(or, how I survived my midlife crisis)
                                   A MAN CALLED CATO    
(or, how I survived my midlife crisis)
(or, how I survived my midlife crisis)

to the well-rehearsed stories. At times, as he talked, his eyes drifted upwards, almost to the lids, as if he were reading from some hidden script attached to the inside of his forehead. Then he would look back down again, studying each of us in turn, critically evaluating our degree of attention and comprehension. We sat by the plate glass windows of Cato TV and Appliance for more than an hour that morning, looking out on the quiet street, as Jack talked of Hatton and the deeds of the 7th Tennessee. "And John Hunt Morgan's men once fought the Yankees right here in town, right on the road out there," Jack said, gesturing toward the now peaceful street.

In Jack's van we toured the town, stopping at places and homes where Civil War men had been. "This is where John Hunt Morgan was staying the night of Dumont's surprise attack," Jack would say, and in the same sentence he'd add, "and over there is where I had my first store." 

After returning from the Korean War in 1951, on the GI bill Jack had attended the Tennessee School of Broadcasting in Nashville. He'd studied television and radio repair, then come to Lebanon with his new wife, Ruth, after purchasing a small TV and appliance repair shop. Over the years this business and other Lebanon investments thrived. He would eventually become one of the original investors in the Cracker Barrel Corporation, headquartered in Lebanon. In the antique store Scott and I had visited earlier that morning, the man working there had said to us, "Jack's worth a fewmillion, you know."

Jack still owned a number of rental properties in Lebanon, which he'd point out to us as we passed them on our tour. All these years, though, he and Ruth continued to operate their first business venture there, the TV and Appliance repair store. In a way it had become Jack's Civil War and Robert Hatton historical library. In that store he collected, sorted, and filed all of the civil war information he had been gathering over a lifetime. Behind a table scattered with peanut shells, were bookshelves containing the 248 volumes of the official records (and supplements) of the Civil War. And nearly every historical book mentioning Robert Hatton, the 7th Tennessee, or Lebanon was available there also.

Keeping the memory of General Hatton and the 7th Tennessee alive seemed a crusade for Jack. Perhaps, sadly, another lost southern cause. "They don't even teach about the Civil War in schools down here anymore," Jack said with disgust. "It's too political, too controversial, it offends too many people now."  I asked Jack what they were telling kids about the war. "Nothing," he said, "Not a damn thing."

During our driving tour we'd periodically stop and I'd jump out of the van and snap pictures. Just south of the town square was an empty parking lot.  Scott and I had passed it earlier on our way into town.  We hadn't taken much notice of it. "That's where the old town courthouse stood during the Civil War," said Jack. There was a story from Magee's regimental history involving the courthouse.  During Wilder's occupations of the town on April 3rd--the same day Henry Campbell wrote of his "sticky fingers," the same day Montgomery and Vance were captured--a Captain Hanna, commanding three companies of the 72nd Indiana, was holding a number of captured rebel soldiers at the town courthouse. When an alarm was sounded in anticipation of a Rebel attack, most of the men of the 72nd Indiana were sent south of town and formed into a line of battle. Captain Hanna was left at the courthouse as provost guard. The frustrated Hanna, not wishing to miss the engagement, ignored his instructions and marched his men, prisoners in tow, from the courthouse down to the regiment--his captives apparently protesting all the way there. Upon arriving at the battle line Hanna was immediately reprimanded for his actions, then ordered back to the courthouse with his prisoners. He marched the group back muttering all the way that it seemed to him "when there was fighting going on a fellow had a right to take part in it."

