Posted by: Jim E | May 11, 2011

Canebrake…Battle of The Wilderness…Walk, Run, Gallop…

As I have mentioned before…since it is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War…I am reading a number of books on the subject…it has been enlightening, interesting and fun…since we now live in Arkansas, there is a lot of talk and interest in the Civil War…(I don’t think quite as much in the Northern states for whatever reason)…some battles were fought in Arkansas and I have read about some of them…but it was the battle for the Mississippi River, which of course, makes up the Eastern border of Arkansas, that was much more important to the war itself…it was important to both the North and the South for control of shipping up and down the river…and also for troop movements and supplies…

We made a trip over to the Delta recently…now a little geography here…most of Western Arkansas is mountainous…lots of forests, rivers and creeks…but to the East, just outside of Little Rock, begins the Delta…for me, I always thought a “delta” was where a river ends and flows into a larger body of water…like the Mississippi River, after draining the middle of the country, then flows into the Gulf of Mexico…and it leaves behind all the sediment behind…well, that is true…but most of Eastern Arkansas is very flat, sediment from years ago…farm land…and during the middle 1800’s it was settled as the land in the East “played out” and they needed fresh land…for cotton, rice, tobacco, etc…so that kind of farming, along with slavery moved West…and the Delta, all that river sediment…hundreds of miles both wide and long…all the way from Arkansas to the where the Mississippi ends its journey…it is low land and rich for farming…even today…and it is called “The Delta”…

Well, we traveled to “The Delta”…to a small town East of Little Rock…all flat land, farming…rice mostly but other crops too…and as we drove I noticed something unusual…well, something I’m not used to…and it reminded me of reading about “The Battle of The Wilderness” (fought in Virginia, May 5-7, 1864)…parts of the trip I noticed “canebrakes” along the way (cane, a native bamboo that grows here, growth measured in feet, not inches, per year…sometime growing to 30 feet tall…intermingled with vines, shrubs and trees)…and I remembered U.S. Grant’s description of The Wilderness…“Where there are no clearings the sides of the hills are covered with a very heavy growth of timber and with undergrowth, and the ravines are filled with vines and canebrakes, almost impenetrable.”…and the battle that was fought there was brutal…most of the time the opposing armies could not see each other…they could only move toward the gunfire…more from U.S. Grant, “The country roads were narrow and poor. Most of the country is covered with a dense forest, like the Wilderness…almost impenetrable even for infantry except along roads.”…

With Grant now in charge, his strategy in place…The Wilderness battle, was to be the beginning of the last year of the war…there was no clear winner here…with huge losses of men in this battle, on both sides…this and the rest of the war was to be a battle of attrition…Grant broke off the battle, and so many have said that Lee won…but if the truth be known it was just one more of the last battles of attrition…to wear down the South…and at this time Lee was trying to do the same thing…to kill so many that the North would negotiate for peace, and at this time there was no sure bet who would win this war…but instead of retreating like the former generals did, Grant did not retreat but made a flanking move toward Richmond, the South’s capital…his army cheered him…this would continue until the South surrendered…

The fighting at the Wilderness became an ordeal…the brush caught fire and many wounded died or suffocated due to the fire…the smoke-filled woods and underbrush caused many to lose their way and even fire upon their own men…many bodies of the dead were there for many years after…it was not just this battle field but many others, that the bones of those who died were found years later and finally buried…

Canebrakes…and undergrowth…it is one of the awakenings I have had here in Arkansas…how fast things grow…when we built our house a few years ago and we were planting bushes in the yard…a neighbor told us, “The first year they walk, the second year they run and the third year they gallop.”…and he was right…not only our yard but creek beds and drainage ditches are the same…wherever water runs…”things grow”…every few years, because of all the rain we get…the city has to come back and clean out the creeks and drainage ditches they developed for runoff…the bushes and vines just seem to grow out of nowhere…and choke off those drainage beds…and they would not do what they are suppose to do…it’s no wonder that The Wilderness was as impenetrable as it was…I now can understand…

Canebrakes, the Civil War and growing things…all part of our life here in Arkansas…so interesting to learn new things…and experience the differences here to what our former life was like…life is so good…

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Responses

  1. Reading about the Civil War makes me aware of the American landscape and how important that landscape was to everyday life before the combustion engine. Nice essay!


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