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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Puzzling Update

My last puzzling update was November, so it’s time to show you what my mom and I (and other family members) have been putting together since that time.

I said she had a group of kittens ready, but it turned out to be just one cat. This was an interesting puzzle, with a big central piece located on the cat’s white bib, and circular layers outward from that. Had this been my puzzle to do alone, I would have made myself build the entire thing one circle at a time, just for the interest and to see if I could do it. But this was not my puzzle. My mom wanted to do some of the interesting parts, so she did parts of the cat, the butterfly, the fountain, and flowers. The bushes were the hardest part, of course. When my brother arrived for Christmas vacation, he helped us finish this puzzle.

The next thing we did was a murder mystery puzzle. This was based on Agatha Christie’s short story, “The Affair of the Christmas Pudding” (aka “The Theft of the Royal Ruby”). You are supposed to read the synopsis, put together the puzzle, and solve the mystery. However, we all knew the story too well. This kind of puzzle has no image on its box for the puzzler to follow; however, the colors are simple, the pieces large, and the patterns easy to figure out. We did think there should have been a body on the snow outside to match our story, though. At least footprints.

Puzzles with no image are approved by my sister-in-law, who holds that looking at the image on the box is a form of cheating. My mother maintains it is a form of sanity—if the puzzle is too hard, then what is the fun of being beaten because you aren’t supposed to look? I used to do puzzles with my sister-in-law for years (before I met and married her brother), and because it was her house and her puzzles, we followed her rules. Back in those days I was up to the challenge, but these days my time is limited, my patience not what it once was for puzzles, and frankly, I’m out of practice. I look at the box image whenever there is one available.

The day after Christmas my sister and nephew were also visiting us and helped us finish this puzzle. However, one piece was missing. It was not a piece vital to the solving of the mystery, but since we all knew the solution to the story anyway, our mystery became What Happened to the Puzzle Piece? We looked under the rug. We moved all the furniture. We took the grate off the heater vent and explored as far down as possible. The next day when my son dumped out the remains of his Christmas stocking, there was the puzzle piece. How it landed in his stocking is still a puzzle that nobody has yet solved.

After New Year’s my mom and I started our next puzzle. This is one of our traditional kind, with a painted scene of moderate complexity and a satisfying image on the box for those pieces that “should” belong “right here” and don’t. Mom did the flowers, dog, and the stream; I did the car, the tree, and as much grass as possible without taking away the stream. We did the barns and the bushes along the right side together.

When we completed it, my mother decided there was a mystery after all: what happened to the fisherman? I thought he was behind the camera, taking the picture of his car and his dog and that pretty background. But, the rest of my family pointed out, if that were true, the dog should have been looking, as it were, at the viewer. What is the dog looking at? I constructed an elaborate scenario with a fishing friend arriving just at that moment with pet dog in tow, and this dog is just about to jump up and greet his friends. Whatever! It was a fun puzzle to complete.

My sister returned for a visit in February, and my mother brought out her 3-D puzzle. This was a gift from my cousin and her husband, picked up in their travels in Russia. My sister, a veterinary surgeon with nimble fingers, wrestled with that puzzle all day, trying to poke the tiny pieces into place. She finally resorted to strategically placed transparent tape. She said we must never take that puzzle apart, because nobody in their right mind would want to do it twice. My mother acknowledged that she would not be able to do it, and I frankly did not and do not want to. We threw away the instructions and the box. So the Russian church stands on top of a tall piece of furniture in my mother’s room. Not quite an icon, but watching everything.

We next had two murder mystery puzzles in a row. The one set in the Wild West was deceptive, which is perfectly in keeping with a murder mystery, in that it turned out that it was not set in the Wild West, but instead it was a company party enacting a Wild West theme, and one of the company used the setup to commit a murder. We put together the puzzle before reading the story setup, and I kept thinking that this puzzle couldn’t match the box image or it would give everything away, but it turned out that it matched the box image perfectly.
We read the story. It seemed that a couple of people were embezzling, a couple were engaged in blackmail, and several were conducting extramarital affairs, sometimes with more than one other person. The key turned out to be the fact that the killer had run down the muddy alley to shoot the pretend sheriff. Everyone thought the woman in blue had done it, but her boots weren’t muddy. If you can spot the problem, great! If not, I’m not telling anything more.

