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Archive for September, 2011

Bouanchard's Battery, Shiloh National Park

A couple or three coonasses came to Tennessee this past weekend to show visitors to Shiloh National Battlefield how artillery units operated at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.

The cannon in this picture belongs to Johnny Authement of Houma, La. Denis Gaubert of Thibodaux and David Beaudry of Houma were also part of the team.

Johnny, Denis and David have been Civil War re-enactors for several years. Two years ago, Johnny wanted a change of pace, so he had a replica Union cannon cast and named it Big Al.

Johnny takes Big Al to a variety of events, usually about 8 times a year. The season usually kicks off each March at the Edward Douglas White Home near Thibodaux.

Johnny Authement looks on as two kids get a hands-on demonstration of how to clean the gun bore.

Denis Gaubert explains his role on the artillery team.

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Use what you have

Monticello

To say that I’m a Thomas Jefferson fan is an understatement. I have been an admirer of his since an early age. His words helped form this nation. His ideas on freedom and liberty ring as true today as they did 235 years ago. And his house. Man, his house. Designed to work with nature so that it’s not too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter. Visiting Monticello has been a dream of mine since I was a child.

That dream came true on Labor Day weekend. I walked where Jefferson walked and soaked in as much as I could about him, his houses (he had a second one, called Poplar Forest) and the way he lived at them.

As I strolled among his gardens and toured both houses, I discovered the true secret to living his simple life: You need a couple of hundred servants to pull it off.

Think about it. To build the foundation for Monticello, someone had to take the top 30 feet off of a mountain. There were no bulldozers or jackhammers. Think picks and shovels. All done by hand. Took more than a year.

Jefferson's roof design aided rainwater collection.

And then there’s the water thing. You don’t usually find water on  a mountaintop. So his slaves dug a 65-foot well. (Again, by hand. A shovel, a rope and one bucketful of dirt at a time.) And though they hit water, it wasn’t reliable. So Mr. Jefferson designed an elaborate rainwater collection system that included underground cisterns and a wavy roof pattern.

A downspout feeds one of four cisterns at Monticello

But that still wasn’t enough to meet the plantation’s needs, so during dry spells, slaves used mule-drawn wagons to carry water barrels along the 16-miles of dirt and gravel roads  that circled the mountain, to get fresh water from a stream down below and then bring them up again.

This isn’t a blog about civil rights. I will not judge Thomas Jefferson using a filter crafted from today’s mores. The fact that I can walk through his home 240 years after it was built is a testament to his ingenuity as a designer and his foresight in planning. He used slave labor because he had it available to him.

Jefferson excelled at using what was available to him to his advantage. That’s the take-away from my trip to Monticello.

My little house in the woods will only have one servant, me. So my first order of business, part of the selection process for the land, will be solving the water issue. And if a well is what I need, thankfully we have equipment to do that these days.

Jefferson's water well wasn't able to meet the plantation's water needs.

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