The saying goes that history is written by the victors. But as so many have pointed out, the glaring exception to that rule is, in fact, the American South. While the rest of the nation has all but forgotten about the “War of Northern Aggression”, every nuance and cranny of each and every military engagement, from major battle to trivial disagreement has been dutifully chronicled in full and intimate depth by the subsequent generations of the still proud, yet defunct nation-to-be.
Take for instance the saga of Frederick J. Page, the namesake of the High School in Rudderville, TN, just outside Franklin.
It was the fall of 1864, and Fred Page owned a cannon. He had no military training, nor high breeding. He simply owned a cannon. That, along with a wife who could sew a great officer’s uniform, gave Page the gumption to promote himself to the honorific rank of Colonel. It was akin to the nerdy kid who owns the only baseball bat in the neighborhood and who then decrees himself team captain. And if Page had lived 100 or so years later, he would have indeed been that nerdy kid. But back to the cannon story…
“Colonel” Page was the only commanding officer in the state who was not present at the infamous Battle of Franklin. It was no fault of his own. You see, the Colonel was held up by a heavy rain that had occurred three days earlier and left his fields a muddy slough.
Now, the Battle of Franklin, is not much more than a footnote in the annals of the War twixt the States. However, it has been fully designated by history buffs to have been a major turning point. For in addition to several hundred enlisted men, the South lost no less than six generals that day.
While the battle was raging not 25 miles away, our friend Freddy had his saddle mule, Sarah, tethered to said cannon attempting in vain to dredge it out of the muddy gulley that now surrounded his farm. Yes, in taking a shortcut, he had become horribly mired in the… uh…mire, and unable to join his ranks with the weapon that quite possible could have turned the tide of the entire war. Had it not been for the massive rain, and Page’s rush through his field, our nation might have indeed been split in two, Texas would have remained under Mexican rule, Alaska would still be Russian and Hawaii’s Royalty may have been ousted by the British or Chinese rather than by our own Senate (under the dispute of President Cleveland).
But the story doesn’t end there. That’s just first chapter. For as a testament to Page’s missteps, that cannon remained in that spot for years, buried halfway in the mud. For twelve seasons, Page simply planted his crops around the defunct boom maker. But then, as his tale of woe evolved more into a yarn of dire heroism, he decided to make that spot the entrance to his farm. He would regale visitors with the epic saga of his rush to get his cannon to the front, how he single-handedly battled a regiment of Yankee foot soldiers, and was knocked unconscious by the butt of one of their “damnéd rifles”. (Though the scar on his forehead bore a striking resemblance to a mule shoe.
To this day, the cannon still rests there, rising proudly from the lawn outside the entrance to the High School that bears his name. And his near battlefield exploits are taught year after year in the history classes there. There is even a poorly executed painting of the struggle done by a senior from the class of 1977 hanging in the school library.
I should have said the cannon sat there. You see, about two weeks ago where the cannon lay half exposed for cheerleaders to pose for photos on, all that greeted the morning’s arrival of students was a gaping hole and a pile of red earth.
You would have thought that the Liberty Bell had been stolen. Williamson County’s answer to CSI was called in. I had no idea there were so many trench coats in Middle Tennessee. Theories have been conjured up. Suspects have been considered. But still the answer to this heinous mystery has yet to even come close to being revealed. Naturally, everyone’s first assumption was that a rival school stole the relic, and it is no doubt hidden away in an unused tobacco barn beside a posh neighborhood currently under development. New home buyers are right now probably wandering through a luxurious model three-and-a-half-bath-split-level, unaware that they are in spitting distance of a treasured antiquity. However, no one has even hinted at taking credit for the act. No ransom demands. Nothing.
The Page High football team desperately wants to enact revenge on the offending school, by kidnapping a goat mascot, or burning something in effigy. But there are no clear targets for vendetta. The football season has been over for months, so the rivalry tensions are in their seasonal ebb.
So the police spent the morning taking castings of all the shoe prints around the hole, only to find that most, if not all of them belonged to the curious onlookers that first got off the school buses. A shovel was left behind, but the perp must have been wearing work gloves and left no prints. No tire tracks. Not even any wheel ruts from the cannon. It was as if the thing had been spirited away.
While suggesting the supernatural is a mere poetic musing, it must be said that many of the local amateur ghost hunters have been very quick to suggest interference from beyond the grave. There have been many reliable accounts that the ghosts of Fred Page and that of Tod Carter regularly reenact their famous duel that ultimately took the life of Col. Page. (It all happened on what is now the practice football field.)
No one was actually injured in the quarrel, however. On the morning of the duel, June 21, 1892, the dampness in the air caused Carter’s pistol to misfire. Page’s shot missed Carter by several feet. But Carter insisted that he have another shot with a reliable weapon. So in a fit of rage, Fred stomped back into the house to retrieve another. But his front steps were horribly termite infested and finally broke through under his 230 pounds of angry flesh. He broke his left femur, refused the treatment of a surgeon (who was related to Carter), and died of gangrene 9 days later. Believers hold that Carter has returned to get his due.
So, as theories are flying and accusations are thrown around like so much toilet paper in the neighbor’s trees, an interesting thing happened yesterday evening. One Paige Fredrickson (no relation), a freshman on staff of the school paper, was covering the event from her own angle, with the assumption that it was an inside job. As she was taking photos of the crime scene and comparing them to the yearbook photos of the cheerleaders posing on the gun barrel, she made a remarkable observation.
Without telling anyone other than her older brother Adam, she set about recovering the cannon on her own. You see, late last night Paige and Adam took their shovels to the dirt pile beside the hole. And as they re-filled the pit, Paige’s assumption became confirmed fact. Yes, the cannon had not been moved at all, but was resting peaceably underneath the mound of earth that came out of the hole that had been dug beside it.
Paige has been rightfully hailed as a hero. Or, heroine, if you don’t mind your heroes sounding like illicit drugs.
The practical joker (or jokers) who masterminded the plot is still at large, but my guess is that he (or she, or they) will be numbered among the graduates this spring. Whoever they are, they have a great ability to keep a straight face and managed not a single grin or other giveaway during the entire school assembly this afternoon where Miss Fredrickson was honored.
If you have read this far, you are probably wondering which parts of this story have been made up. For I did promise that half of the sentences are true. Now, with a sigh, I must confess that the first sentence was not one of them. In fact, very little of this story is factual. However, I hope that even though you knew there were lies, that you wanted to believe them and were entertained just the same.
Yes, there was a Battle of Franklin where six Southern Generals died. And according to “Gone With the Wind”, Rhett Butler’s actions that day earned him a commendation after the war. And while Rhett Butler is obviously a fictional character, Tod Carter is not, and was indeed a war hero. Fred J. Page was also a real person, but I have no idea who he was, when he lived, nor why the school (that has no cannon in front) was named for him. Oh, and he never had a mule named Sarah. Besides, you all should know that all mules are born male, and sterile.
©2009 Tim Hodge