Henry Campbell, the seventeen-year-old bugler with the 18th Indiana, the artillery battery attached to Wilder's brigade, thought Lebanon's citizenry "aristocratic". He called the town "a regular hotbed of secesh." Along with the other young men of the brigade Campbell enjoyed a fairly loose rein in Lebanon. The Union army took what it needed in town, and from the surrounding countryside, and the young soldiers required little coercion to participate in the taking. Campbell wrote in his diary that on one downtown visit, "A few things stuck to my fingers." He also described the inventory situation at a certain Lebanon drugstore after he visited the establishment with some other soldiers. " present [it] is rather poorly stocked," he wrote.
city's central design certainly did  The modern primary intersecting streets, Cumberland and Main, rather than crossing directly, veered around a central town square, and in the center of that square now stood the worn concrete statue of a confederate Civil War officer. If Nashville seemed to have mostly forgotten the Civil War, apparently Lebanon had not.
Henry nearly hadn't been allowed to join the 18th Indiana battery. He was only five foot five, a handsome lad with a boyish look about him, traits that hadn't helped to conceal his disqualifying age from the army doctors. The examiners had turned him away.  But the captain forming the battery--a wiry, twenty-four year old pharmacist, operating a recruiting office from his Greencastle, Indiana drugstore--convinced the doctors that Campbell was indispensable as his bugler. This persuasive captain was named Eli Lilly, and eleven years after the war he would start a successful pharmaceutical company that bore his name. In 1863 though, in Lebanon, Tennessee, Captain Lilly, our future patriarch of Prozac, had no notions of such a flourishing business future. Young Captain Lilly, and the hundred other men of his artillery battery, thought mostly of crushing the rebellion.

Scott and I pulled into the center of old Lebanon.  Two story, weathered brick storefronts hugged the streets casting their long shadows across cool clean white sidewalks. Though the structures didn't date back to the Civil War (probably only the 1930s), the
I suppose, though, that peculiar head and preposterous story had accomplished their work--we went inside the store.  There we encountered an endlessly confused maze of everything imaginable: dusty, mounted bear and deer head trophies, buggy whips and carriages, inspiring life size bronze statues of bare breasted women, glass display cases with bottles and knives inside; antique dishes, pictures and paintings in gaudy gold frames, and on and on it went. The old gentleman sitting behind one of the glass cases took little interest in our arrival.  I wove my way toward him, through the congestion, and introduced myself. I told him we had come to town looking for the Civil War, and then asked if he had any antique items from the period. He pointed out several guns and knives in one of the glass cases that he thought appropriate.

Do you know Jack Cato?" I asked. "Old Jack," he said.  There was a pause, and then, "He may be out on the square now, at the Hatton statue." The old gentleman sat up straight in his chair and peered in thd direction of the street, momentarily perhaps forgetting all of the ancient accumulation between him and the storefront windows. "Jack might be out there now," he said again. "He's usually there in the morning." "We didn't see anyone there," I replied. "Well, he's around, somewhere.  His shop is over on Maple."

We found Cato TV & Appliance, Jack's store, one street west of Cumberland. The pleasant soft-spoken woman who greeted us inside said that Jack was out that morning.  I felt somehow relieved at that news.  We had made our inquiry of him, something I'd felt compelled to do for some unexplained reason, and he wasn't available.  So we could be off again.  We'd finish a quick peruse of Lebanon and could be on the way toward Liberty within the hour.  I briefly told the woman in the store of my phone conversations with Jack and said I was in the area for a Civil War reenactment--though I didn't volunteer which side we'd represent in the event.  "He's speaking on the Civil War today, at a women's luncheon, I'm Ruth, his wife," she said extending her hand.  "I know he wants to meet you, he mentioned that you might come by," she said looking rather frustrated, "I'll see if I can't raise him on the cell phone."

We talked with Ruth for a while, explaining to her something more of our plans.  "Are you Rebels or Yankees?" she asked.  There was a pause in my response.  "At the reenactment," she added. "Well, we're Yankees," I said, "but I had relatives who fought in the 22nd Mississippi too." I knew I sounded like an idiot.