The next puzzle was from the tv show Murder, She Wrote. In New York City, Jessica Fletcher was asked to look at this desk under which the body of the victim was found. The victim was an artist working on ad copy. Her copywriter-partner was a suspect (she often had to do his copywriting for him and hated it), an executive working in the same building was a suspect (they were having an affair that she wanted to end), and a British artist she met on a business trip in London and had a fling with was also a suspect (he had flown to New York to get together with her—his story—or to protest their breakup—the partner said). Jessica took one look at the desktop and solved the puzzle. And so did I.

This was another puzzle for which we had no image, but again, the colors are simple, the shapes dramatic, and the pieces large and easy to fit together. When it came down to finishing all the black areas, we simply lined up the pieces and tried each one according to size. My husband helped a lot with these murder mystery puzzles. Our next mystery is where our next puzzles will come from. We have finally put together all the puzzles my mother was given a year or more ago.

If any of my relatives are reading this, send puzzles! One thousand pieces or fewer, please!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Uncle Quince and the Civil War

My 2-great grandfather Solomon Whittenton was too old to go to war when the Confederate States of America were born in December 1860 and when his home state of Tennessee seceded in June 1861. Fort Sumter was attacked in April 1861, and the Civil War had begun, setting afire the young men of Madison County.

Solomon’s younger brother Quince Tilian Whitington waited a month and then joined the Confederate Army 6th Regiment, Tennessee Infantry Volunteers, Company B, on May 22, 1861, under Captain John J. Brooks. These were “The Golden Zouaves”—all men from Madison County, named after the elite Zouave battalion of the French Army in Algiers in the 1830s. The regiment moved to Union City until they had nearly 900 troops, and then they were moved to Camp Blythe, near New Madrid, Missouri, and joined with the 9th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. That brigade was a part of Brigadier General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Division. From August to November 1861, Quince was employed by the regiment as a teamster. In November 1861 they were at the Battle of Belmont near Columbus, Kentucky, but not actively engaged. After that battle they moved to Corinth, Mississippi, close to the Tennessee border. The 6th Regiment fought with the rest of their brigade most notably at the devastating Battle of Shiloh on 6 – 7 April 1862, losing almost 500 men from the one brigade alone. (About 23,000 total were killed at Shiloh.) Quince was wounded at Shiloh and sent home to recuperate. He was discharged from the Army on July 22, 1862.

The discharge papers gave a personal picture of Quince, “born in Johnston Co., in the State of NC, aged forty years, five feet, eight inches high, dark complexion, blue eyes, dark hair, and by profession a farmer . . . .” His shaky signature reads, Q. T. Whitington.

While he was between enlistments, he married Delilah Owen on October 11, 1862. The couple had no children.

Quince next appeared as a corporal in the 19th/20th Consolidated Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry, under General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was in Company B, under Captain J. A. Shane. He was very likely drafted in 1864, but on February 28, 1865, he appeared on a “Report of absentees and deserters from the 19th and 20th Tennessee Cavalry Regiments.” The report was made at Verona, Mississippi (on the south edge of Tupelo) and notes that his residence was Madison Co., Tennessee, and his probable whereabouts “Maddison Co Tenn.” The living conditions were terrible for the Confederates by this point in the war. Reports from men in this regiment stated repeatedly that they slept on the hard ground, had no tents to keep off the rain or snow, had few clothes, and little to eat besides a small amount of hard tack and either pickled, jerked, or raw meat when they could get any at all. Quince, a middle-aged man, could probably see the Cause was lost and was through with it all.

I do not agree with the Southern Cause, but even if I did, I would not call Quince Tilian Whitington a coward, nor can I blame him one bit for calling a personal halt to the madness. In the midst of the Vietnam War during my youth, I remember a lot of my contemporaries urging people to stop wars, to give peace a chance. It is something that has resonated with me for decades. Peace.

Rest in peace, Uncle Quince.

Friday, March 20, 2015

John Peebles Whittenton, a Confederate Soldier

John Peebles Whittenton, who had been a teacher, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War in Company C of the 31st Infantry of North Carolina, under Captain Andrew W. Betts. He volunteered in Wake County on October 4, 1861 at the age of 24. They went out to the coast in December 1861 and defended Roanoke Island. In February when half the force was sick, the Union attacked the island forts by sea and ultimately captured the entire island. All the captured Confederate soldiers were paroled according to the custom of the early part of the war—they gave their word not to take up arms until an exchange of prisoners was effected. The following September, the North Carolina 31st regiment was reorganized at Raleigh, Wake County.

