Little Egypt Heritage Articles
Stories of Southern Illinois
© Bill Oliver
20 March 2005
Vol 4 Issue: #12
Osiyo, Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
In preparing the writing of a Regimental History of a Civil War Unit,
part of my reading took me back through the history of the man who
commanded the Army that not only whipped the socks off Sturgis’ Army at
Brice’s Crossroads, near Guntown, Mississippi, but caused the wounding
and eventual death of one of my 2nd Great Grandfathers.
A long time ago in the “Land of Oz” or behind the “Wardrobe”, I held as
a romantic ideal the personages of Bedford Forrest and J.E.B. Stuart,
both Commanding Generals of the Confederate States Army Cavalry. Then, I
was filled with the idea that they were great men for their
accomplishments in battles. Besides I had lived in Southern territory
for a few years. Despite the fact that Forrest’s Army was the direct
cause of my Grandpa losing life, I still, today, have admiration for
Forrest, though not in the same way or areas of my adolecence. I have
The reason that I maintain that admiration is not that he was successful
and won so many battles and skirmishes, but rather what caused or
allowed him to do so.
Bedford Forrest, also an Ulster-Irishman, like so many of us, had a
temper, but again that is not the characteristic which makes him stand
out. What does make him stand out is his independent character. I saw
signs of this nature in my Dad. It was a characteristic that I didn’t
recognize until I had several years of world experience to show it to
me. So many modern Americans have misplaced it. Let’s see if I can explain.
The Indian made no demands of nature except to use the land to hunt and
the waters to fish. They would only clear enough ground so that planted
corn could tassel.
However, the new settlers, the invaders from across the sea, were not
interested in hunting. They pushed ever west to clear the land and grow
more things than they could eat. In this the plow is mightier than the
After the breakdown of medieval life, a great restlessness developed
which could not be contained by the developing rigidity of nationalism.
The nostalgia for feudalism overflowed to North America.
Virginians left that place because, as pioneers, the best land was in
the hands of the squires and the rich who installed their ways styled
after the 18th century English gentry. This was not at all like earlier
times when yoeman and baron worked together with freer relationship.
Thus, at first, the yoeman pushed south into North Carolina. Here there
was good land to settle on. Farms were small, slaves few, and owner and
worker worked side by side. Though governed by squires, they lived in a
These Freemen wrestled with the forests and the fields which gave these
Carolinians the natural peerage existing among men – that peerage based
on the relative possession [of land] and the enjoyment of nature. There
were the rich men and the poor men; however, the rich men did not
pretend that they were better men. At least, not yet. So the man who
lived by hunting and fishing, and worked as little of the ground as
possible, either by preference or incapacity, was both economically and
politically independent. This, of course, did not make all men equal,
especially in social life.
Socially, there were events which all enjoyed in common – examples are
barbecues/cookouts, court days, and meat hunting. There were other
events, more private, such as company preferred due to individual likes
and dislikes. Here equality mattered little.
As the Colonial culture began to define itself, the Ulster-Irish –
Scotch-Irish, if you prefer – entered the mix as well as the expansion
of our boundaries. This changed the status quo. More and better land
became available and the “pursuit of happiness” was possible only where
every man owned his own fields; and when he was “beholden” to no other
for subsistance, he was “independent” – self-reliant. The emphasis on
This self-reliance is not possible where men hire out to industrial
“masters”, for their living becomes dependent upon the will of others.
In this developed two opposing political ideals – “states rights” vs
strong central government. Jefferson vs Hamilton, if you will.
Thus, encouraged, those who desired to be “free” and “independent”
citizens moved out to settle on the new lands. This set up the peril and
hardship survival known as “frontier” – that ability to survive by
shaking dew into shells before the sun rose. This then was the character
of the Independent American, so often read.
Grandma Oliver had that spirit! Though we often called it Calvinistic
e-la-di-e-das-di ha-wi nv-wa-do-hi-ya nv-wa-to-hi-ya-da.
(May you walk in peace and harmony)
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