It was true enough, though, I did have relatives that fought for the south, indeed in the 22nd Mississippi, the Van Norman boys. Their father had owned a tannery in Liberty, Mississippi. He made boots and fancy saddles, slave shoes for the surrounding plantations, and shoes for the Confederate soldiers too. Two of the Van Normans were wounded during the war, one at Shiloh in 62, the other at Atlanta in 64. Though legally my relatives, I took consolation in the fact that their father had been adopted into our lineage. There was no blood link that I could see. Biologically, I was free and clear.

Growing up in the north, near Chicago, how could I have become anything other than a yankee.  "Land of Lincoln" printed on every car license plate in the state. And over the years, as I had studied the Civil War, there was never any question in my mind that the south was wrong. But it really went beyond that. The south hadn't just been wrong, there had been malevolent evil in their position, I had long ago concluded with smug superiority. Fortunately, the good and decent people of the North had set things right.  Even having grown up in the 1960s, 100 years after the war, hadn't we all seen news footage of the unreformed George Wallace preventing black students from entering the doors of white universities, then defending his apparent racism with claims of "state's rights." And who could forget the water hoses blasting civil rights marchers in Selma and Montgomery. Such images did nothing to change my historical views on southern character.

In the present, too, weren't the symbols of southern defiance still with us?  South Carolina was still flying the Confederate battle flag above its capital dome. Georgia incorporated that symbol as a part of their state flag. And weren't white college students at football games making the evening news, upsetting the black populous by waving the red banner yet again?  What was the intended message behind all of that?

I'd had my own minor incident in the south, one that occasionally came to mind over the years. In fact, I had been thinking of it again while planning our trip through Tennessee. At 17 Scott and I, his younger brother, Tim, and another friend, had taken a trip through the south.  It was an excursion to the Florida Keys following scuba diving licenses Tim and I had recently earned. We spent a week camping and diving in Key Largo, probably the first long trip we ever made fully independent of our parents. What an experience that was, for the first time being free and unregulated--having a first taste of adult privilege, with none of the responsibility.

On our return from Florida, heading north through Tennessee, the rear axle of the old Pontiac wagon we were driving came apart. The car was towed to the nearest service station off the interstate, just outside of the small town of Monteagle. We were relieved to hear that the damage was not serious, nor the work time consuming.  The vehicle was fixed quickly. However, when we presented our credit card for payment the mechanics at the station decided they needed the owner's approval before they could accept our "Shell card," there at that "Shell" station.  And the owner wouldn't be returning until late that afternoon, so we were told. We ended up cooling our heels there nearly an entire day.

We knew we'd been given derelict information, that our vehicle was being held hostage, for some reason, perhaps because of the Illinois plates attached to it. Even a hundred years after the war, sure enough, we were Yankees and they were Rebels. No explanation seemed necessary beyond that. We made the best of the delay, though, pestering and annoying the mechanics to the greatest of our abilities, and by the end of the day it would have been difficult to determine who had endured the greater inconvenience and hardship by our impediment.

Sometime later, I considered the possibility that the poor treatment we received at Monteagle might have been more the result of our being crass young teenagers than due to any Yankee resentment. Still, irrespective of the undetermined motives of the Monteagle mechanics, an impression had been made, or reinforced, and it would persist. The general notion of southern animosity toward northerners remained a part of my paradigm. In college years, when I was driving between Illinois and my Florida University, the interstate between Nashville and Jacksonville was considered hostile territory.

And now there we were, some twenty years later, in enemy territory again, Lebanon, Tennessee, this time, but a town not so very distant, or different, I assumed, from the Monteagle I remembered. I had come looking for my Yankee heroes, men who had probably terrorized this town. I stood in a TV and appliance store, talking to a gentle southern woman, waiting for her Confederate husband to return.

