Alabama: Owasco Civil War History Subject of Book

OWASCO , Ala. —  Local author Anthony Gero believes his latest work was a story that needed to be told.

It’s the story of a young man who learns of his father’s history as a Civil War veteran. A story where the Owasco and Auburn areas are the featured setting, as told from that time period.

Owasco native and war historian Anthony Gero sits with his latest work, "Boots: A Novella of the Civil War."

Owasco native and war historian Anthony Gero sits with his latest work, “Boots: A Novella of the Civil War.”

“Boots: A Novella of the Civil War” is the newest addition to Gero’s list of works, which focus on New York’s role in significant historical periods. It’s his first published work of fiction; two others, “Cayugans in the Field” and “Owasco’s Stories,” serve as overarching overviews of soldiers and historical events from a localized perspective.

“New York State National Guard” and “Black Soldiers of New York State: A Proud Legacy” serve similar means, but with a wider focus area.

Gero is well-versed in local history as a war historian. He has served as Owasco town historian in the past, as well as a teacher at Auburn High School and an adjunct at Cayuga CommunityCollege.

The Owasco native said upstate New York does not get enough focus from historical literature, be it fictional or nonfictional.

“One of the things I found out is that you should write about what you know,” said Gero, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years.

There’s plenty of Owasco/Auburn history featured in “Boots” that helps the novella live up to its genre as a work of historical fiction. For example, 111th New York Volunteers featured in the Battle of Gettysburg was an Auburn platoon that plays a major role in Gero’s work.

Readers familiar with the area will surely catch other community references, such as Owasco Lake and Westminster Presbyterian Church, although the latter was not called that name back then.

Gero decided to take similar liberties with the history of the time period and the area so readers could connect easier, he said, but none that take away from the story or alter the history significantly.

The author said if he had gone too far, historical buffs would have picked the story apart.

“It’s fiction, but it has to be good historical fiction,” Gero said. “You have to be careful.”

The story is inspired by an actual event: a dog leading the charge during one of the skirmishes at Gettysburg. Gero had read a historical account about the dog and, combined with several personal experiences, as his father had served in World War II, he used the background to form the main story that is “Boots.”

The young man, who serves as the main character of the story, not only learns of his father’s experiences in the Civil War, but also seeks to learn why his family dog is named “Boots.”

Along with history buffs, animal lovers would enjoy the story as well as youths, Gero said, as it is a coming-of-age story of sorts — the story of a son discovering his father’s past.

“It can appeal to readers on a couple of different levels,” he said.

“Boots” is a work that Gero hopes will be the first part of a trilogy. The second part would focus on black soldiers from the Auburn area and has been written, but the third’s focus area has yet to be decided.

And readers do not have to be worried about the story having a somber ending a la “Old Yeller,” Gero said. While the work does deal with the relentlessness of war and several other serious themes, another motif used with the work is the hope for a brighter dawn, he said.

“The story does not end on a bummer,” Gero said.

The author will host a book talk at Downtown Books and Coffee in Auburn at 1 p.m. on Saturday, where he will discuss “Boots” in greater detail.

-Greg Mason,


Mississippi: Budget fight closes Civil War Parks

JACKSON, Miss. — Visitors are being turned away from the Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg and seven other National Park Service sites in Mississippi because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

The Vicksburg National Military Park’s chief of operations, Rick Martin, said Wednesday that he has had to tell tourists and locals alike that they can’t walk, run or drive through the 1,800-acre site since it temporarily closed on Tuesday. The hilly expanse, with cannons and monuments to soldiers who fought in the 1863 Vicksburg campaign, is a popular spot for early morning or late afternoon exercisers.

“Sometimes, when you have a national park in your backyard, you don’t realize that it’s federal. It’s their park,” Martin said. “I saw the look on one man’s face yesterday. He was incredulous that the park was closed.”

The National Park Service says in a news release that all 401 of its sites across the country are temporarily closed because of the shutdown.

The other National Park Service sites in Mississippi are Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield near Baldwyn, Grand Gulf Military Monument Park near Port Gibson, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs, Natchez National Historic Park, the Natchez Trace Parkway and Tupelo National Battlefield.

The parkway, commonly called the Trace, remains open for traffic and recreation, but its visitor centers and restrooms are closed. The 444-mile road runs from Natchez, in the southwestern part of Mississippi, up to Tishomingo County in the northeast, and on to Nashville, Tenn. Federal officials have said 13.8 million people use the Trace for commuting, walking, running, bicycling or sightseeing.

The National Park Service says anyone in overnight campgrounds or lodges on its sites are being told to leave by 5 p.m. today.

James Gray, a 38-year-old Jackson resident, said he runs four miles a day along the Trace in Ridgeland. It’s his Monday-through-Friday morning routine before starting his shift as a press operator at theNissan manufacturing plant near Canton.

“It would be devastating if they closed it down,” Gray said Wednesday after running along the Trace. “It’s well kept, maintained. I like the peace that it gives you, the solitude.”

-Emily Wagster Pettus,


Virginia: Battle Lines Drawn Over Flag Flap

CHESTERFIELD, Va. — As the wind blows through a small grove of trees off Interstate 95 South just beyond the Old Bermuda Hundred Road overpass, ripples course through the threads of a 15-foot Confederate battle flag, likewise sending ripples through the threads of the community.

