Christmas Encampment

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"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18-21)
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The Christmas Encampment

 

The story you are about to read concerns the most unusual yet at the same time delightful Christmas my family and I have ever experienced. While on a trip to visit relatives in Tennessee we were waylaid along the way; somehow we found ourselves throw backward in time. Join with us now and travel back with us to a long ago Christmas, which took place in the middle of the most terrible war.

 

The Prelude to an Adventure
Tuesday 17 December 2002

 

Christmas was eight days away on Wednesday of the coming week and my family and I decided to drive up to Jackson Tennessee from our home on the northwest Florida Gulf Coast for the Christmas Holiday. We slowly packed our luggage into a suitable car we had rented for the occasion, our own being far too old to be trusted for such a journey. It was about 7:30 when we finally loaded ourselves in the car and pulled out of the driveway heading north on highway 23l out of Bay County heading toward Dothan Alabama. After stopping a couple times for a break we found ourselves entering the Birmingham area where we had arranged to stop over for the night to visit our adult granddaughter. The evening was every so pleasant and we celebrated an early holiday since we had so very far to travel for people our age and could not make it back through Birmingham by Christmas.

We did however decide to turn to the northwest on route 157 above Birmingham and travel through Sheffield Alabama in route to Savannah Tennessee for a days visit with a few old friends. We planned to visit cross the Tennessee River into Crump and visit the Shiloh Battle Field Park before continuing onward toward Jackson, which is approximately 60 miles north of Memphis. We got underway from Birmingham bright and early on the morning of Thursday 17 December stopping for a visit at the ruins of the old Moulton College, which is now a Confederate Graveyard, located ten miles to the southeast of Sheffield. Our journey continued on the morning of Friday 20 December arriving in Savannah by 1:00 P.M. on the same day where we stayed the night with friends with an eye toward visiting the Shiloh Battle Field Park on Saturday morning.

We did not hurry getting up the next morning, so by the time we had breakfast it was already 9:00 A.M. and we decided to visit the Battle Field Park across the river then continue on our way, feeling like we could still make Jackson before dark or soon thereafter. The park is off to the south a few miles after crossing through Crump on route 64, which runs between Memphis and Chattanooga. We arrived at the entrance to the park around 10:30 A.M. but paused about a half mile away, pulled over to the side of the road, just to gather our thoughts. After a half hour we continue onward toward the entrance when my wife indicated it seemed like there is a strange fog or haze blanketing the atmosphere over the park. This was extremely unusual given the hour of and that it was a bright clear day with only a peppering of thin white clouds overhead.

It came to my mind that even if there had been a fog early in the morning, it would have cleared by this time, still as I looked over my out the driver's side window it was plain for anyone to see. I thought to myself, half out loud and half to myself; maybe it is just an optical allusion of some kind! Still it was dense enough that we both decided it was better to park just inside the entrance and off the side of the road, and then walk the remainder of the short distance to the visitor's station. We check everything to be sure our luggage was secure and out of sight, deciding not to take a camera, given the dense fog, we'd not likely find the opportunity to take many pictures. The air was chilly though not quite freezing, so we both war a medium weight coat and my wife took along a shawl to protect here head and shoulders.

 

Hurled Backward in Time
Saturday 21 December 2002

 

We began our walk through the fog, which seemed to be getting thicker and denser with every step, even time and distance seemed to be playing tricks on us. We both had traversed the short distance from the entrance to the visitors center a number of times and having become very familiar with nearly every inch of the way. It just should take this long and even in the fog we were aware something wasn't quite right; things were different as we look down at the road to both sides and forward. Could have turn off the way and gotten lost; not likely, but we still concluded after a long while that somehow we had indeed gotten way laid walking down this very short road from the entrance to the park. After what felt like a two hours walking a distance which should have taken 20 minutes at a slow pace, we finally began to break through the dense blanket of fog.

After we had walked some 20 yards beyond the fog bank we stop and looked about us, looking at each other as we surveyed the landscape. Then we turn to each other again and both stated almost in unison; "this isn't the battle field park." We found ourselves walking on a dirt road which was curved much like an old wagon trail of the nineteenth century, and I hadn't seen anything like this since I was nine or ten years of age. Then just about the time we were totally confused our confusion was about to take on an entirely new perspective. We heard the hoof beats of horses coming around the bend in the road just ahead, so I pointed to some shrubbery off the side of the trail and waved at my wife to come with me and hide. We had found what we thought was a secure place, and just in time as about eight mounted cavalrymen rounded the bend and headed our way.