The buildings around the square were mostly antique and tourist shops now. Nestled among them we found the town's chamber of commerce. I made that my first stop, strolling in casually and then looking over the various pieces of literature arranged on a wooden table. I made small talk with the woman working there, asking the usual visitor's random questions. I told her that a relative of mine had passed through the town during the Civil War--"he was a Yankee," I said attempting to sound indifferent in the matter. "Is that right," she replied rather flatly, offering me what seemed a deflated smile.  I added quickly, "I had several relatives with the south too, 22nd Mississippi."

We wandered over a few stores, to a large antique shop.  An unusual display in the front window had caught Scott's eye. Inside a square wooden box with a glass front pane was what appeared to be the botched work of some novice taxidermist.  The box held what looked like a sort of life size monkey head. This cranial curiosity was completely covered in short gray hair, or fur (or cheap fine pile carpet). The glass eyes in the head were cockeyed and the mouth full of crooked white teeth. A brochure next to the eerie fur ball read "The Legend of Sugar Flat Road -- as seen on Hard Copy & Strange Universe." According to the brochure, this fuzzy gray cranium, once complete with attached body, had been lurking around the Lebanon woods in 1987 when it was hit by a truck. The driver of the colliding vehicle had stopped, run over to the creature and hacked of the head with a shovel (that's just what I would have done). He threw the head in the back of the vehicle and went home. The rest is history, I guess.

Sixty-nine year old Jack Cato walked in off the sunny street, resplendent in a long tailed black wool jacket, a stove top hat under his arm. On this day, for the ladies at a luncheon, he had been General Robert H. Hatton, the hometown general immortalized in the town square. Ruth made the introductions as we shook hands, Jack giving Scott and me a critical squinty eyed looking over, perhaps determining whether or not we seemed worth his time; he then instructed us to sit and relax as he strode away to change cloths.  Upon returning Jack began to outline a new revised itinerary for our day. He informed Ruth, in a tone that implied serious business was afoot, that "we were going to be talking for a while," and then would be taking a tour with him around town. I attempted to interject that we needed to be on the road again, by noon at the latest, though; I already sensed we wouldn't be finished here a moment before Jack thought we ought to be.

Jack began with a history of General Hatton and the 7th Tennessee Infantry. He seemed to know every detail of this man's life, every struggle and hardship as if they were his own. "Hatton, didn't want secession," Jack said.  In fact this congressmen from Tennessee had stood near the town square on April 1, 1861, and argued against the Confederacy. Impassioned citizens from Lebanon hadn't liked what Hatton had to say and that night they burned him in effigy. But several weeks later, when Abraham Lincoln called for troops to suppress the rebellion, Hatton organized the Confederate 7th Tennessee Infantry and became its first colonel. "I can't fight against my neighbors," he had declared.

A year later Hatton would be dead, killed in Virginia, at a battle called Fair Oaks, hundreds of miles from Tennessee. There was a tragic irony in his fate. This Tennessee congressman who had advocated a continued Union, whose concern had been primarily that of fighting against his neighbors--in the end he would be sent away from home, away from his neighbors, to fight and die defending a complex cause he didn't fully support. And the misfortunes of fate went beyond that. The fact that his regiment was ordered away from Tennessee, to fight in Virginia, was probably the consequence of a mutual loathing that had developed over the years between Hatton and Tennessee's Confederate governor,

Isham Harris. Hatton and Harris detested each other. They had competed in a vicious campaign for the state governorship before the war. At one point in their public debates the rivalry had degenerated to a fisticuffs between the candidates. "Hatton won the fight," Jack told us, "but Harris the governorship."

Perhaps as a final mischief in their discord, once Hatton had organized the 7th Tennessee, Governor Harris sent them away to fight in Virginia. Hatton and his men would never defend their home state. (When Wilder and his men came through, the local boys would be in Virginia.)  Jack's great-grandfather, William Cato, had served with the 7th Tennessee. He'd come down from neighboring Smith County, with severl of his friends, to serve with the 7th.  He was wounded twice during the war.

