Driving Through Dixie, Part 2
Atlanta to Lynchburg and Appomattox Court House
Despite a heavy thunderstorm that raked Atlanta during the night, we slept well in a very comfortable bed at the Marriott Marquis. I read USA Today over a ham-and-cheese sandwich and can of TAB, my customary breakfast when traveling. Wanting to avoid the morning rush hour traffic of Atlanta (judged by some as even worse than that of Los Angeles), I took advantage of the hotel’s very well equipped fitness center. I rode the stationery bike, worked with the weights and did some stretching exercises for about 40 minutes. Several others were also working out and by their looks and accents I concluded they were members of the Ethiopian marathon team, whom we were told were staying at the Marriott in connection with a big race here a day or two ago.
We checked out at 9:30 a.m. after paying the hotel’s $20 fee for parking and headed north on I-85. There was a light drizzle but driving
|Forrest Park Statue of Confederate General|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
We had been driving in fast traffic for seven hours. Virginia is a state rich with history. Many of its cities and towns have their own visitor centers along the highways. U.S. Highway 29 is a four-lane, divided road built of similar quality to Interstate highways. Here and there in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are large plantings of day lilies and native wildflowers alongside the major roads. The Danville Visitor Center and rest stop is nearly as large and just as nice as the visitor centers operated by many states near their borders. A retiree/volunteer was quite knowledgeable and helpful with information about the area. I’ll long remember his unique directions to our motel in Lynchburg, which is “just past the Fleet enema plant.” Though tired, we were sorely tempted to visit a couple of local attractions in Danville; I now wish we had since our plans to drive back the next day were shelved because of heavy rain.
One place that sounded really neat to me (but not to Betty or probably most women) is a Tank Museum. On display at the American Armored Foundation’s Tank and Ordnance War Memorial Museum are more than 100 types of heavily armored vehicles including a rare German Panzer MK IV from World War II. A museum brochure claims it has “the finest collection of tanks, artillery, weapons, headgear, uniforms, insignia, medals and military memorabilia found anywhere in the U.S.”
Another Danville attraction I hope to see sometime in the future is an antebellum home that briefly served as the last capital of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis issued his last official proclamation as President of the Confederacy from there while on the run from the fallen capital of Richmond. Now known as the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History, the home was his temporary residence April 3-10, 1865. It served as the seat of the much shrunken and disarrayed Confederate government until news reached Davis that General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. The museum was built as a home in 1859 for a leading citizen, William Sutherlin, and was considered to be the grandest house in Danville.
Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s only president and a former U.S. Senator from Mississippi, lived in Memphis for several years after the Civil War. His statue overlooks the Mississippi River from a high bluff in downtown Memphis. The park is named in his honor. One of the periodic debates about honoring Confederate heroes is currently raging in Memphis. Several African-American politicians are again trying to persuade the Memphis City Council to rename that park as well as Confederate Park and Forrest Park, named after the great Confederate Cavalry commander whose tactics are still studied at military academies around the world. General Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader before the war and a founder of the Ku Klux Klan after the war (he changed his mind and ordered the KKK to be dissolved).
As former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Jane Walters has often said, “In Memphis race isn’t just an issue, it’s an obsession.” Day after day, writers of Letters to the Editor in The Commercial Appeal argue the pros and cons of removing all vestiges of the Confederacy from the city’s parks. Most writers are vehemently opposed to what some term “erasing history.” Complicating matters is the fact that Forrest and his wife are buried beneath a
|Gen. Lee at Richmond 1 week after Appomattox|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
I would hate to see my hometown go the way of New Orleans, which removed the names of all slave owners from public schools several years ago, including those of Presidents Washington and Jefferson. We have so much bigger fish to fry in Memphis including a shrinking tax base, corruption in government and one of the highest school dropout rates in America. It pains me that General Robert E. Lee’s name has disappeared from many history textbooks used in schools across the country.
Fortunately, Virginia has so far rejected the extremist, politically correct viewpoints that would eliminate official memory and honors paid to General Lee and others on the losing side what some Southerners call the War of Northern Aggression. The state is reaping the financial benefits of Civil War tourism and promotes it accordingly. A recent Virginia promotion is “General Lee’s Retreat,” a driving tour of significant battlefields and troop movements during the closing months of the war. We never could pick up the signals on our car radio near Appomattox, but each site supposedly broadcasts information about the long-ago action at each featured location. The names of the great Confederate generals adorn a great many roads, schools and other public works.
The closest town of any size to the final Civil War battlefield of Appomattox is Lynchburg, Virginia. We stayed at the Ramada Inn on U.S. 29 near the center of town for two nights. The motel is dated but decent. It offers a good base for visiting Appomattox Court House Historical Park about 20 miles to the east. We enjoyed an excellent dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant that is part of the Olive Garden chain. Betty’s pizza was outstanding.