my arms wide and gestured to the pasture below.
“Imagine, hundreds of soldiers on horses thumping up the hillside. Their faces tense; their swords clanging at their sides. Look! They’re getting closer and closer.”
With my hands I made noises like horses’ hoofs. I mimicked the sound of swords clashing. Josie stretched her neck and looked over the hillside, as if any moment she would see troops coming toward her. Juliette, confused said with her four year old lisp, “Grandma, I don’t see no horses.”
Several months later, Sheila and I again stood atop that hillside next to General Jackson’s statue. We laughed at the memory of the girl’s response to my vivid imagination. How strange to read a letter that so intimately detailed my father’s own vivid imagination. Funny how some things are just ingrained in us. How such deep traits get passed from one generation to another.
I’m often taken back by how strong the bonds of family are. Even if we’ve never known our ancestors.