I became a tnAchieves mentor because I wanted to learn more about students.
My job involves communicating with students. Being a mentor would help me better understand students. It was a fit.
I wish I could tell you that I loved volunteer work and wanted to serve my community. Until tnAchieves, though, I ran as fast as I could from community service, mostly because of a not-so-great civic club experience. I received a warm invitation to the civic club. I found out later that club members received a little bonus for recruiting new members.
Quick aside: Many civic clubs do awesome work. This was just my one not-so-great experience.
Anyway, I went to club meetings where we planned fundraisers. For every pancake breakfast, biscuit breakfast and waffle breakfast — seriously, can’t we just hand out some cereal? — club members were given tickets that we were supposed to sell to coworkers and family members.
To be clear, I’d rather see Tennessee rehire Derek Dooley as its football coach than sell tickets to coworkers and family members.
My brother I committed to do two things for four straight days: visit Civil War battlefields and go to baseball games.
Well, we also committed to drinking beer at baseball games. So, let’s make that three things.
We enjoy history. We enjoy baseball. We enjoy drinking beer while watching baseball.
After five battlefields and three baseball games in four days, I felt an unexpected connection between walking the somber fields of the Civil War and visiting a pristine home of America’s pastime.
They are uniquely American experiences, the Civil War and baseball. When I stood at Spotsylvania and thought of the brutal fighting there, I felt a palpable sense of my Americanness. When I sat in a major league park and listened to the hum of the crowd, the calls of the beer vendors, the pop of ball on leather, and the crack of the bat, I also felt my Americanness.
I do not know what the men who fought in the Civil War would think of the country they sacrificed themselves for.
But I think that they would be pleased to see us gathered in a ballpark, on a beautiful night, watching a game together, under one flag, in peace.
If we want to define the Battle of Gettysburg by the numbers, then we have plenty of choices.
3 million bullets fired
165,000 soldiers in the field
600 cannons in action
What data point resonated with me? 15 minutes.
On a couple of occasions, the entire damn war — all the grand plans and training and fighting — all of it, every bit of it, came down to 15 minutes, the time it takes to play a quarter of football or run into a store to buy milk.
Union General Gouverneur K. Warren realized that the strategic heights of Little Round Top were sparsely defended. He turned to the nearest brigade he could find and got them on the heights about 15 minutes before the Confederates attacked. If it had taken him 20 minutes, then the Rebels take the heights and perhaps turn the tide of the battle, and the war, and the nation.
Union General Winfield Hancock needed 15 minutes. Confederates were massing for an attack on critical Cemetery Ridge. His only option was to send in 262 men from the 1st Minnesota to buy him the 15 minutes he needed for more reinforcements to arrive. He sent them in. Only 47 made it back, but Hancock got his 15 minutes, and the line was preserved.
In everyday life, 15 minutes is easily forgotten,
At Gettysburg, 15 minutes, and the price paid for them, must be, always, remembered.
One of the most haunting paragraphs in Shelby Foote’s history of the Civil War is his description of the fighting at the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania.
“These were the red hours of conflict, hours no man who survived them would forget, even in his sleep, forever after. Fighting thus at arm’s length across that parapet, they were caught up in a waking nightmare, although they were mercifully spared the knowledge, at the outset, that it was to last for another 16 unrelenting hours.”
The Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania , where 17,000 soldiers fell in 20 hours of often hand-to-hand fighting, and the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg, where Union troops were senselessly thrown again and again against a near impregnable position, represent the “waking nightmares” of war.
The Independent Line of the Manassas Gap Railroad was left unfinished, its gouge in the earth forgotten and inconsequential.
If you walked by it in 1858, the abandoned project might have been a curiosity. By 1860, you may have strolled past it without so much as a sidelong glance. What could be important about an overgrown cut in the earth?