Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 14, 2013

Loraine Anderson: A 'Travels with Charley' touring plan

Local columnist

---- — I don’t know what gets into me, but sometimes a passing thought grabs me and won’t let go, no matter how crazy it seems.

The latest persistent thought was little more than a vague notion for the last few years until July 3 when I decided to go to the public library after work to pick up a quick read for the holiday.

I came out with four Civil War books, as well as John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley,” his classic based on his road trip around the perimeter of the United States in the 1960s with his poodle named Charley.

I spent that July 3 evening on the back porch, looking up battles that my great-great-grandfather Charles Dickerson fought in while serving in the 23rd Michigan Infantry during Gen. William T. Sherman’s March to Atlanta Campaign in 1864.

By July 4 I knew the notion had morphed into a firm idea, if not an outright plan for some future vacation. I’ve not been free of it since.

I spent Independence Day weeding and working in the yard on what must have been the hottest and most humid day of the year — the sweltering kind of day you’d expect to experience in Georgia.

It helped me imagine how hot and terrible those Atlanta campaign battles must have been in July 1864. I went inside with every intention of drinking an ice-cold glass of water and coming right back.

Once inside, though, I began researching well-ventilated camping tents big enough to stand up in and maybe even set up a roadside writing room. I looked up Georgia maps, Civil War National Battlefields, museums and campgrounds.

I made copies of things I wanted to save and filed them in a folder I called “Following Charles,” without even thinking twice. It was then that I remembered that July 4, 2006, was the day I transcribed a letter Charles had written to his wife Cordelia and their children from Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, not far from Atlanta.

Was this notion a coincidence or an ancestral nudge? Since 2006, that letter has opened up a whole new and beautiful window to my American ancestors.

I know I’ll never really know who or what kind of man Charles Dickerson was, but I do know from his letters that he was an abolitionist willing to die for his belief that slavery was wrong. I know he loved his family and missed them dearly.

I’d simply like to know more about the places he saw and those three years of battle experience from 1862 to 1865.

And maybe write about him, what he did, and how important it still is to me today.