The cavalrymen paused along the trail a few feet from where we were hiding and their leader who bore the strips of a Quartermaster Sergeant called out to us; "come out y'all, let us have a look at and see what your up to." We both exited our hiding place with a measure of confidence that we were facing Confederate Soldiers, yet at the same time a little fearful, not knowing whether we were facing some kind of police, dressed for a reenactment or by some crazy twist of fate these guys were the real McCoy. On the way out I shook my head; maybe this is a dream, if so I should be waking up just about now! We reached the edge of the trail and looked up at the Sergeant; all I could think of to say was 'We are lost." Now I knew what a monkey in a zoo cage must feel like with these soldiers staring down at us and chattering in the strongest Southern accent I've ever heard.

We also found out how these troops managed to make so many rackets with only eight soldiers; they had with them a supply two wagons that were filled with what appeared to be foodstuffs and an odd assortment of ammunition. The sergeant looking down at us and noticing our interest in the wagons replied, a gift from Abe Lincoln. Now as for y'all, I can plainly see that you are lost or else you would be out this far from town and if my guess is right based upon the way you talk and look, you are Southerners but not from this area. However since I can be sure we must insist that both of you ride with us back to camp, we'll let General Morgan decide what to do with you; there enough room in the first wagon for you folks, so climb up and get seated. We're only a mile or so away from camp, so the ride won't take long.

 

The Confederate Encampment
Wednesday 24 December 1862

 

On the way to the encampment we remain in the dark as to where and might I say when we were located, but it didn%u2019t take long and we found ourselves passing amidst a sizeable Confederate Army which appeared to number around 300 men. The wagon pulled stopped in front of the command tent and we were invited to follow the Sergeant as the General exited and the two men saluted each other. General Morgan sir, and with that it was became crystal clear that we were in the presence of THE famous Confederate Raider, General John Hunt Morgan, whom I recognized from pictures, had been promoted to Brigadier General on 11 December, just 13 days ago. Which brought to my mine that we were just outside the small village of Glasgow Kentucky and General Morgan had occupied the town that very day. .

However I was not prepared for what was to come next; the general called out to our escort, Sergeant McCullum. Later I ask him if he'd be so kind as to give me his full name and he replied in his strong Kentucky accent; "Sergeant George Bernard Franklin McCullum at your service saa." I knew my face must have turned pale but I tried to react in a polite but normal manner; this was my own Confederate Veterans Great-great Grandfather, whom our family knew had rode with General John Hunt Morgan. But naturally, there was no possible way I could relate to tell him of what I knew or that we were from the twenty first century. While I did not carry his name, I am his direct heir and should have born the name McCullum. It took a lot of will power to keep from starring at this him, but I also knew he would be killed three months later at the Battle of Shiloh which was something else would churn around in my mind.

The short while I had to share his presence, I became proud to be his Great-great grandson! But we also knew we couldn%u2019t remain very long with these Confederates since they would fight the 'Battle of Green's Chapel and Bear Wallow on Christmas Day. None-the-less General Morgan pulled out all the stops and shows his finest southern manners, introducing my wife and me to the officers and men of his command. Shortly general bowed out by indicating he had business to attend to and turned us over to Sergeant McCullum; the general was soon spotted riding out of camp. There was no doubt he was either heading for town or scouting for the Yankee position he knew was in the area. However to our surprise, little more then two three hours later he returned with a number of the town's folks who were all prepared to hold a short but merry celebration of Christmas. It was a cold evening still everyone had made there best arrangement to fend off the weather and enjoy the evening!

The soldiers had already begun the celebrations by the time General Morgan returned with a kind of informal worship and singing around the camp fire, so when he only added to the joy of the celebrations. The town's folks brought gis of food and an assortment of warm clothing, which were distributed to those most in need. My wife and I could not believe the pleasant and joyous atmosphere in the camp and the deep spirit of devotion to the true meaning of Christmas, particular in the middle of a war. Every man in the camp surely knew that tomorrow would bring more fighting and misery, yet they took a respite and showed their guests the finest Christmas to be experienced anywhere. As for myself had ample opportunity to socialize and fellowship not only with all these heroic Confederate Soldiers and towns folk, but my own Great-great Grandfather Sergeant G.B.F. McCullum.

