Friday, May 31, 2013

Sabbatical Update: Our 4,335-mile pilgrimage

The Writing Cave
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson

SACRAMENTO – Lori and I continue to experience this amazing gift of our sabbatical as we settle into into our routine in sunny California. Sabbaticals truly are a gift of the Church, and we are exceedingly grateful for this time of rest, spiritual renewal and rediscovery. 

We’ve been taking morning walks around the neighborhood, reconnecting with old friends, and in the evenings, enjoying ice cream from Vic’s up the street.

Today seems like a good day to update you on our recent travels and my writing project.

We spent last week in Berkeley at my seminary, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. We were delighted to spend several days with Sister Simone Campbell, the leader of the “Nuns on the Bus” and who was our commencement speaker at CDSP this year. She is embarking on another nationwide bus trip, this time to raise awareness about immigration reform, and I am very grateful to hear of the warm welcome she received yesterday at St. Paul’s Memorial Church.

A week ago we completed our 4,335-mile journey zigzagging across the country for 16 days. This was more than a car trip. We completed a pilgrimage begun nine years ago to the places where my ancestor, the Rev. George Richardson (1824-1911), lived and worked as an itinerant Methodist preacher, a Civil War chaplain in the Union Army, and the founder of an African American college in Texas. He is the topic of my sabbatical book project.

The Slaughter Pen
Stones River National Battlefield, Tenn.
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
After leaving Virginia, we spent several days in Tennessee, where he served in the Civil War. We visited the Stones River National Battlefield near Nashville, where Union and Confederate forces collided and fought to exhaustion.

It was here that George saw escaped slaves joining the Federal Army, and where he signed up to be the chaplain to a “colored” Union regiment.

We walked the ground of the “Slaughter Pen,” a small outcropping of rocks in the woods that were natural trenches and became a killing field. Nearly 150 years later, death still lingers in the air.

Next we went to Memphis, where George served at Fort Pickering, a redoubt overlooking the Mississippi River that was garrisoned by the 7th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment – George’s unit.

Remaining rampart of Fort Pickering,
Memphis, Tenn.
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
Our challenge was in finding the fort. White Memphis citizens who wanted no reminders that black soldiers had once occupied their city obliterated it soon after the Civil War. I missed finding it on my first visit in 2004 – I was off by about a half-mile. Since then a small marker was placed in 2007 near the ruins of a rampart. No mention is made on the marker that it was a black regiment occupying the fort.

From Memphis we traveled up the Mississippi River Valley. The great river is swollen from heavy spring rains in the Midwest, and was spilling over the sidewalks near the Arch in St. Louis. We continued north to Springfield, Ill., where Abraham Lincoln is buried. We spent a few days in Springfield looking at all-things-Lincoln.

Small marker at Fort Pickering,
Memphis, Tenn.
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
Springfield holds many treasures. We spent an afternoon at the Lincoln Presidential Library archive reading the letters of Humphrey Hood, a surgeon posted to Fort Pickering. Dr. Hood made no mention of George Richardson, but his words vividly described life, and death, at the fort. Best line in the letters: His wife sent him two bottles of snuff. “I’m feeling much better tonight.”

We also visited Lincoln’s tomb, which stands in sharp contrast to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., built in the World War I era. Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield was built only a few years after he was killed, and it reflects both the grief and the fighting determination of his contemporaries.

Lincoln’s burial tomb is adorned with monumental statues of solders and horses, made from the bronze of melted canons. Lincoln is portrayed standing, clutching the Emancipation Proclamation, and his hair looks almost in flames. Later it occurred to me that I’d seen that image before – it is how John Brown is portrayed at Harper’s Ferry, where he tried to incite a slave rebellion before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Lincoln's Tomb,
Springfield, Ill.
Photo by Lori Korleski Richardson
From Springfield, we continued northward to Minnesota, where George Richardson rode horseback as a traveling Methodist preacher before and after the War. We stopped for lunch with old friends in Madison, Wisc., then continued onward to Stillwater, Minn., where many Richardson relatives still live. Their hospitality was wonderful.

The next few days, we explored graveyards, old churches and old homes where our ancestors lived. George Richardson buried his first wife, Caroline, in a graveyard in Red Wing, and he buried an infant daughter and his mother in another graveyard along a remote rural road. My Richardson cousins located all of the graves.

George and Elizabeth "Lily" Richardson grave
Denver, Colorado
Photo by James Richardson
From Minnesota, we drove to Denver, where George Richardson is buried with his daughter, Emma, and his second wife, Lily. Finding his grave completed our pilgrimage that began in 2004 – a pilgrimage that began at his house in Galena, Ill. where he and Caroline made into a stop on the Underground Railroad. We’ve also made several trips to Texas, where George and Caroline founded and built a college for freed slaves that is now Huston-Tillotson University.

Now comes the writing.

I am very grateful to our friends, Rick and Linda, who have loaned us their beautiful home in Sacramento. Their house has an office in the backyard (photo at top), and I’ve dubbed it “The Writing Cave.” And so to writing I go. Thank you again for your prayers and the gift of this time of discovery.



1 comment:

  1. Missing you but sending you prayers for a sabbatical full of renewal and overflowing with blessings. Thank you for sharing this synopsis of your journey--it sounds wonderful! May the rest of your sabbatical not go by too fast, but I look forward to hugging you and Lori when you return.