A speaking engagement in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area landed us within a few minutes of Chickamauga, the site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles, so I insisted that we take a side trip to the historic battlefield. Since we lost the war, I have to celebrate our victorious battles.
At the luncheon, I had joked, “I married a Yankee. He keeps reminding me that they won the war so I’m taking him to Chickamauga, Ga., which the South won.”
In case you’ve missed it in earlier columns, Tink has a strong, personal connection to the war because his great-great-grandfather worked with President Lincoln in the White House. He was a telegrapher, who often always had news from the war front before the president. Charlie Tinker delivered by hand many significant dispatches to the President.
Chickamauga is in northwest Georgia near a small community called Ringgold. It is the first battlefield preserved as a historic location due to the land purchase made by the combined resources of soldiers from both sides in 1889. It was there that more American soldiers died than the combined number of fatalities from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Since it is a small community, you would think that more than 9,000 acres of battlefield would not be difficult to locate.
However, Tink entrusted the guidance to a GPS device and within a few minutes, it was obvious that we were in no way near the battlefield.
“This cannot be right,” he said as we drove into the center of the town of Chickamauga, having passed, earlier, the edges of the battlefield.
“This must be how the Yankees lost the battle,” I remarked. “They couldn’t find the battlefield.” I smiled sweetly. Tink cut his eyes sideways, but held his tongue. Finally, as the Yankees did in 1863, we reversed our course and started back in a direction we thought would take us to the park. A suited gentleman stepped out into the street, held up a hand and motioned for us to stop.
Tink smiled quietly. “A funeral procession.”
This is a phrase that had little meaning to Tink until he moved to the South. One day, he was driving while I was talking to a friend on the phone. Traffic began to stop and Tink, exasperated, couldn’t believe that drivers were suddenly stopping in the road. He looked to see how he could scoot around the stalled cars.
“Tink! Stop!” I exclaimed, interrupting my conversation. “It’s a funeral procession.”
“What?” This began what has become a three-year debate between us. It is unsafe, he maintains, to stop traffic on a four-lane, divided highway. It is beautifully respectful, I counter. To me, it is one of the most treasured traditions of our culture.
A television writer couldn’t have scripted it better. There was a Yankee, who had lost his way to a Civil War battlefield, caught up in a Southern funeral procession. When the procession had filed completely out of the parking lot of the funeral home, the suited man waved us on and we, the first car, followed the procession. Tink turned on his lights, gently accelerated and followed the quiet parade.
It led us straight to the battlefield.
The dearly departed was, apparently, a Son of the Confederate, meaning he was a direct descendent of a Southern Civil War soldier. His procession wound ceremoniously through the battlefield as a show of respect for his heritage and ancestors.
Please don’t think I’m disrespectful when I tell you that, in the midst of such a somber goodbye, I had to laugh. A big, hearty, thoroughly entertained kind of laugh. The Confederates had, again, trapped a Yankee and held him hostage on the soil of Chickamauga.
This time, though, the Yankee was alive and the Confederates were all dead. I found that to be pretty remarkable.