That Vacation Trip, Day 2-B: Tennessee Back Roads to Shiloh

Once we left the Columbia Pike, we traveled a four-lane highway until our designated exit. There we took up a stretch of back roads that was gorgeous. Despite the heat, the June countryside looked green and full, the flowerings in gardens and on fence posts were rich and bright.

Every so often there was some fascinating landmark: a Depression-era gas station abandoned to weeds and rust; a rotting barn with an ancient Coca-Cola sign fading against the weathered wood; a small homestead that seemed not to have changed since Civil War troops trod past. (Understand this was my reaction to our drive. Diamondqueen just wanted to put miles behind us; the kids were in their own digital worlds.)

As our journey stretched on, the roads changed back and forth from highways to small town main streets to rural routes. At one point I spotted another of those gas station buildings, this one of white block, but Diamondqueen zeroed in on something that truly excited her: Behind the broken-down station was an authentic-looking British phone box, as much like a Tardis as if Doctor Who himself had just materialized.

Weary travelers in front of the Tennessee Tardis.

Weary travelers in front of the Tennessee Tardis.

The sign behind the old gas station.

The sign behind the old gas station.

Diamondqueen turned on two wheels down the narrow side road next to the gas station. We parked on the edge of the grassy area where the phone box stood. There, against the back wall of the gas station, was a sign that read “Tennessee Tardis.” Diamondqueen and J.Hooligan, devoted Doctor Who fans, were elated. S.Hooligan was indifferent, but she joined the other two to pose in front of the Tardis. It was the last roadside attraction we would have expected to see in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee.

Back in the car, we drove on. It was a long, grueling ride. J.Hooligan napped most of the time. S.Hooligan varied between sullen silence and nonstop chatter and abuse (especially to me). It was exhausting on several levels, most of all to Diamondqueen, who was doing all of the driving.

We arrived at the Shiloh National Military Park very late in the afternoon. We went straight to the visitor’s center to use the bathrooms, then investigated some of the museum exhibits. Because it was an uncomfortable “heat warning” day, Diamondqueen and I decided we’d mostly drive around the battlefield, getting out only when something really interested us. I had a driving tour map from the visitor’s center so I could see where each point was, but still we got twisted around sometimes.

Although I never read up as much on Shiloh as I have other battles, I’ve always wanted to go there. (I have, though, seen quite a few historical programs about the battle.) Imagery and the narrative from Ken Burns’ Civil War impressed me on first viewing and had stayed with me. I wanted to see the peach orchard, Bloody Pond, the Hornets’ Nest, and the spot where Albert Sidney Johnston had been injured and died. One by one we tracked down these sites and wound up getting out of the van a lot more than we’d planned. The Hooligans? They couldn’t be bothered. We left the van doors open so they wouldn’t suffocate, but their indifference was annoying–especially from J.Hooligan, who just a few years ago was mildly obsessed with Shiloh because of a comic book account of the battle he’d purchased in Gettysburg.

The site of the peach orchard. Every spring I think of soldiers of both armies lying there as the flower petals rained down on them.

The site of the peach orchard. Every spring I think of soldiers of both armies lying there as the flower petals rained down on them.

Unlike at Franklin, I did get a “feel” of the battle at Shiloh. I also learned certain things I hadn’t understood. For example, my mental image of the layout had put the battlefield on the south side of the Tennessee River, not the north. (I’d seen maps on the various programs, and I’m usually pretty good with maps, so I’m not sure how I got so screwed up.) Also, I hadn’t understood just how close Pittsburg Landing was to the action. I hadn’t expected to see it at all, but there it was, just down the hill from the visitor’s center.

How the Hooligans visited the Shiloh battlefield.

How the Hooligans visited the Shiloh battlefield.

My list of must-see sites crossed off and all of us thoroughly worn out (the Hooligans’ inactivity notwithstanding), we drove out of the park and picked up the first road on our route to Memphis, our final destination.

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