General Burnside from the American Civil War is most known outside of Knoxville for his famous sideburns. Inside Knoxville he was better known for taking over the town during the war and holding off the confederate attempts to reclaim it. I’d never given him much thought, myself, until recently when he virtually confronted me on the street.
I found myself at the French Market on a recent delightful morning when the sun was shielded enough by cloud cover to make sitting outside in the shade bearable early in the day. I’d gotten interested in trying their Italian coffee and I’d just started and become entirely hooked reading Jack Neely’s book Market Square: A History of the Most Democratic Place on Earth. (Follow the link and buy it if you haven’t. You won’t regret it.) I’d worked my way up to the 1860’s and the siege of Knoxville. On page 24 I’d just read the paragraph that starts with the sentence, “In the early Autumn of 1863, blue-uniformed troops under Union General Ambrose Burnside occupied Knoxville.” Looking up to rest my eyes, I nearly fell out of my chair. Directly in front of where I sat was the historical marker pictured below:
If I had been anywhere else in in Knoxville I would not have seen it. If I had been inside or at another outside table, I would not have noticed it. Even at my table, if I had chosen the other chair, my back would have been to it and I would have never known. It was almost as if the old guy was saying, “Hey, before you sat there with your fancy coffee, I hung out in this spot.” It was beyond creepy. What made me look up at that moment or be in that spot when I read that portion? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
It makes you wonder how many markers we walk past without ever considering the lives and important moments that centered on that very spot where we carry on our little lives. And further, who will notice that we once walked this road? Will we make enough difference that someone will remember?