Walking Where My Ancestor Fought and Died 151 Years Ago

Capt WarnerStudy Trip to the Petersburg National Battlefield (October 7, 2015)

Walking Where My Ancestor Fought and Died 151 Years Ago

 Many of us in OLLI are history buffs, and take virtually every history course offered.  A favorite series and instructor for so many of us have been the courses and study trips led by Dave Milidonis in commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.  The final event in this five-year-long series was the October 7th trip to the Petersburg National Battlefield, which has been preserved to memorialize the nine-month siege of the city by the Union Army, in its quest to take Petersburg as the gateway to seizing Richmond, which would surely result in an end to the long and bloody Civil War.  For the Confederates, holding Petersburg was vital in their desperate efforts to maintain control of their capital, Richmond, and avoid certain and immediate defeat.

In his typically riveting, detailed and no-holes-barred teaching style, Dave led us from one battery and fort to the next in Petersburg’s 30-mile battlefield site, culminating in a visit to the Crater.  Though not as massive and deep today, there is still a large pit where the Union forces had exploded a powerful mine under the Confederate entrenchments in an attempt to breach their line of defense and break through into Petersburg.

Some weeks prior to leaving for the study trip, I had told Dave that my great-great-grandfather had served in a South Carolina unit that was engaged in the Confederate defense of Petersburg, and that he had been killed there.  I asked Dave if he would be willing to research where in the expanse of entrenchments my ancestor’s unit might have been on November 5th, 1864, when he was fatally wounded.  Dave graciously, even enthusiastically, agreed to look into the military records and told me the information he would need about my great-great-grandfather’s unit.  I sent him all the information I could put together about Captain Jacob Warner of South Carolina’s Holcombe Legion, Elliot’s Brigade.  Within a few hours, Dave emailed me detailed information about Jacob Warner’s unit—that he had served in Johnson’s Division, 4th Corps.  He had discovered that Cpt. Warner’s unit was at the site of the Crater on July 30th, 1864, when the mine was blown, and that 700 men in his unit had died in the explosion.  Those who survived engaged in a counter-attack against the invading Union troops, resulting in massive casualties on both sides.  The Confederates, led by troops from S.C., held the Crater and patched the break in their lines.  Cpt. Warner had beaten the odds and survived the carnage in July, but his luck ran out on November 5th.   On that fateful day, he was ordered to lead his men on a night attack against a Union picket line that had been dispatched close to the Confederate lines.  It was in that fire-fight that he was fatally wounded, and he died the next day.

When we were there on the battlefield, in the vicinity of that night attack, Dave wove the story of my great-great-grandfather’s mission into his discussion of the battles.  He pointed to a line of trees about 200 yards away and just outside a fort where the attack unfolded, and told us that was the approximate location where Cpt. Warner would have been fatally wounded.   I was not the only one of our group who was fascinated by Dave’s riveting portrayal of the events; I could see that we all were.  Several members told me later that hearing my ancestor’s story had made it all so much more vivid and real.  Dave is a master at making history come to life; at transporting us to the time and place we are studying. DM

For me, this discovery about my great-great-grandfather’s mission and location when he was killed was captivating and emotional.  You see, since I was a teen-ager, I have felt a special fascination with him.  When I was about 16, I learned that my grandparents had copies of letters that Jacob Warner had written home to his wife throughout the war.  They had never mentioned the letters because no one in the family had ever expressed an interest in him before me.  I eagerly read each one of them.  They told of his love, his sacrifice, his extreme hardships over the course of the war and the unraveling of the Confederacy (no pay, holes in his boots, frayed  uniform, ammunition shortages, a serious scarcity of food), and they told of his dreams of returning home to resume their lives after the war.  Instead, he died at Petersburg on November 6th, 1864, at the age of 39.  The war finally came to an end five months later.

My grandparents also had a portrait of him in his uniform, a copy of which is at the top of this blog.  Knowing what he looked like had always made him more interesting, more real, to me.  So, history buff that I have always been, after reading his letters, I pondered and ruminated about him and his participation in that tragic war.  I often felt disappointment and disillusionment in him, for getting caught up in the paranoia over “northern aggression” and the Confederacy’s extreme bravado and delusions of grandeur.  In his case, like most Confederate soldiers, his participation in the war had nothing to do with a personal attachment to slavery.  He had no slaves.  What he had was a wife and seven children!  His youngest daughter, my great-grandmother, was only a year old when he went off to the war, and grew up not remembering her father or having him in her life.  His wife, my great-great-grandmother, had to run their farm and take care of all those children without his help, not to mention endure loneliness and hardship over the subsequent three decades that she lived without him.

