Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg via Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable
Part 2: The Road from Appomattox
By Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
History buff—in fact, Civil War History buff—that I am, this play had somehow escaped my attention or I had heard of it but forgotten about it. Either way, I am so thankful for the presentation at the April Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable meeting that introduced—or re-introduced—me to it:
“The Road from Appomattox” by Richard Hellesen.
As I stated in Part 1: Grant & Lee at Appomattox, in April, Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable featured the presenters Randal L. Durbin/General Grant and Lane Smith/General Lee. The first two scenes were basically taken directly from historical documents, word-per-word. Thus, they were very deeply rooted in established fact. If you are old enough to remember Dragnet, you remember Sg. Joe Friday saying, “Just the facts, Mam.” While what he was saying was entertaining, interesting, and relevant, neither the line nor his delivery of it was very moving emotionally. So it was with Scene One and Scene Two. They were certainly entertaining, interesting, and relevant—in fact, educational—but they were not deeply, emotionally moving. Scene Three, however, more than made up for that!
Scene Three is taken from the play “The Road from Appomattox” by Richard Hellesen, commissioned and originally produced for Ford’s Theatre in 2009. In 2015, it was part of events in Washington which marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.
Below is a description taken from https://www.richardhellesen.com/short-plays
On April 10, 1865, the day after the surrender at Appomattox, Generals U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met once more--this time to take the first halting steps toward reconciliation. Knowing that their actions, and example, could spell the difference between true peace and an endless Civil War in the American heart, the two consider how to put their considerable differences aside for the good of the nation.
For those who are unfamiliar with the play, I do not want to spoil it for you, therefore I am going to limit my discussion to just one small—but powerful—part of the play: Grant and Lee discussing what they each feared most.
Grant’s greatest fear was that the South would take to the mountains and guerilla warfare. It was his belief that, should that happen, it would not matter how outnumbered the South might be, they could hold out indefinitely. In such a scenario, he feared when—perhaps even if—the war would ever end.
Lee admitted that Grant’s fear was legitimate. In fact, his generals had been trying to convince him for several weeks to do just that. He also agreed that the war could go on indefinitely under those circumstances. This was not something he wanted to see happen any more than Grant did because he realized that while they might not lose, the South certainly would still not win either. It would just prolong the agony the country was experiencing on both sides. This truth was not Lee’s greatest fear however.
Lee’s greatest fear was that agreeing to terms to end the war and ceasing hostilities would not actually bring the war to an end. His concern was that the issues would take hold—had taken hold—in the hearts of men. If this were the case, he said we might stop the fighting but become a nation “united again in name only”.
I was in tears.
Talk about prophetic!
I do not want to become political here and I certainly am not endorsing any one belief over another—that is not my intent. I do not believe it is political to acknowledge the fact, however, that we are a nation still greatly divided. In fact, if one studies Revolutionary War History and the writings of our Founding Fathers, one will find it was always so. The compromises they had to make to get the colonies to ratify our constitution were ones they knew we would have to deal with eventually and they feared our country would not survive when that time came. We did survive, and yet...
This is why organizations such as the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable are so very important today. The hard truths of our history must not be buried or forgotten. While it may be cliché, it is none-the-less true, if we forget the past, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes—tweaked a bit one way or the other—again and again.
I was so moved by Mr. Durbin’s and Mr. Smith’s re-enactment that I contacted a friend of mine involved with the Vicksburg Theatre Guild and asked him to bring this play up as an option for our theater. Our Roundtable also mentioned working with the VTG to develop a play about the Siege and Surrender of Vicksburg. In talking to my friend, I found out that the VTG has expressed the same interest in the past as well. He and I are actually now working to get that conversation formally started.
History accurately remembered, the arts, education, entertainment, a sense of community, and more benefits will occur in any community that takes the time to embrace who they are and what they are made of. Vicksburg is not “just a Civil War town”, nor should it limit itself to such. It did, however, play an important role in the Civil War, and the Civil War is deeply woven into the very foundation of our nation and still affecting us today. All of Vicksburg—and our nation as a whole—can only benefit from the efforts of groups such as ours.
Info on Mr. Durbin & Mr. Smith as "Grant and Lee"
Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable meets the third Monday of each month at Baer House Inn.
I must confess, when I was told the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable was being formed, I had no idea what it was—it did not matter! Someone in Vicksburg was doing something to educate and re-engage locals in our rich history and further the concept of “History as Industry” for what should be our very own little-historical-gold-mine! I was IN! Both feet! I am one hundred percent thrilled to be a member and happy to share my Roundtable Experiences with you. It is a fantastic way of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
For those of you as in the dark as I was, a Civil War Roundtable does not require a round table! In fact, I suppose we would not have to have a table at all! Seriously, it is a group of history buffs who get together to listen to speakers such as authors, reenactors, etc. and who plan and/or attend historical events. It is educational, social, fun, and a wonderful way to keep the truth of our history alive. In a town as rich in history as Vicksburg, I see it as almost a civic duty to be involved! It is so hard to believe that from the mid 1960’s until last October (2016), Vicksburg did not have an active Civil War Roundtable! The “Key to the South”—without a Civil War Roundtable—Unthinkable!
Thanks to Corey Rickrode, of Baer House Inn, and his association with Kurt Fields (General Grant), and several of our local battlefield guides—Morgan Gates, David Maggio, Michael Logue, and Joyce Hill to name a few—the lack of a Civil War Roundtable has been rectified! We are still relatively small. We are still struggling to raise funds to pay speakers. Many of us are donating time, talents, and dollars to the cause, and happy to do so. I must say, April’s meeting drove home just why such an organization matters and makes a meaningful difference!
Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
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