Last weekend I had the opportunity to hike the Montpelier Civil War Trail in the snow. (Details in this post on Emerging Civil War blog.) Aside from the history of the site and the brisk air, one of the lessons from the adventure stayed with me through this week.
According to the details on the interpretive panels, George Gilmore—who had been enslaved from his birth in 1810 until freedom came through the Civil War—and his family built their post-war cabin out of the remains of Confederate huts. (Confederate soldiers from McGowan’s Brigade had encamped on the same land during the winter of 1863-64). Wood and other building materials in the disintegrating cabins was put to use by the freedman and his family to build their own cabin on their own farmland.
There’s a lot of imagery to think about in that scenario:
- War’s ending and moving on.
- Creating something new out of something old.
- A freedman crafting something useful and safe from the material that might have sheltered slaveowners.
- Material items used for two different types of shelter and two different causes.
- Repurposing shelter and refuge
I’m probably not quite finding the right words to describe it tonight. The idea and contrasts are still forming in my mind—even after a week.
Something about it grips me, though. We can take the pieces of the past or that remain and create something from it. I think about all the grand plans for research and writing that I had for 2020; they’re lying in a proverbial heap like a old winter cabin with a lot of painful memories attached to the broken symbols. But what if those broken pieces can be wrenched apart and then nailed back together to create a new opportunity.
Like the old wood of the Confederate cabins, the crumbling opportunities can be repurposed and nailed back together. It won’t be the same ever again, but perhaps it can be a new place, new opportunity created and bettered from the old?
I thought I was just going to a Civil War winter campsite and a historic site appropriate to explore for Black History Month, but it turns out that I took away some inspiration from Mr. Gilmore’s resourcefulness and determination to create a new life from the ruins of war.