Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
This post appeared first in our Spring 2016 issue of Chip Notes.
Reprinted by permission. Links added by K Talmage, Museum blog editor.
If birds were my father’s first passion, the Civil War was his second. (Family, he pretty much took for granted.) He could fight every battle from memory, including all the skirmishes leading up to it as well as the aftermath, and discuss the finer points of each battle’s contribution to the overall picture and its enduring legacies. He focused on the Vermonters, especially his great-grand-father and hero, Alonzo Spear. Yet he always held Robert E. Lee in the highest regard. For a long time, I could never understand why my peace-loving, crowd-hating, and squeamish father had such a fascination for battlefields. When I asked him, all he would say was, “Well, they’re kind of interesting.”
One day, my father, Gale, and I visited the Hubbardton Battle Field, where Vermont’s only Revolutionary War battle had taken place. None of us had ever been there before. In the visitor center was a diorama depicting the various movements of the troops during the engagement. I remember standing there, feeling baffled. My father silently contemplated the scenario for a few moments and then launched into a full explanation. He waved his hands over the diorama like a conductor, commenting on the initial positions of both sides, the strategic fallbacks, the flanking attempts, and the outcome. (We lost. But we Vermonters achieved our goal of halting the British in their tracks long enough to allow the main American force to get away. See, I was listening.)
Unbeknownst to us, a member of the staff had been listening, too. “You must be a scholar of this aspect of the Revolution,” he said to my father.
My father shook his head. “Not really. But it’s kind of interesting.”
When we got outside, I said, “I thought you’d never been here before.”
“I haven’t. But these battles are really simple compared to the Civil War.” In other words, he’d figured the whole thing out in about a minute.
My father really was a scholar of the Civil War. I don’t think there is any book, article, or movie he hadn’t memorized. About the only reason he’d leave the museum for a vacation was to tour a battlefield. He visited all the major ones, figuring out exactly where Alonzo would have been standing. Poor Gale would often say with a sigh, “We’re off to fight the Civil War again.” So much for tropical vacations.
This year, one of the high school classes where I assist students did an in-depth study of the Civil War. We read, watched documentaries, and listened to speakers. During class reading time, I found myself researching the 2nd Vermont. When I watched the documentaries, I tried to figure out where my great-great grandfather had been standing. (Yes, he was in the thick of things at Gettysburg, one of the heroic Vermonters who had saved the day and perhaps even turned the tide of the war.) I kept reading more and more. It was addictive. And ancestral.
We spent a lot of time focusing on the military genius of Robert E. Lee. And finally, I began to understand why my father had been so fascinated. Like Lee, my father was a man who planned ahead in a logical way, who studied the lay of the land, who had an instinct for the weather, who knew how to use the sunlight to best advantage, and who had an intuitive sense of how much men and horses could take.
General Spear. It would have been … interesting.
One day, as I headed for my next class with my students, I hesitated for a moment. I almost thought I’d heard my father’s voice echoing down the halls. “Forward, march!”
Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)
Part 3: Something’s Going On Here
Part 4: The Summer of Pies
Part 5: My Addiction
Part 6: Habitat Shots
Part 7: Growing Up
Part 8: My Dead Arm
Part 9: Remembrance: Tales of My Father
Part 10: Canoe Lessons