On Saturday, a group of Condeferate flag preservationists, the Virginia Flaggers, hoisted a flag on a 50-foot pole in Chester in honor of Confederate soldiers, drawing the ire of many who believe the flag is a divisive symbol rooted in hatred and slavery.

A 15-foot Confederate battle flag can be seen through the trees on the southbound side of Interstate 95, just south of the Old Bermuda Hundred Road overpass in Chester. / JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT

A 15-foot Confederate battle flag can be seen through the trees on the southbound side of Interstate 95, just south of the Old Bermuda Hundred Road overpass in Chester. / JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT

Kristen Konate, who started a MoveOn petition during August in opposition to the mounting of the flag, said that the Confederate flag propagates the ideology of acceptable  forced slavery.

“When I see it, I see a history of brutality, treason, pain.  I see that as being an insult to the Africans that were forcibly brought here and tortured. … They weren’t living, they had no lives. … They were hobbled so they couldn’t run away, raped, beaten, lynched, no medical attention.  It was horrendous,” Konate said.

However, Barry Isenhour, a member of the Virginia Flaggers, argued that the flag does not represent a call for slavery, and those who see it that way are hindered by a “mixed history.”

“First of all, the flag has nothing to do with slavery. It was the soldiers’ flag designed only to be used in battle by the soldiers.  Second of all, when you talk about slavery, the United States flag had slavery legal under the constitution for 87 years in this country.  There was never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever a Confederate flag of any form … on a slave ship coming into this country.  However, there were United States flags, British flags, Dutch flags, Spanish flags. But not a Confederate flag,” Isenhour said.

Isenhour stated that approximately 300 supporters showed up on Saturday not to promote slavery, but to proudly commemorate fallen soldiers from the Civil War South, in an area home to the Bermuda Campaign and an area that Virginia Flaggers believe is home to  many unmarked Confederate graves.

“It was very inspirational.  Not only was it a moment where we all came together and felt we were doing the right thing honoring our Confederate soldiers. We had bagpipes going, we had prayers going. Talking … about the soldiers who had been in the area, so it was a very emotional service that we gave,” Isenhour said.

Situated on private property, the flag is actually difficult to spot at first glance along the side of the interstate, buried among trees and shadowed by the overpass heading south, but the Flaggers intend to further landscape and cut down trees to make the flag more visible from the northbound lane, according to Backsass, an online blog created by Flagger member Connie Chastain.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the ‘Say “NO” to the I-95 Confederate Flag’ petition had garnered 23,966 signatures from people stretching from Oregon to Florida.

Many who signed the petition left a comment online to voice their opinions about the flag.

“It’s not about the history of the flag.  It’s about [what] the flag symbolizes today.  Most people will see the flag as unwelcoming regardless of what the Virginia Flaggers think,” wrote Chester resident Shawn Huff.

Gisele Cazedamont, from Richmond, agrees that the flag does not belong on the side of the road.

“This was a horrific war for both the North and South [and] for all races and genders!! We don’t want to commemorate on I-95 or anywhere.  I can understand that some people find it interesting to visit historical sites (i.e. Holocaust museum, war memorials), but let’s not make  it a part of who we stand for now.  KEEP IT IN A MUSEUM!!!” Cazedamont wrote.

Konate emphasized that this opposition is not based on restricting constitutional liberties, but promoting ethical responsibilities.

“This is not about freedom of speech. Everybody’s aware of the First Amendment.  This is about the right thing to do.  Just because somebody has the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Konate said.

Konate said that she has received an abundance of supercilious feedback in response to the petition, including an email that stated: “I hope you walk into a knife.”

Looking forward, Konate said she will shift her primary focus on the efforts of United RVA, a group established to counter the actions of the Virginia Flaggers by erecting the largest American flag in the commonwealth in downtown Richmond as a way “to make [the Richmond region] a more welcoming and inclusive environment.”

Susan Hathaway, the founder of the Virginia Flaggers, issued a statement in regards to the scorn and personal attacks by oppositional groups and individuals.

“In my humble opinion, the best thing we can do to neutralize those who attack us with no provocation is to stay focused on our Cause and continue the good work that has been started.  With every flag that has been raised, returned, or added to the landscape, we win a victory for the Confederate veterans who fought and died under them … and when they are not the focus of our efforts, our efforts truly are in vain,” Hathaway said, according to an article posted by the Marble Hill Constitution-News.

The Virginia Flaggers have grown from an isolated group in September 2011 to more than 500 members today, a community of devoted southerners who protest against heritage offenses with specific regards to the Confederate flag.

Since October of 2011, the Virginia Flaggers have persisted in their campaign to return the battle flags to the Pelham Chapel – Confederate War Memorial in Richmond after the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts banned their presence by standing outside on the sidewalk adjacent to the museum holding up Confederate flags.

“Our weapon is the Confederate battle flag.  Our enemies are those who worship ignorance, historical revisionism and political correctness,” as stated in a Virginia Flaggers promotional flyer.

-Blake Belden, Hopewell News