In full stride of his narrative, Jack could encyclopedically relate dates and details, his heavy gravely southern drawl lending weight and flavor .
General Hatton Statue In Lebanon's Town Square
scene evidence. Of course, I had never heard of General Hatton and the 7th Tennessee before. My interest in Lebanon had involved only Wilder's excursions there, and the history of Illinois and Indiana boys sent to conquer the treacherous Rebels. Now my picture of Lebanon was somehow different, much more complicated. The other side, the so-called enemy, had faces and ancestors too, descendants I could spend the day with reflecting on this complicated past. If we hadn't met Jack, the statue in Lebanon's town square would have remained, for us, always, a nameless, cement, Confederate nobody.

At one point on our tour, when the conversation lagged temporarily, I asked Jack what he thought of the stuffed monkey head in the antique store window. He looked over at me and shook his head, muttering something I couldn't understand. Scott was as fully caught up in the adventure of the day as I. In many ways, and at many times on the trip, he would prove the more thorough and careful observer. Scott would walk through cemeteries reading inscription after inscription on the endless rows of headstones. In museums he noticed every plaque, looked at each artifact, carefully and meticulously. I, on the other hand, was more the impatient skimmer, not one for excruciating particulars. Sometimes in my efforts to quickly grasp the big picture of things I missed the important details. Scott could read and collect that substance I missed.

Unfortunately, here in Lebanon, Scott had been unable to grasp one very important and seeminlgly simple detail: Jack's name. All afternoon he'd been referring to Jack as Joe, to my tremendous displeasure. "That's amazing Joe," Scott would say, and Jack would look over with a confused, somewhat annoyed look, not sure that he'd heard Scott correctly, or perhaps suspecting Scott had anointed him with some nonspecific nickname. Whenever the opportunity presented itself I'd murmur to Scott, "His name's Jack you idiot not Joe!" My efforts proved futile, though, as Scott continued with the phantom name at every opportunity.

At lunch we dined in a Sizzler type restaurant, a business operating out of one of the buildings Jack owned. Thanks for the lunch Joe," Scott said almost catching himself at last. When Jack left the table for the salad bar I immediately chastised Scott again. "His name is Jack. Is that so difficult? Jack, it's just Jack. There's no Joe! Have you seen a Joe here today? I haven't!" "He must look like a Joe to me or something," said Scott. (Well, what could I do?  Remember, this was the guy using my deodorant.)

After lunch Jack drove us over to Lebanon's Cedar Grove Cemetery where Robert Hatton's remains were reburied in 1866. His tall fifteen-foot marker was there on the left as you came in the old gate. "Where was Hatton originally buried?" I asked after snapping several more pictures. "No one seems to know," said Jack, "That's something we're currently researching." Hatton's wife, who had waited in Lebanon for the general's return, was eventually buried beside him, their three children finally there also.

Other members of the 7th Tennessee had been put to rest at Cedar Grove, mostly under rectangular marble headstones with the writing nearly worn away. A number of John Hunt Morgan's men, killed in that battle fought outside Jack's store, were in Cedar Grove. They were under brown gravestones lined beside a tall statue of a southern soldier boy. The cemetery contained the remains of 145 Confederate soldiers. And Morgan's wife, the lovely and spirited Mattie Ready, a Civil War widow at 19, was also eventually buried in the Lebanon Cemetery. It was a quiet, peaceful place, Cedar Grove, on that beautiful sunny day, among the old battered gravestones with names that represented so much incredible past.

Back at Cato TV we talked longer. I told Jack and Ruth about Magee's story of the tavern-keeper who was hung. They were surprised to hear the tale. As far as they knew there was no town record of such an event. "I don't think its something a regimental historian would make up," I said. "I mean it's not a flattering revelation." "It certainly could have happened," said Jack. I added, "You'd think it would be long remembered by the town if it had taken place." Ruth made photocopies of the pages from Magee's book that related the story.

