Friday, December 5, 2014

November 30th

Collins Pond, November 30th 2014.

November 30th
Sunshine and blue skies greet us through the spaces between blinds on the bedroom window.  Lazy morning. Sunday slow time. Slept late. Quiet house.

By noon clouds roll in. Skies turn a steel gray and winds pick up. Temperatures rise – all the way to 65 degrees. A hike around Collins Pond reveals the changes coming. Wind whips what leaves are left on fall trees. Howls across the open fields. Intermittent sun peeks through as swift lines of elongated puffy colorless shapes race across the horizon.

In the center of the pond, protected by the wind and weather, the air is eerily calm. Mirror like reflections of trees and clouds are disrupted by occasional ripples from winds sneaking past the sentry of surrounding trees.

Thin ice left over from colder temperatures lazily floats by. A lone frog jumps as I walk towards the shoreline. The afternoon humidity brings out the smell of grass, dirt and water.

Afternoon quickly leads to evening. Skies darken and light precipitation falls. Temperatures decline and reach near the freezing mark by nightfall. The day is done. December is but a few hours away.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

150th Anniversary of the Battles of Chattanooga

In November of 2013 I had a chance to visit Chattanooga Tennessee on the 150th anniversary of the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. This is a story of my experiences.....
 In 1997 when I was a photojournalist for The Times, I wrote a series of stories about two Civil War soldiers found on a tombstone in a forgotten cemetery.

The LaSalle County Genealogy Guild was cataloging different LaSalle County cemeteries and was in the process of clearing and identifying stones in Bernard Cemetery near Somonauk.  A broken and tumbled stone, hardly readable due to the effects of over a hundred years of rain and weather was being cataloged.

The stone read “CARVOSSO, died Mar. 4 1868 aged 26 years, 4 days. WALTER, fatally wounded at Mission Ridge Nov. 25, 1863 and died at Chattanooga, Tenn. Dec. 13, 1863 aged 20 yrs. 8 ms. 11 ds. Both were with the 36th Ill. Vol. Infantry.”

The article as it first appeared in The Times in 1997.
Through a year long research project I found out that Carvosso and Walter Reeder were brothers, enlisting and serving in the 36th Illinois Infantry, company C. I have both brothers’ pension and medical records and a collection of over 60 letters sent home from Walter from 1861-1863. Through his letters, regimental histories, news articles and state and federal documents I was able to put together an amazing biography of Walter. I understood from his first person perspective what it was like to be a young man, traveling far from home while serving as a soldier in the Civil War.

Walter Reeder was mortally wounded while scaling the hillside of Missionary Ridge during the battle on November 25, 1863. From “History of the Thirty-Sixth Regiment Illinois Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion” pages 532-533 “Among all the noble spirits that that day struggled so grandly for their country’s flag, there was none more heroic than Walter V. Reeder,  Company C of the 36th, who, having received the wound in the thigh, of which he died in about two weeks, lay bleeding on the hill-side, and taking a handkerchief out of his pocket, waved it towards the top of the ridge, silently inspiring his comrades to complete what he had so gallantly helped to commence."

 November 24-25th 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the battles in Chattanooga, Tn. I decided that this would be the perfect weekend to finally make the drive to Tennessee and visit the battle sites and areas where Walter and Carvosso fought, and where Walter was mortally wounded and died serving his country.

The drive from my home in Illinois to Chattanooga, Tn. is 458 miles. It took me through parts of Indiana, Kentucky and finally Tennessee. The rolling hills of southern Indiana and Kentucky opened up into mountain passes and steep cliffs as I approached the Chattanooga area. Driving wasn’t difficult, but all I could think about is how the troops maneuvered through trails and crude roadways on their way through these mountain passes.

On Friday evening I enjoyed a wonderful talk by Earl J. Hess, professor of history at Lincoln Memorial University. The talk titled “Chattanooga, Knoxville and the Struggle for East Tennessee in the Civil War” was fantastic. I learned the importance of Chattanooga, and how it ultimately became the gateway to the South and the staging area for Sherman’s march to the sea. Chattanooga was vital because of it’s proximity to the Tennessee River, as well as the railroad lines. Walter and the rest of the 36th Illinois Regiment in the Army of the Cumberland pushed Braxton Bragg out of the Chattanooga valley through a series of advances. In the fall they found themselves under siege in Chattanooga, with Confederate forces controlling the hills and major supply routes around the city.

It was because of a strengthened Union army and weakened Confederate forces that Union soldiers were able to break out of their siege and gain victories at Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. This ended the siege and pushed Bragg and the Confederacy out Chattanooga.

Saturday morning I made my first stop at the Chattanooga National Cemetery. Although both Carvosso and Walter are on the tombstone in Somonauk, Walter is buried in Chattanooga. It was a brisk morning, overcast and breezy. At 9 am on a Saturday in Chattanooga, I was the only one on the cemetery grounds. It was quiet, and serene with both Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain looking on from afar at row after row of white headstones. After orienting myself I started walking up a slight incline. Finally amongst rows of neatly arranged stones I was able to find Walter V. Reeder buried alongside his fallen comrades in section D, stone 12597. His stone is weather worn, but still easily readable, and faces a magnificent view of Lookout Mountain. 