In the interim, John P was in the village of Bartlesville near Wilmington, North Carolina when he was hospitalized August 10, 1862, and treated for gonorrhÅ“a. Venereal diseases were the bane of military organizations worldwide. There would be prostitutes in the cities, and there were women called “camp followers” on both sides who found a living in following military units informally and exchanging sexual services for food and/or money. In the early days of the war, the Confederate soldiers would have had enough money and food for camp followers. Later in the War, the soldiers were suffering extreme privations themselves; the women went elsewhere. In those days there were no antibiotic cures for venereal diseases; symptoms could be treated to make them subside though. Probably John P had been enduring the disease a while, because the treatment, which would have been horribly painful, consisted of injections of silver nitrate into the urethra every hour for several days. Twelve days later, on August 22, he began to be treated for cholera morbus, the non-epidemic form of the severe gastro-intestinal illness, characterized by vomiting and diarrhÅ“a. The common treatment in those days was a dose of calomel, which sometimes had the unfortunate side effects of loosening the teeth, making the hair fall out, and destroying gums and intestines, i.e., mercury poisoning. But somehow he recovered and rejoined his unit.

Apparently John P was not a model soldier, for on September 15, 1862, he was reduced from the rank of Corporal back to a Private as Company C was reorganized under Captain WJ Long.

His company and the rest of the regiment went to Kinston in December 1862 and participated in tactical movements near New Bern. Then they marched to Wilmington on the south coast and fought on December 16th in the Battle of White Hall on the Neuse River. From there they moved to Charleston, South Carolina and were successful at repelling enemy actions at James Island, on the seaward side of Charleston, for a time. But sickness was rampant on the Island, so they were moved inland. They were ordered to Nashville and got up the coast as far as Wilmington when the order was countermanded and they were sent back to the vicinity of Charleston. There they were in a bloody battle when the Union attacked Battery Wagner on 18 July 1862, endeavoring to capture the harbor and then Charleston itself. The Confederates, with only 1600 men, successfully defended the Battery from the assault by 9000 Union troops.

The next winter, 1863, the 31st Regiment was ordered to Virginia and joined to General RF Hoke’s division near Petersburg. They spent most of 1863 at Ivor Station, midway between Petersburg and Chesapeake. In September 1863 John P Whittenton came down sick and had to go home for 30 days. He was granted $9.90 for rations and returned to his company October 14, 1863. We have no record of what specific illness gave him this furlough. His regiment was stationed on the James River for part of the time, evidently near its mouth when the following episode occurred:
During our stay there the enemy ascended with the steamer Smith Briggs up to Smithfield, Isle-of-Wight County, Virginia, and landed a marauding expedition, composed of 150 infantry, 25 cavalry and two mountain howitzers. Four companies of the Thirty-first Regiment, commanded by Captain Pipkin, one section of Sturtevant’s Battery, and one squadron of cavalry went in pursuit of the enemy, arriving just in time to head them off from the steamer, which was waiting for them. We had a sharp fight through the woods and through the streets of the town. The enemy were in a full run for their boat, but too late. Captain Sturtevant, by a well directed shot (the second shot from one of his pieces) sent a round shot through the steamer’s steam chest, which disabled her, and at once the white flag was run up by the steamer and the entire expedition captured and the steamer (General Butler’s flagship) was burned. It was told us by the prisoners we took that only one man escaped, and that was Captain Lee, the com- mander of the expedition. He swam to the marsh and secreted himself, thus making his escape (it was said with a bullet wound in his arm). This was the most complete victory of its size and importance that ever crowned the efforts of any troops. [Bryan, page 515]

At the end of 1863, John P and his regiment were part of Clingman’s Brigade, stationed at Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, on the coast outside Charleston. In May 1864 the 31st Regiment experienced day-and-night incessant fighting until the 31st of that month when they were sent on the railroad cars to Cold Harbor, Virginia, and participated in that horribly bloody battle, which lasted from May 31 – June 12, 1864. They were kept in the vicinity of Petersburg from that time, fighting battle after battle in the Seige of Petersburg. General Robert E. Lee was desperately trying to save the Southern capitol, Richmond, Virginia; Petersburg, just south of Richmond, was the main supply hub for Lee’s army, so that it was General Ulysses S Grant’s immediate target.