Jack pulled a gray binder from one of his office files. In it were type written copies of two hundred letters he had written and sent to his mother almost fifty years earlier while serving in Korea. Scott and I read a number of them. "You must have written almost a letter a day," I said. "Well, not quite," he replied. "Now, my mother, she wrote me every day.  I made a promise to my Mother when I left for Korea," said Jack. "I told her I would tell her everything, that I wouldn't keep anything from her."

But Jack hadn't told his mother everything. Two months of his thirteen-month tour had been spent outside Seoul clearing minefields. "Our own troops planted the things," he said with a rather incredulous tone. "Toward the end of the war they all had to removed, civilians were stepping on them. We worked in teams of two, one of us sweeping with the detector, the other crawling along beside the man sweeping, feeling and looking for the trip wires that were so hard to see in the grass. I swept mines for two months. My partner saved my life at least once. I was stepping over a log and he pulled my leg back, Just before I stepped on a wire there on the other side of that log. We had a man blown up the first day of that duty. A number of the boys lost arms and legs. I received two months of hazardous pay for that work. That was the worst I can remember. I didn't write my mother about that," added Jack.

The things he did tell his mother, in the letters sent home, had all been saved. His mother kept every one and had eventually given them back to him when he returned from the war. Recently Ruth had painstakingly typed out each letter and put them in the binder.  "That was a lot of disciplined writing," I remarked, "Perhaps you should write out and consolidate all the history you've collected concerning General Hatton and the 7th Tennessee?" Ruth smiled and answered for him. "Jack doesn't have the patience for that sort of thing anymore."

It was late afternoon. Our intended quick stop in Lebanon had stretched to almost five hours. We said our reluctant good-byes to Jack and Ruth. I took their picture, standing together in the store, before shelves of TV sets and VCRs. This Tennessee couple seemed to have found good lives here in Lebanon. They were proud of their rural southern town. They were proud of their heritage too, and I was somewhat surprised to realize I understood why.

I smiled remembering that story. Those events had taken place right there, at the spot where I was now aiming my camera. Somewhere between one of the painted parking stalls of the parking lot, in April of 1863, Captain Hanna's provost guard had marched out the courthouse doors and taken a group of rather astonished Rebel prisoners onto the street and toward the front.

Jack had been unfamiliar with Wilder's men and their activities in and around Lebanon. For him Lebanon's Civil War history was about Robert Hatton and the 7th Tennessee, or it involved John Hunt Morgan. I related to Jack several brief excerpts from Magee's book "We'll need to get copies of that material," Jack said in a matter of fact manner, like a police officer authorized to confiscate crime

What a crazy place it must have once been. The Civil War stood their world on its head.

A few miles south of Lebanon we passed a deserted crossroads still listed on my topographical map as Baird's Mill. Once, a long time ago, a homestead and sawmill had been there.  Wilder's men had camped there too. There was nothing left now, and as we stopped to look at that nothing, I had a peculiar sense of irony concerning our visit to Lebanon that day. It was the irony of having looked for one thing and then discovered something else. I had been searching for Wilder and his men. Instead, to some extent, I found the Confederate Robert Hatton and the 7th Tennessee. I found them in the town, in the quiet cemetery, and in Jack's memory. And in finding them, in seeing something of their world--in seeing something of Jack and Ruth's lives--my picture of the way things were was somehow changed forever. I wasn't sure yet exactly what that change was, but there was a difference, an altered perception. It was something I needed to think about. Very strange world, I thought. Very strange war.

We left Cato TV and Lebanon behind, heading south on 231 for Murfreesboro, traveling at times over the same route John Hargrave and his friends would have ridden on their way back to the Union camps. It was the same road Private Vance had struggled along, his head honeycombed with bullet holes, the place where a kindly slave had helped him along. And near this road, all along its route had lived frightened southern citizens. On word of approaching Yankees they hid their horses in parlors, hitched to bedposts; and they buried the cured hams beneath corncribs in the yard.

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