Section D of the Chattanooga National Cemetery where Walter V. Reeder lies after being wounded on November 25th 1863 and dying in a Chattanooga hospital on December 13th, 1863. Orders were issued for a national cemetery in Chattanooga on December 25, 1863 by Maj. General George H. Thomas after the Battles of Chattanooga.

Walter V. Reeder’s headstone, number 12597 in section D of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, surrounded by other fallen comrades from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. Reeder’s headstone faces a magnificent view of Lookout Mountain.

It was a strange meeting of sorts. Here was a man I knew so much about, through his letters, records and stories. I was standing on his grave site, two days before he was mortally wounded 150 years ago.  After visiting his grave, I wanted to walk in Walter’s footsteps and visit the battle sites in Chattanooga.

Orchard Knob is a small rise which at the time was outside of the city of Chattanooga in 1863. It was among a vast plain that stretched out from the city to both Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. To test the strength of Confederate forces, Federal troops were sent out from Fort Wood on November 23, 1863. This was supposed to be a “reconnaissance in force” where troops would march out toward Orchard Knob without engaging Confederate troops, and then return to the fort in an effort to test the strength of the Confederate army. Jim Ogden, park historian with Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park led a minute by minute account of the happenings exactly 150 years ago. “If you were standing here at this precise moment, you would see columns of Federal forces marching right towards you.” Ogden said while gesturing down the street in a Chattanooga neighborhood which used to be Fort Wood.

Jim Ogden, park historian with Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, uses attendees to his talk on top of Orchard Knob to demonstrate the columns of Federal forces approaching Orchard Knob on November 23, 1863. Fort Wood would have been down the street behind Ogden in what is now a neighborhood in present day Chattanooga.
Confederate forces that occupied Orchard Knob were not well fed, and had their spirits broken by a long drawn out siege with Federal forces. Ogden said “what is the first thing that you stop doing when you have low morale? You stop bathing. From the vantage point of Federal officers looking at the Confederate forces in the rifle pits at Orchard Knob, they men looked like prairie dogs. They were so blackened by the fire smoke and their lack of hygiene.” This “reconnaissance in force” was so effective that Confederates were easily pushed off Orchard Knob, and Federal officers used it as their headquarters for the next two day’s battles.  They had an amazing vantage point for both Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

On November 24th, 1863 the Reeder brothers would have watched the battle of Lookout Mountain from Orchard Knob. Federal forces under command of Joseph Hooker assaulted Lookout Mountain. They were not supposed to attack full force, but General Hooker pushed on and by nightfall, Confederate forces had abandoned the crest of Lookout Mountain. It was a day long battle, with Federal forces climbing and fighting the sides of the mountain, some times shrouded in fog. The battle was often called “The Battle Above the Clouds.”

I visited Cravens House, which is on a flat outcrop about half way up Lookout Mountain. It was where fierce battles were fought between retreating Confederate forces and advancing Federal Forces as they made their way up the mountainside.

I took a short trail to what is left of Confederate rifle pits in and around Cravens House. The weather was cool, almost freezing temperatures that morning. It was amazingly quiet, with only the rustle of leaves and the occasional hiker passing by. It was totally different 150 years ago, with thousands of men firing and assaulting the mountain, dying, screaming, and dodging shot and shell. It must have been a hellish experience. The ground is covered in fall leaves, and underneath the footing was difficult with rocks, tree roots, saplings and other obstacles to navigate. I cannot imagine carrying a pack, rife, wearing wool clothing and smooth bottom leather shoes while being shot at and climbing this mountain. 

A cut in the rock along the rifle pit trail leading from Cravens House on Lookout Mountain. It was a chilly morning as I walked this trail exactly 150 years to the day of the battle for Lookout Mountain.
 Instead of climbing to the top, I opted for the scenic roadway that takes you to the Point Park at the summit of Lookout Mountain. The panoramic scenery from the top of Lookout Mountain is amazing. 

A beautiful view can be had of the Tennessee River and Chattanooga, Tenn. from Point Park on top of Lookout Mountain. Confederate forces were driven from this point on November 24th 1863 by Federal soldiers during an all day battle which ultimately lifted the siege of Union forces and drove Confederate forces out of Chattanooga.
 Historians were demonstrating different aspects of military duties at Point Park. One group was demonstrating the importance of the signal corps for both Federal and Confederate forces during the war. Jerry Lutes, park ranger for Stones River National Battlefield Park explained how important signaling was in getting important messages delivered in a timely manner. Lutes described how it took 16 hours by horseback to deliver a message to General Thomas. “On a clear day you can send a signal eight to ten miles. Using the signal corps it took a message that would take 16 hours to deliver by horseback down to 30 minutes.” 

