CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From thernLower Rightrnby John Shelton ReedrnMississippi MusingrnBack in February, a USA Today storyrnon black historical sites mentioned arn”Black Confederate Memorial” in Canton,rnMississippi, a “20-foot obelisk . . .rnbuilt in 1894 to honor Harvey’s Scouts,rnone of the black units that operated behindrnUnion lines to harass supply shipments.”rnAs it happened, I read that storyrnwhile spending some time in Jackson,rn20 miles or so south of Canton. Visionsrnof a lucrative screenplay dancing in myrnhead, I set out through a chilly Februaryrnrain to find the monument.rnCanton turned out to be a pleasantrncounty scat that Sherman somehow neglectedrnto burn (unlike Jackson, whichrnwas known as “Chimneyville” when oldrnCump got through with it). I drove pastrna charming little Episcopal church and arnnumber of imposing houses from therndays of King Cotton to the classic courthousernsquare, where I asked several citizens,rnblack and white, where their nationallyrnadvertised monument could bernfound. None of them knew anythingrnabout it. f’inallv, a lady in a gift shop onrnthe square thought she might knowrnwhat I was looking for (at least she knewrnwhat an “obelisk” is), and I followed herrndirections to the edge of town. Surernenough, there it was, surrounded by arncast iron railing. I got out and trudgedrnthrough the drizzle for a closer look.rnThe inscriptions on the base werernworn almost to illegibility, and I had tornsmear them with some cold mud beforernI could read the words. The first wasrnstraightforward enough (“Loyal FaithfulrnTrue / Were Each and All ofrnThem”), but the next read, “Erected bvrnW.II. llowcott to the Memory of thernGood and I ,oyal Servants Who Followedrnthe Fortunes of Harvey ScoutsrnDuring the Civil War.” Hmnim. DidrnUSA ‘I’oday get it wrong? Surely not.rnBut the last inscription clinched it. “ArnTribute to My Miithful Servant andrnFriend, Willis Howcott,” it said. “ArnColored Boy of Rare Loyalty and Faithfulness,rnWhose Memory I CherishrnWith Deep Gratitude. / W.H. Howcott.”rnSo much for my sereenpkn. Itrnwould have been a hard sell, anywa.rnThere are lessons here that the restrnof my time in Mississippi only served tornconfirm, beginning with the fact thatrnyou shouldn’t believe everything yournhear or read about the place. Anotherrnlesson is that history is close to the surfacernhere, but, like those inscriptions,rnit’s not always easy to read, and oncernyou’ve made it out it’s not alwas clearrnwhat it means.rn’It * *rnOne Sunday, I drove the 45 minutesrnto Vieksburg. Touring the siege lines inrnmy rented Geo Metro, half-rememberedrnpoems by Allen Tate and James Dickeyrnfloating in my head, I mused as I oftenrndo on the sheer unrecoverable othernessrnof the past. (Not for me, I’m afraid,rnFaulkner’s famous line about its not beingrndead, not even past.) Surroundedrnbv visiting Boy Scouts and Midwesternersrnin Winnebagos, I found it almostrnimpossible to reconstruct the noise andrnheat, the smoke and blood, much lessrnthe sentiments and emotions that drovernthose men. And here the Park Service’srnotherwise excellent maps and tapedrncommentary were no help at all.rnAmid the grandiose monumentsrnerected by various northern states torntheir veterans I almost missed the modestrnmarker for a West Virginia unit.rnWcst-by-God-Virginia. What promptedrnthose mountain boys to come all thisrnway to fight, and some of them to die,rnin the sweltering heat of a Mississippirnsummer? I doubt that the sentimentsrnof Julia Ward Howe’s pious battle hymnrnhad much to do with it. Hatred for thernhaughty lowlanders I could believe, orrneven just the adventure of it, and oncernyou’e begun it’s hard to quit. But howrnabout the good and loyal servants of thernHarvey Scouts? What could have beenrnin their minds, as they helped their mastersrnfight the blue-belly invaders? Couldrnit have been as simple as the friendshiprnMr. Howcott claims? Even Howcottrnhimself: When he put up his imposingrnmonument to Willis and the others,rnwhom did he want to impress? flisrnneighbors? The Yankees of 1894? Us?rnI low could we ever hope to know?rnOf the hundreds of monuments thatrnlitter the park at Vieksburg mv favorite isrnMissouri’s. That state had sons on bothrnsides, and the monument honors themrnall. At one point hostile Missouri unitsrnfaced each other across a scant few yardsrnof no-man’s land. During a cease-fire,rnthe Park Service tape informs us, an officerrnof the Confederate unit visited hisrnUnion counterpart across the lines. Asrnhe was leaving, the Union officer expressedrnthe hope that they would meetrnagain, in a restored Union. “The onlyrnunion I hope to share with vou, sir,” hisrnfellow-Missourian replied, “is in thernHereafter.”rnIt’s interesting to see how the park’srntape and brochures and videos andrnmonuments treat the Confederates. Inrngeneral, they cleave to what I’ve come tornthink of as “the old settlement,” thernconsensus that obtained from the 1890’srnuntil quite recently. They treat the war’srnoutcome as providential (this is the federalrnPark Service, after all), but the Confederatesrnare granted their valor andrngood faith. That tacit agreement is certainlyrnunder attack these days in venuesrnother than Civil War battlefield parks,rnand I wonder how much longer it willrnlast even there.rnBut even if the interpretations change,rnsome inconvenient facts will remain, tornkeep us honest. As we think about whatrnthat war was about, and why men foughtrn(not exactly the same question), wernneed to remember not only the Southernersrnin the Union Army but alsorn”Northern men of Southern principles”rnIWtuiiiiedifkii’ShSrn• .•.v;’…i:y ,;v.rnMAY 1993/43rnrnrn