It was October 2, 1864, the last day of the Battle of Peebles’ Farm, that John Peebles Whittenton was admitted to Receiving and Wayside Hospital, or General Hospital No. 9, Richmond, Virginia. Two days later he was moved to Winder Hospital at Richmond, suffering from v.s. in his right hip, short for vulnus sclopeticum, meaning gunshot wound. He died on October 19, 1864.

Note: If you would like to purchase a complete book of the Whittington series with updates, sources, and more, please send me a message.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Tonight on the phone my best friend and I were discussing how we behave when we find ourselves a part of a group, yet struggling to stay apart from the group. We construct in our minds the words to describe our state: “us vs. them” features heavily in what we tell ourselves.

Sometimes this might be useful, as when we find ourselves in a crowd of people who are about to do something we don’t believe is right. We articulate our difference and draw ourselves away.

But supposing we do this when there is no actual value-driven difference?

When I was a college student I found myself sitting on a hillside in Hawkshead, England, explaining to an interested Manchester University professor over our lunch sandwiches how I had managed my time the year before when I had worked four hours a day at a newspaper as a proofreader, attended classes for my master’s program, and taught a freshman English class at the university as well. She seemed fascinated by the view into the life of an American student who had little money but a lot of drive, and I felt she was cheering me on.

However, another person was listening that day, a young man attending an Oxford college working toward the D. Phil. degree. He spent the next week sneering at me every chance he had, making sure I knew that in his world a working student was definitely second class. I had sort of liked him at first, so that made his treatment hurt. After a few days we were in another town on an excursion, and I was sitting on a wall looking down at the Derwent river rushing beneath me. A Belgian student joined me, and she made a quick observation about the treatment I had been getting from Mr Oxford. She let me know that I had been taking him entirely too seriously, that I needed to laugh at such an antiquated attitude.

Our equality as college students at an academic conference had led him into an archaic, juvenile, and baseless fear of a working student, and his silly fear further led him into language creating a divide that he was desperate to perpetuate, lest he be categorized with a group he did not want to be part of.

In the Book of Mormon (the book, not the musical), a society of true equality among all people of the time is described in the book of 4th Nephi: “there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free . . . .” This utopia is further described this way:

And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

These people did away with all labels among them that had previously divided them. It worked for several hundred years, and then things began to fall apart again. It’s usually envy and pride that get the divisions started. We act upon our fears of not being “good enough” and therefore we have to figure out a way to set ourselves apart, to set ourselves above the ones we fear.

The answer is to do away with the “-ites”—stop labeling each other at all. As I said to my friend on the phone, “We could all become un-ites, right?”

She pointed out the obvious. “That would make us unite, you know.”

Let’s do that!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Everywhere I look there are daffodils. Daffodils in the back yard. Daffodils in the front yard. Daffodils in the neighbors’ yards. Daffodils around the two college campuses. Daffodils next to the church. Daffodils in the field.

It is early for them where I live, but we have had an exceptionally mild winter, unlike people east of us.

On the telephone Sunday, my best friend starting quoting daffodil poetry to me. She reminded me that Now Is the Time for All Good Wordsworthian Scholars to Publish Something on His Daffodil Poem. You know the one:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

So here is the poem and its original 1802 manuscript. The notes say that Dorothy, the poet’s sister, contributed the idea of the dancing daffodils for a poem after a walk one day when they saw a veritible golden road of them along Grasmere Lake. The poet’s wife, Mary, contributed what he later said were the best two lines of the poem: “They flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude,” thus tying this poem’s theme to the great poem he had just published that everyone simply calls “Tintern Abbey” and its idea of the spots of time that give one something beautiful to think about when the experience itself is in the past.

In the Tintern Abbey poem, Wordsworth said about his memories of his time there,
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration . . . .
He also owed to these thoughts and memories an ability to make of himself a better man:
. . . such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.
And even a sort of prophet, or a transcendent seer:
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lighten'd:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
But being rather frivolous, I rather like the way Oscar Wilde expressed the idea of having a fund of Useful Thoughts with which to occupy the mind in The Importance of Being Earnest: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Nowadays if you get on the train you see people with paperbacks and a lot with electronic devices with which to occupy the mind. Scarcely a Deep Thought anywhere with which to “see into the life of things.”

I wonder if there are any people on earth left who sit and simply think of daffodils. I have a vase stuffed full of silk daffodils that I can, if I want, sit and contemplate in the deadest times of the year. But I don’t. At those times, I am more likely to dream pictures of snowy landscapes and maybe poinsettias.

Poinsettias do not lend themselves to poetry.