Park rangers with Stones River National Battlefield Park use signal flags to send signals back and fourth from Point Park on Lookout Mountain. Sam Maxwell, left, sends the signal as Todd Watts, right, transcribes the results. They sent the signal “throw no more shells this side of mountain” an actual signal sent during the battle.
 By daybreak on November 25th, 1863 the Stars and Stripes replaced the Confederate flag at the top of Lookout Mountain. Cheers could be heard across the valley as Federal forces celebrated this victory. Carrying the momentum from the victory of Lookout Mountain, Federal forces began their attack on Missionary Ridge, the headquarters of Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

After being under siege in the city of Chattanooga for months, Walter and the rest of the Army of the Cumberland were supposed to be the reserve force for this offensive. They were stationed in the middle of the battlefield waiting for orders in and around Orchard Knob. Things weren’t going so well on both the right and left flanks, both General Hooker and General Sherman were having resistance from the Confederate armies. Orders were given for the Army of the Cumberland to leave Orchard Knob and charge across the plain and take the rifle pits at the bottom of Missionary Ridge. The boys advanced, exposed to shot and shell and quickly made it to the bottom of the ridge. Once there they decided to take matters into their own hands. Anton Heinlein, park ranger for Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park stated “25,000 men without orders charged up the slope of Missionary Ridge.”

At the Bragg Reservation on the summit of Missionary Ridge, Confederate forces held their ground until they were overwhelmed by Federal infantry climbing their way up to the summit. This location on the ridge is the place where forces from the 36th Illinois Regiment made their way up the hillside, and where regimental colors were planted on November 25, 1863. It is also close to the place where Walter was mortally wounded. I could almost see him “silently inspiring his comrades to complete what he had so gallantly helped to commence.” 

This is the location of where the 36th Illinois Infantry planted their colors on November 25, 1863 atop Missionary Ridge. The 36th Illinois was one of the first units to plant their flag on top of the ridge that day. It is close to where Walter Reeder was mortally wounded, dying later in a Chattanooga hospital on December 13, 1863.
At the top of Missionary Ridge I met Dale and Sharon Hargett who drove three hours from Birmingham, Alabama to visit the battle site. They too were in a quest to find a soldier that fought during the battle of Missionary Ridge. Sharon’s great-great grandfather Joseph Inman Faught was with the 36th Alabama Infantry, Company B. He was captured during the assault on Missionary Ridge. Sharon brought Mr. Faught’s military papers which read “Captured at Missionary Ridge November 25, 1863. On Sept 29, 1864 I volunteered from Rock Island prison to go to the Western frontier and fight the Indians.”

A monument dedicated to the Illinois Regiments that broke through Confederate lines near the site of Braxton Braggs' headquarters on November 25, 1863 on top of Missionary Ridge.
 The drive to Chattanooga was an amazing experience, especially on the 150th  anniversary of the battles fought there during the Civil War. I had goose bumps on more than one occasion. I enjoyed experiencing the sights and sounds, the weather, and the interpretations of history told through park rangers, living historians, and the many plaques and monuments placed in and around the battle sites. Thank you Walter V. Reeder for your service…for opening up a fantastic lifelong journey of history and learning through the soldiers of the Civil War.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Snow lightly falls. The wind is calm.
The river has a thin layer of ice along the banks.
The water is still except for the light snow falling like delicate rain drops causing ripples to appear.
It is quiet. Less than an inch covers the ground.
Wind picks up and rattles what remains of the leaves of the trees above.
I can feel winter and fall combine together, 
as snow and leaves crunch under my boots as I walk across the yard. 
The sting of the cold can be felt on my bare hands.
The backyard savannah smells sweetly of chamomile tea, 
as the snow slowly accumulates on the dried flowers of summer's past.
Snowfall and sunset come together. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

My kids: the best journalism award

My son Logan (center) chasing a ball down the field during a soccer game earlier this season.

Friday night lights. Feature assignments. Low light miracle shots taken in dungeons called gymnasiums. These are the things that build character and build a portfolio in photojournalism. Who would have known that they would also have another positive outcome: making photos of my kids.

I love taking my 2.8 lenses, a digital body and a few memory cards to sporting events and dance recitals. Sure I can't get the good spot right on the side line or up front on the stage, but that "make due with what you got" photojournalism mentality mixed with a little skill and some luck makes for some fun and memorable photos.

My daughter Kalli at her dance recital this spring.

It feels good to sling that Domke bag over my shoulder, and balance that 80-200 2.8 on my hand. It is like muscle memory, there is no thought process- it just happens.

I will admit, auto focus and shutter priority metering helps a bunch when shooting under mixed lighting conditions. And that screen on the back of the camera and flashing histogram helps as well to get the camera and light balance to be spot on. In those "days of yore" with film cameras push processing and manual focus I would have never had it so easy- ha !

Instead of holding a cell phone at arm's length trying to use the digital zoom on the tiny little lens, I am the dad on the sidelines with the big glass and the chunky camera trying to capture that perfect moment.

 I am blessed to have earned my stripes in the news world, and am grateful that I can apply these skills to taking pictures of my kids. I love giving them the chance to have some memorable photos.

An Amish buggy slowly rolls past during a soccer match in Arthur, Il.