Saying our Good-bys
Wednesday 24 December 1862

 

Interestingly enough while we were in pleasant conversation the good sergeant remarked; "Haven't we meant somewhere before, it seems that I know you somehow!" I gave a big smile and replied; "Sergeant, I'd be most honored to be able to say that we have met before, but regretfully the answer is that we haven't." There was no doubt he was feeling the kinship even though there was no way he could put it in those terms! How could I possibly tell him that this old senior citizen was his 'Great-great Grandson? Equally I was aware of our family history and knew my Great-grandfather had already been born and he and my grandmother were already on the run from the Yankees. There was also another relative of mine attached to Morgan's Raiders; a Private Lambert, my Great-great Uncle, but we were informed that he was even as we celebrated involved in what the general termed 'scouting.'

While we all stood around the campfire soldier after soldier pass by, shook our hands, spoke every so mannerly and gave special courtesies to my wife, indicating how honored they were that she had paid them a visited. Mean while we all sang in unison, swaying back and forth with the rhythm of the music. Several of the local citizens had brought instruments, most notably a couple of fiddles, which added to the spirit of Christmas. While the time we spent in General John Hunt Morgan's camp was relatively short, it was a memory my wife and I shall cherish all the days of our lives, as the finest Christmas ever. We pledge ourselves to make every attempt to duplicate the joyous and reverent spirit we all shared in the camp of some very fine people, heroes of the Confederacy.

However there was a war still going on and the evening's celebrations quickly came to a close! Soon the local citizens were saying their good bys and departing the camp, General Morgan approach us touching me on my shoulder while at the same time showing the finest Southern manners to my wife. We are all so pleased that you wonder folks could come; your presence among us has brought much joy to my men, however the war continues and we have upcoming business with the Yankees in the area. The general then asked if we knew our way back from where we had come and I answered in the affirmative. General Morgan then suggested that Sergeant McCullum return you to the location where you had first appeared and we both nodded in agreement and smiled.

Seeing Sergeant McCullum not far away the general called to him, as the sergeant approached the general shook our hands, excused himself and departed in route to what we guessed was a war council with his officers. Sergeant McCullum escorted us briefly throughout the camp so we could say our good-bys, we climbed upon the wagon he had prided and was soon on our way. Very shortly we found ourselves back at the same location where we had earlier appeared. As we climbed down out of the wagon, the good sergeant helped my wife so graciously and said farewell to both of us with a kind of longing in his eyes. We knew we'd never meant again, and I had the feeling he knew we had come from a someplace very far away and would never return this way again. He asked if we could find our way back alright, we answered that we could, turned one last time waved and parted company.

 

The Long Road Back
Saturday 21 December 2002

 

There was plenty of snow on the ground as we made our way up the small incline and back into the woods; we could hear Sergeant G.B.F. McCullum's wagon as it moved away in the distance. The woods was plenty thick enough and our dark clothing together provided plenty of cover, in the even we were wrong and found ourselves in need of hiding from the Yankee Army. However the pathway we had traverse on the way here, while narrow was visible enough to follow back through the woods. We walked along slowly but quietly as we both reminisced on the best Christmas we had every experience in our lives, and we each kept these thing in our hearts. After a while we found the fog closing in once more and the darkness was gradually giving way to what was obviously daytime. The fog back grew so think it was like solid wall of white all about us, still we kept walking down the pathway!

We soon found the fog beginning to lift and suddenly we were nearing the entrance to the Shiloh Battle Field Park, approximately 300 miles away from General John Hunt Morgan's Encampment near Glasgow Kentucky. As well walked along toward our automobile still parked where we had left it, we looked at each other and smiled my wife saying in a low tone; "We were really there, weren't we?" Yes my dear, we really were in the camp of General John Hunt Morgan and I really did get to meat my very own Great-great Grandfather. Those boys sure were gentlemen, my wife remarked! Well, fortunately we fell into the hands of our own Confederate Soldiers; I fear what may have happened had the Yankees captured us. I am afraid it would not have been very pleasant for either of us, but particularly you, being such a fine lady.

The two of us paused to look ourselves over and realized we were now dressed as we were before we entered the fog bank. We listened to our car radio as we finished our journey toward Jackson Tennessee and discovered it was still Saturday 21 December and Christmas was four days away. It appeared as though we'd be celebrating Christmas twice this year, and just maybe the experience has given us a renewed understanding of its true meaning. We arrived at our kinfolks house in Jackson and departed toward our Florida home on Friday 27 December, feeling it best to get home before New Years Eve. As time passed we spoke of the incident less, rather deciding to quietly cherish the sweet memories of the year we had celebrated Christmas twice, 140 years removed in time. I couldn't help think to myself; what if I had decided to remain with General Morgan!

God save the Confederacy

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The Christmas Story

 

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."

 

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