Yet, I know that people are products of their times and the events that shape their lives. In Jacob Warner’s case, I learned that he served the cause that he believed in with valor, and gave his life for it.  It was a profound experience for me to learn how and where he died, and what his experiences had been at the Crater and in the months prior to his death.  It brought some closure to my ponderings.  I am deeply appreciative to Dave Milidonis for leading me on this journey of discovery to Petersburg.

Carol Rahmani (OLLI Member)

October 30, 2015

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Such knowledgeable “Gadgets” instructors!

Doug Hall, one of the instructors for OLLI’s “Gadgets” course,

FullSizeRender (4) shows off a robot car made by his family members in the basement of their home. Pictured on the right is fellow instructor Tom Price.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Scenes from OLLI’s Gadget Class

OLLI member Julia Daniels reports from OLLI’s Gadgets Course with Tom Price and Doug Hall:

Great class!!
Today was an excellent explanation of the navigation systems used by our GPS as well as the navigation apps in our smart phones. They were compared and contrasted.
The second half of the class was a demonstration of the various forms of lighting used in our households:  from  incondescent to LED.  I suspect most of us headed to Home Depot after class to replace all the bulbs in our homes!
FullSizeRender (2)FullSizeRender (3)IMG_1388
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

OLLI Members: So many stories to tell!

Often I pause for a minute or two in the dining room, the place where I fold clothes and we entertain at Christmas, to walk other paintingalong the stones in this painting.
 It’s a quiet fall afternoon, crisp and freshly cleansed by rain, awash with the sweet embrace of flowers crowding the walkway.
That’s the feeling that swooshes over me every time I fold a towel or pass a dish to my kin.
There’s another painting:  It’s a picture of noisy intersections of bright ideas and opinions and points of view, some as succinct as a bouquet of perfectly petaled daisies, others as scattered as wild grass, all framed by respect for one another.
This is our OLLI Discussion Forum, a gathering of some fifteen to twenty souls twice a month, first and third Mondays, all filled with life experiences and hard knocks as varied as wine notes.  They are the bouquets in the painting, large and colorful.   Most had it relatively easy, growing up pretty. A few were jerked up from the ground hard with little money, but with love and never a bitter tear.  And others in between.
This is a smart bunch.  They have stories that curl your hair.  They tell tales that break your heart.  They’re proud of their kids and grandkids, or not, and had parents who loved them, ignored them, indulged them, taught them, shaped them.  Some had careers that centered them, encouraged them to grow.  But all have lived to tell their stories and do so eloquently.  And I love to listen to them.  And I relish telling them mine.
And express and chat and argue and push we do, we colorful bouquets who impress each other with our colors and shapes and brainy bounty.  Twice a month.  First and third Mondays .  All year long.
OLLI Member Tim Hoyt
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Screw Your Courage to the Sticking-Place……..”

Well of course Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth was talking about bloody murder but her words could easily apply to taking part in adventure sports! In the past nine months I have engaged in four daring physical activities that were definitely not top of my must-do list, in fact not even on it.

The first was spelunking in Belize in November 2014 – except I thought I was just going to explore an ancient cave used by the Mayans, Actun Tunichil Muknal. Some say for human sacrifice but maybe the skeletal remains are from people who died a more natural death. I knew I was going to have to wade across two fast-flowing rivers and then swim into the mouth of the cave but then I thought I would be on dry land. No so! I was up to my neck in water, fully clothed and shoed for over three hours, squeezing through small spaces with only a headlamp for light. I had to trust completely in my guide and follow his instructions faithfully. The prize at the end of the Indiana Jones style trial was a look at the crystalized skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden, although scholars disagree about the gender.


Three days later I found myself dropping over the side of a boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea off the Belize Cayes on a snorkeling expedition. Again, risky business for a landlubber like me. What? Really? You mean I have to just get out here, with no land in site?! I had naively thought there might be a dock close by. Another occasion to follow Lady Macbeth’s advice and go for it – and trust in my guide.
I must admit to waking up several times in the night after those experiences thinking lots of “What if” scenarios.

Fast forward to Costa Rica in March 2015 accompanied by a group of OLLI members. We strapped on our life jackets, grabbed a paddle and got into our raft for a white water rafting adventure on the foaming Sarapiqui River. We were expertly maneuvered around obstacles by our young and fearless guide as we jammed our feet under the seats, hung on for our lives and paddled furiously! It was an exhilarating ride. During the few quieter stretches of river we were able to admire the wildlife including white faced and howler monkeys and exotic birds.

