Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fall Day on the Grounds of Fort Pickering

On Riverside Drive, street level, above ravine below

A good friend and I, a fellow family history buff, spent the afternoon on what we understand to be the grounds of the old Fort Pickering, home to several United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. I'm still recovering from our visit, which was awesome in so many ways.

The photo above was taken at the dead-ending of Riverside Drive in Memphis across the street from The Ornamental Metal Museum, now on these sacred grounds. The importance of this photo is that it captures--or tries to--the fact that there is below the street level a ravine, the first of two gullies, that divided Fort Pickering from Camp Shiloh and Shiloh from Camp Fiske. There is reason to believe Camp Bethel was also in this same general area, divided from the other camps by yet another ravine. How satisfying to find that these land features remain virtually unchanged after one hundred and fifty years. Because we found the ravines, we could pretty comfortably identify these contraband camp locations. Sadly, however, the place which we have identified as Camp Shiloh is industrial as is President's Island, home to Camp Dixie. From what I could see beyond the tops of these trees and farther along the street, the entire area is covered by massive fuel storage tanks. It also would appear that there is no entry into this privately-held area.

Lack of access and usurpation of this area by private industry don't encourage optimism that the camps can be recovered as historic sites. However, the grounds of Fort Pickering remain lovely and there remain there several historic buildings at least one of which may be prewar. My friend and I asked at the Museum what they knew of the history of the property, and the answer is surprisingly little. Shame.

I'd say it's time for some activism on behalf of history and for posterity's sake. I suppose once upon a time those who spoiled this land could claim they didn't know its historical significance, but I have documents that prove that the entire area was home for many years to freedmen who had escaped from Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Alabama plantations--even from as far away as Port Gibson and Milliken's Bend, Louisiana. We know at this point that mere yards away from where I took this photo today there was a contraband hospital, contraband graveyard, and a soldier's graveyard. Yet, there are no markers to memorialize these sites.

At the end of the day, I'm feeling, however, optimistic. After shooting the above photo, my friend and I stood on an incline across the street, nearer to the Museum, under the cover of towering oaks. And behind us were two Indian mounds. Standing there, we literally felt energy flowing through us, a tingling sensation that didn't subside until we had left the grounds. I read on one website that people believe the buildings to be haunted. Sure. Why not? My own explanation, however, for our sensing that we were in a high energy field is that the area just holds so much history even though much of it literally has been bulldozed. I find it deeply disappointing that there hasn't been, at least as far as I'm aware of, any activism surrounding these sites. I may have to educate and agitate.

Oak trees and Indian mound in the background

See other photos here.