As if that was not enough excitement nine of us donned protective helmets and gloves a few days later to brave the zip-line canopy tour. There were eight cables including the chicken run where you could test your courage on a very short section of zip line and duck out if it all proved to be too much for you. We all decided to risk it. I was very impressed to learn that eight of the nine people in our group were zip-lining for the first time – all retired (except me) and still game for new experiences that are a test for mind and body. This course was not for the faint-hearted with speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and one line at a height of 656 feet above the forest canopy. I found that gazing across at Lake Arenal helped me to cope with my surging adrenaline levels! At those speeds there was no chance of spotting any of the wildlife that was certainly present in the trees. Well we all survived the experience and purchased the photo to prove it.

JHC Ziplining
Our activities were more leisurely after that. Hot springs, a sunset jungle crocodile safari,and a lovely beach resort where we could relax and swap stories of our daring adventures. We’re glad we followed Lady Macbeth’s advice!

Joan Hardman-Cobb (OLLI Special Programs Coordinator)

Sunset on Crocodile watch Bill Hube

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

OLLI Makes a Difference!

I recently finished reviewing the course evaluations for our second spring term. I love reading what members thought of the courses and how the program impacts their lives. Here are some of my favorite comments from the spring courses:

  • “Makes me think and enhances my life experiences. It’s encouraging to see others interested in learning and appreciating.”
  • “It’s nice to have a schedule to ‘get out of the house.’”
  • “OLLI has become more and more important to me. It is my ‘refuge’ day. I really look forward to it!”
  • “OLLI has impacted my life in a positive way. I live in a senior independent facility. It gets me out of the compound and into the larger world.”
  • “OLLI has kept me stimulated mentally and opened doors to knowledge of geography and some cultures that do not receive great world attention.”
  • “I’m new to OLLI, and I have found myself having more energy and enthusiasm since taking a number of courses this term.”
  • “I’m not a morning person, but I look forward to getting up and going to OLLI courses!”
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Costa Rica Slide Show!

A great slide show from OLLI member Julia Daniels, who went on our study trip to Costa Rica in March! http://www.photoshow.com/watch/Cn7qe5SX?source=em_ps_show_recipient

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

OLLI Members Learn about “the real CSI”

On April 13th, OLLI members had the chance to learn about Forensic Science: Real World CSI vs. Hollywood.  Our guide was Dr. Nelson Vinueza, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at NC State. Before coming to NC State, Dr. Vinueza helped organize Ecuador’s forensic science labs and trained the scientists.  We got to learn how flawed the science is on television as they primarily want to move the plot along.  No surprise, right? Among the “food for thought” that Dr. Vinueza shared:

On TV, they are always pulling gloves out of their pockets: instant contamination!

On TV, the detectives solve the case together. In real life, usually one is assigned to the subjective matters (motive, etc.) and another is assigned to objective matters (forensic evidence).

Our photo shows Dr. Vinueza chatting with OLLI members after his presentation. Vinueza

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dispatches from the OLLI Costa Rica Trip – March 11

Wednesday March 11
Today our  merry band of OLLI travelers headed to Del Bosque, an eco tourism farm. The road was unpaved, rutted and tortuous but our excellent driver Roger did a wonderful job!
We were greeted by Don Antonio, the owner. He comes from a long line of farmers, starting with his Great Grandfather, Don Carmelino but only recently decided to enter the eco-farm business. Only one product is sold commercially- pigs.

Luis led us on a tour of the farm, which has an area of approximately 2,471 acres. Only 49,200 sq feet are being used for trails, gardens, cultivated areas, reforestation etc.
We were introduced to a number of endangered species, one of which was white tailed deer! We told Luis we would be happy to export some from North Carolina.

Later we saw two oxen walking in circles to power the sugar cane mill. Then Reggie and Don took the place of the oxen with Phyllis ably I cracking the whip. Vamanos! Of course we sampled the liquid products of their labor – or at least some made earlier.
We toured the medicinal plant garden where Luis was very informative about the uses of the various plants. We saw the pig operation with one boar, 20 sows and multiple piglets
A delicious lunch rounded off our tour – beans, rice, pork, salad, enchilada and lemonade.
From the road,
OLLI Members Don & Jo Adams

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Greetings from Costa Rica: Action-Packed!

More news from the OLLI study trip to Costa Rica!

Costa Rica crossing bridgeToday was a real action day. Our morning activity was a demonstration but not until we had negotiated a long suspension bridge over a foaming river. Not for the faint-hearted!

During our coffee demonstration we learned about the process from cacao pod to drinking and solid chocolate – all produced in a forest setting with no automation. We sampled at each stage –  so good. We will be very fussy about our chocolate purchases from now on!Costa Rica coffee demo

After lunch we suited up for our rafting adventure on the Sarapiqui River. Our excellent guides pointed out wildlife on the river even as we negotiated treacherous rapids!

We rounded off our day with a cooking demonstration with OLLI members dicing and  chopping vegetables for the dish which included freshly made corn tortillas.

Costa Rica cooking

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment