A Blog About 1864 Civil War Arkansas

Walking Into History…

Posted By on July 20, 2014

PicsArt_1405859670844 I took a walk into history yesterday. I was invited to accompany a delightful group of local residents on Saturday to view a piece of property near Sheridan with an amazing, almost hidden past. Once we arrived at the site, we faced a dense forest which we soon found ourselves in. My guide is a gentleman who is fast becoming an expert on the Military Road and its trek through present day Grant County. He assured me that the road did indeed snake its way through the forest we found ourselves in. A third of the way into the forest, we crossed a fence line and there before us….was the Military Road.

The outline of the road is clear and, with a little maintenance of removing some saplings and vines, could still be ridden on today. The road has a gravel base which would have spared the Federal Army the nightmare of the clay found in the Saline River bottoms. The property we were invited to view includes an approximate 1/4 mile stretch of the original Military Road. While there are other areas of the road scattered about Grant and Saline counties, most have been turned into county roads and have been widened and graveled over. Here before us was the original road with its high banks indicative of its long us as a road. To my knowledge, this is the most intact length of the Military Road still in existence in the area.

The ladies who accompanied us on the trek are the owners of the property and were gracious to allow us to see this amazing piece of Grant County history. History I’m afraid that will have to remain hidden. In this day and age of disrespect, land owner’s rights are constantly being imposed upon where some in our society have no respect for the property of others. The property we were shown is an island of sorts, surrounded by other properties and is, for the most part, hidden from normal foot/road traffic. Perhaps that is one of the primary reasons the original road has remained intact. The ladies spoke of possibly clearing away the saplings and vines to expose the complete roadway. That to me is an excellent idea which would allow both photography of such an important piece of history as well as archeological excavations of the area which could yield even more insight in this 1864 retreat route.

The road is in good hands as I can sense already these young ladies are passionate about the preservation of this important piece of Grant County history. It seemed hard even for me to look upon that road and realize that history marched in front of me 150 years ago. Frederick Steele, Eugene Carr, Frederick Salomom and thousands of foot soldiers…they were all there, right in front of me…150 years ago.

It was an amazing day.

You Don’t Wanna Know…

Posted By on July 18, 2014


“You don’t wanna know what a soft metal musket ball does when it enters the human body.” – Brian Williams NBC News Anchor

The video in today’s blog in only four minutes long, but it provides remarkable insight into one of the deadliest facets of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry – the Minie Ball. Here is a link to the video – you should watch this video.

The Civil War Minie Ball

When relic hunters first descended upon the Saline River bottoms in the 1970′s they began finding thousands of items left behind by the two armies from their epic clash in April of 1864. Swords, bayonets, belt buckles, were just some of the things uncovered. But it was the minie ball, I believe, that is the real story there. Based upon the statics from the battle, it is possible to calculate an approximate number of shots fired during the battle – and it is  staggering.

Consider for example the Federal line. This was the Union’s Third Division that was placed on the eastern edge of Grooms’ Field as a barrier to the Confederate advance. This bought the necessary time needed for the Federals to make their escape across the Saline River. Historians estimate there were 5,000-7,000 troops forming that wall of blue at Grooms’ Field. Now, consider that each soldier was initially issued 40 rounds of ammunition before the battle began and using the conservative number of 5,000 troops then we have 200,000 Minie balls initially being fired. After-action reports, those written by the Federal commanders, talk of the line being constantly being resupplied with ammunition – the ammunition supply trains being placed in the field just east of Grooms’ Field (Tucker Field). Resupplying the Federal troops only twice more would pull our number of bullets fired upward to 600,000, which I believe would be a conservative number.

On the Confederate side, there were approximately 8,000 troops engaged at Jenkins’ Ferry. Again, using our 40 rounds per man base, we have an initial disbursement of 320,000 Minie Balls. Now, resupply these troops only twice more as we did the Federals and the number of rounds fired by the Confederates swell to 960,000. After-action reports also speak of the Confederate troops being resupplied during the battle on the ridge that overlooked the bottom.

1.5 millón rounds? Is that even possible? That seems inconceivable that such a number of bullets could have been fired during that battle.

A soldier of the 27th/38th Arkansas Consolidated Confederate Infantry remembered that day:

“It was a critical moment. The men were mowed down and in the midst of this storm of bullets and groans of the stricken, not a gun was fired from our ranks, which was certainly strange. Though the enemy’s line was behind trees and logs, yet I saw some of the blue uniforms exposed to view…he [Colonel Grinstead] saved us from destruction as he ordered us to right flank into the timber, but a raking, galling fire was hurled at us on the way there.”

Again, the soldier of the 27th/Arkansas recalled:

“When we passed through the timber, we entered an open field and marched through it toward the thick growth of timber on the opposite side and when we had got in thirty paces of the edge of the timber a destructive fire was opened up on us from a solid line of the enemy who were posted behind trees and logs in the edge of the timber. The deadly messengers flew thick and fast, killing and wounding the men at a fearful rate. Several of the men sank down, either shot dead or fatally wounded. It appeared that the missiles came as thick as hail. Our line staggered but there was no panic but it really appeared impossible to withstand such a raking fire. We heard the roar of the enemy’s small arms and the hissing of the Minnie balls as they sped through the air, with a thud when they struck a man, or a splash in the mud and water when they struck the ground. The terrible war of the guns and the noise of the balls were making and despairing groans of the wounded seemed awful. There were no orders given to return the fire but onward we went carrying our guns on our shoulders while terrible vollies [sic] were poured into our ranks.”

Relic hunters in the 1970′s recalled finding thousands upon thousands of Minie Balls scattered all across that river bottoms. One relic hunter, Leonard Edwards, talked about how they would fill five gallon buckets full of Minie Balls and finding so many bullets they would run out of buckets. Sound farfetched? Not at all, as I remember as a child seeing Mr. Edward’s “relic room” in his home at Tull with five gallon buckets filled with Minie Balls scattered across the room in addition to the scores of other relics he had found.  

Driving through the quiet that today is the Saline River bottoms, it doesn’t seem possible that such a battle occurred there. It doesn’t seem possible that over twelve thousand men waged war there. It doesn’t seem possible that almost 2,000 men were killed and wounded there with hundreds still out there – in unmarked graves scattered throughout that river bottom. It doesn’t seem possible.

But it happened.

And we should never forget that.


It’s a Long Way to Tipperary…

Posted By on July 17, 2014


The title of today’s blog, “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” was a popular turn of the last century British song that became popular during World War I, becoming one of the songs of “the great war.”

The American Civil War had its share of war songs. From “Dixie” to the “Battle Cry of Freedom,” there are scores of songs the soldiers sang around the campfire reminding them of home.

Something I discovered when I first began researching the Battle of  Jenkins’ Ferry was the unique cultures that came together in those Saline River bottoms.

Several of the soldiers of the 9th Wisconsin were of German descent and stories tell of some of the men speaking virtually no English. The soldiers mentioned in yesterday’s blog from Pella, Iowa were reported to be of Dutch origin. One of the soldier’s diaries I have talks about Union General Frederick Salomon, who commanded the Third Division, alternating speaking German and English during the battle.

Leading the 43rd Illinois Infantry at Jenkins’ Ferry was thirty-nine year old Adolph Engelmann . A native of Jusboch, Bavaria (present day Germany), he immigrated with his parents to America in 1834. He served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War and in 1849 he left America for his native Bavaria to fight in the Revolution there, only to discover it was over by the time he arrived. Returning to America when the War Between the States erupted, Engelmann enlisted in the Union Army and was commissioned as a Colonel of the 43rd Illinois Infantry.

But what of Tipperary? The Federal Surgeon, William L. Nicholson (pictured in today’s blog), whom I will be discussing in my upcoming presentation at the Red River Symposium, was a native of Tipperary County, Ireland. He was a graduate of both Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and the University of Glasgow. After migrating to Canada in 1858, he worked his way south to Iowa in 1860, where, when the Civil War broke out, enlisted as a surgeon in the 29th Iowa Infantry.  For Nicholson and the other Federal surgeons, Jenkins’ Ferry was the stuff of nightmares – having been ill-prepared for the battle and then being left behind by the Federals and taken prisoner by the Confederates. His is an amazing story which I hope you’ll travel to Washington State Park next Saturday, July 26th, to hear.

For the men who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry, it was a long way from home.

For Surgeon William Nicholson, it truly was a long way to Tipperary.



Where Honorable Men Sleep….

Posted By on July 16, 2014



For 85 years, the grave of Daniel Dingeman lay unmarked. He was one of three Union Civil War veterans buried in Oakland Cemetery in Pella, Iowa who lay in unmarked graves for years following their deaths. That changed recently.

On Memorial Day 2014, members of the 49th Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment gathered at Oakland Cemetery and dedicated three new military markers, including the one shown in today’s blog.

150 years ago, Private Dingeman was, no doubt, reflecting on the horror he had just experienced fighting at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. He survived the battle to fight another day.

In the South, similar events are held by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Organizations such as these play a vital role in helping to keep the memories of those soldiers – blue and grey – from fading away into history. I have attended several marker dedications here in Arkansas conducted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It is a solemn event, with those both participating as well as attending humbled at the respect paid to the veteran by those gentleman who come to honor them. It is a moving experience.

It is good to see that their northern counterparts are as active in ensuring the soldiers who wore he blue uniform are not forgotten as well.

Private Daniel Dingeman rests today beneath a marker befitting his military service.

He is one of the lucky ones. Too many of his brothers – blue and grey – sleep tonight on the coldness that is the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield in a grave, forever unmarked.

That is hallowed ground in those Saline River bottoms – as it should be.

A “Holy Cow” Moment…

Posted By on July 15, 2014



Some days you have a “Holy Cow” moment. Today was one of those days.

I’ve been working on transcribing some letters written by Lieutenant Edward Cunningham, who served as Aide-de-Camp to Confederate General E. Kirby Smith. Cunningham wrote several letters, one of which details the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas, fought on April 30, 1864. Cunningham was at Jenkins’ Ferry and provides some amazing insights into the battle. Keep watching for a blog soon on Lieutenant Cunningham.

Now…about the “Holy Cow” moment today.While working on the Cunningham letters, I stumbled across an amazing website published by the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The website focuses on William Elisha Stoker, a Private in the 18th Texas Infantry. Stoker fought in General Thomas Waul’s Brigade throughout the war, including the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, where he was shot in the chest, a wound that would prove fatal.

The website is absolutely amazing and includes a short, professionally made video on the life of Private Stoker including his death at Jenkins’ Ferry. The video alone is worth visiting their website.

Included on the website is the drawing in today’s blog. It is a drawing showing the death of Private William Stoker on the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield. To my knowledge, it is the only drawing or painting representing actual action during the battle in the Saline River bottoms.

Take a moment and visit the link below to visit this amazing website about a Texas Confederate who gave his life at Jenkins’ Ferry.

William Stoker Biographical Video

Private William Stoker – National Civil War Museum Website


Friend to Friend…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Posted By on July 13, 2014

 friend to friend1

There is a masonic monument at the Gettysburg battlefield entitled “Friend to Friend.” It symbolizes the dying moments of Confederate General Lewis Armistead as he lay mortally wounded following Pickett’s Charge. He was being attended to by a fellow mason, Union Captain Henry Bingham. The moment has been memorialized in a heart wrenching scene from the movie “Gettysburg.”

At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, a similar act of kindness was shown an officer facing death.

J.M Brown, a  Chaplain with the 29th Arkansas Infantry, recalled encountering a Union officer on the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield:

“My regiment had crossed over a fence on the battlefield when I found a union captain who had been shot in the neck. He had taken position behind the roots of a large pine tree and fallen back into the water, out of which he was trying to keep his head. I took him out of the hole and placed his knapsack under his head. He held up his hand on which was fine ring. He said, “my sister, English Settlement, Iowa.” But he was so far gone I could not get his name. I regretted I did not preserve the fine belt, sword and scabbard that I left beside his dying body.”

The officers name has been lost to time. Even the town his sister lived in, “English Settlement, Iowa,” is gone. It was settled until 1878 and is now considered one of the ghost towns of Marion County, Iowa. We’ll never know the identify of this officer. I’ve often wondered what became of that ring, as it must have had immense sentimental value to that soldier, as he expelled his dying breath to insure its safe passage.

I have no doubt there were other acts of kindness that day in the Saline River bottoms, as the living comforted the dying.

Below is a short video from the movie “Gettysburg” of Armistead’s last moments. I’d like to think that the encounter between Chaplain Brown and the Union officer would have been just as touching.

General Armistead’s Last Moments at Gettysburg….

Was it Worth it?

Posted By on July 12, 2014



Josiah Hayes died a broken man…literally.

In life, he was a Lieutenant Colonel with the 12th Kansas U.S. Volunteer Infantry. He had enlisted on September 30, 1862, committed to preserving the Union. He led his men into battle on several occasions, all the while standing in the front, leading his men. In April of 1864, Colonel Hayes led his men into the Saline River bottoms…where his life would change forever.

A veteran of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry recalled later seeing Colonel Hayes after he was brought down in the heat of battle:

“We left the General [Samuel Rice] as he was being slowly taken from the field. He was placed in an ambulance with Lt. Col. Hays of the 12th Kansas, whose mangled thigh was held by one arm of the kind hearted Capt. Lacy, who also held in his lap the foot of his beloved General, himself sitting the while in a pool of blood. The General gave no heed to his wound, which, but for his mental excitement, must have been excessively painful. He was altogether concerned about the issue of the contest, which was not decided till he reached the river.” 

Colonel Hayes was taken to the Federal field hospital where his left leg was amputated at the hip. The leg, which he had used to march a thousand miles, was now unceremoniously thrown out the window, joining the pile of other limbs – a Colonels’ leg looking the same as any of the foot soldiers who had gone down that day at Jenkins’ Ferry. The wound would plague him for the rest of his life. According to Colonel Hayes’ doctor, Thomas Hammil:

“That he was frequently called upon to treat [Colonel Hayes] when suffering from the effects of his wound. His leg was amputated near the hip joint and more than a year after the operation the wound broke out and a piece of lead was taken from the stump one-half the weight of a mini-ball.”

It only got worse for Colonel Hayes. He was unable to wear an artificial limb and struggled with his wound until his death on March 3, 1881. His wife, Nancy, recalled his final days in her widow’s pension application:

“that [Colonel Hayes] suffered amputation of left leg near the hip joint. Over one year afterwards the leg was cut open and a piece of ball removed, and he was never entirely free from pain, and was seldom able to sleep unless under the influence of opiates.”

I wonder, during those sleepless nights, did Colonel Hayes’ thoughts return back to Jenkins’ Ferry, where his life changed forever? After his stroke and as he lay dying, Mary Custis Lee, wife of General Robert E. Lee, described the delirium General Lee suffered as death came closer; “He wandered [back] to those dreadful battlefields.” Scores of soldiers were wounded during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry and each carried the memory of that day with them for the remainder of their lives.

As he lay there in his bed in his later years with sleep escaping him, I wonder if Colonel Hayes asked himself if it was all worth it.

The photograph in today’s blog is from an archeological dig at Fort Mason, a Civil War era fort near San Francisco. The pile of bones were found near the hospital site at the fort. According to one of the site archeologists;

“It appeared some of the bones were cleanly cut, indicating possibly that they were amputated limbs.”

“Cleanly Cut” – if only the memories of that horrible day could have been cut away so easily.

It was a bad day at Jenkins’ Ferry – a day that lasted a lifetime for so many of those brave men who wore the blue and the grey.


Herding Sheep…in the Midst of Battle

Posted By on July 11, 2014

Sheep 1

There were some unusual occurrences during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, but nothing as strange as the sheep.

In the early morning hours of April 30, 1864, a battle was getting underway in the Saline River bottoms. Confederate General Thomas Churchill had met with one of his Brigade commanders, General James Tappan, and explained his mission. Tappan was to lead his brigade, consisting of  of the 19th/24th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry, the 27th/38th Consolidated Arkansas Infantry, and the 33rd Arkansas Infantry, across Grooms’ Field head-on into the wall of 5,000 Federal troops waiting for them in the wooded area on the eastern side of Grooms’ Field.

In an effort to test the Federal defense, a ruse was devised amongst the Confederates.  Apparently, in an effort to test the strength of the Federal line, several Confederate horsemen (dressed in disguise as Federal soldiers) began herding a flock of sheep across Grooms’ Field hoping to convince the Federal entrenchment they were a foraging party bringing back fresh meat to the starving Federals. The ruse did not work and soon the Federal line opened fire on the “shepherds,” driving them back into the wooded area between Wilder and Groom’s fields.

Can you imagine being a Federal soldier, hunkered down behind fallen logs you had hurriedly assembled, knowing there were thousands of Confederate soldiers about to converge upon you and you peek out to see, not a the Rebel army, but a herd of sheep coming directly at you.

There seems no doubt that a few of the sheep went down in the muddy field, some of the first “casualties” of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Years after the battle, Grant County Museum director Elwin Goolsby would tell of hearing that a relic hunter had recovered a sheep’s bell in the middle of what was once Grooms’ Field – the bell damaged by a bullet.




The Person Behind the Blog….

Posted By on July 10, 2014

911 Dispatch Console

While I enjoy writing about the stories of the men of 1864 Arkansas, it is my professional job that is my passion. As we’ve had to rebuild the blog, and in the process reaching a new audience of readers, I thought it a good idea to reintroduce myself to those of you who may not be familiar with who I am. What I am not, is a professional writer. I enjoy writing and have been blessed that thousands of you have purchased my book, “Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas.” It is humbling and it lets me know that there are many of you out there who believe that the story of those brave men should never be lost to history. By the spring of next year, I will have completed my third book.

It is a fun, healthy distraction, this writing I do. After you read today’s blog, I hope you’ll understand what I mean by “healthy distraction.” I am a 911 Dispatcher by profession, now in my 20th year with the Little Rock Police Department. I love my job – I am passionate about my job – and I am good at my job. If you call 911, I am trained to have the mindset that I am going to pluck you out of the jaws of disaster – your own personal Superman for the minutes you and I are on that call together. However, there is an emotional toll that that job can bring, rather almost a vacuum of emotions, where you focus your entire being on saving that life and desensitize at the same time. It is an amazing balance, almost a mental dance if you will, and few are able to do it. Our turnover rate for new 911 dispatchers working long-term is about 70%, and that’s about average as many who want to stand among us cannot even comprehend the amount of stress they are about to walk into. It’s a different type of work-related stress than most people are used to, or even want to know about.

I work the midnight watch – literally that voice of calm in the night. The life of a 911 Dispatcher is hard to explain to people sometimes. I hope the article I am including in today’s blog might help you see what the other side of the phone call is like.

I discovered the article below, which I am attaching in its entirety that ABC News recently featured. It explains “who we are,” and “what we do.” It gives you a little insight into the person on the other side of the that phone when you make, what often is the most stressful, desperate call of your life. The photograph in today’s blog is not of our Communications Center – photography is not allowed in there due to security concerns (another part of our world that changed after September 11th is that there are people out there who would like to kill us as first responders – a comforting thought indeed).  The photograph will give you an idea of what a typical 911 Dispatcher’s “office” looks like.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read the article below. It will give you a little insight into who it is that writes this blog and publishes those books. My life cannot even begin to touch what those hours at Jenkins’ Ferry must have been like. I’ll keep answering those calls and telling the stories of 1864 Civil War Arkansas.  It’s a pretty good life balance for me.


Life of Constant Crises Takes Emotional Toll on 911 Operators

For Brooklyn Mundo, the profound stress of being a 911 dispatcher is encapsulated in the day that she took a call from a Florida hair salon where four people had just been gunned down.

She remained calm throughout the ordeal, hung up the phone, went outside, wept for 10 minutes and then she had to “suck it up, brush it off, go back in and take another call.”

Mundo is no longer a 911 phone operator, partly because of the personal toll the job demanded of her.

“Your body starts to live in crisis mode because you’re always dealing with the crises of other people,” Mundo of Casselberry, Fla., told ABC News.

“I didn’t realize it right away, but over time I noticed that I was almost getting number where it was difficult for me to have a soft heart to the people I really care about,” she said.

From Heart Attacks to Massacres, 911 Operators Hear It All

Mundo’s experience is similar to many other emergency dispatchers, the faceless voices of calm and reason who help people through their most difficult moments.

These literal first responders go unrecognized for the life-saving work they do, and the emotional and psychological trauma also often goes unrecognized. It is work that can exact a significant toll on dispatchers, sometimes to the point of being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“For a person calling 911, it is the one worst moment of their lives,” former Vancouver 911 dispatcher Rae-Lynne Dicks told ABC News. “They don’t know or understand how the system works other than that’s the number I’m supposed to call when my life is falling apart or something is on fire or somebody’s having a heart attack or any of the many thousands of reasons a person would have to call 911.”

“For the 911 operator, the call-takers, that’s what they hear all day,” Dicks said.

“The minute you hear somebody scream, your initial reaction is, ‘Oh my God’ and you start freaking out.”
The spectrum of calls includes pocket-dials, stolen bikes, medical emergencies, violence and unimaginable horrors that some call-takers “wish to God” they could forget.

“People think, ‘Oh, they’re just dispatchers. It’s their job. They’re used to it,’” Georgia 911 supervisor Elaina Fincher told ABC News. “No, we’re really not. You don’t ever know what you’re going to get when you pick up that phone. You never know.”

Some emergency centers have both 911 operators, also called call-takers, and dispatchers. Operators answer the calls and talk to members of the public, finding out what their emergency is and where they are. Dispatchers communicate with and deploy police, firefighters and EMS to the scene. In some places, one person does both jobs.

For 911 emergency staffers across the U.S. and Canada interviewed by ABC News, the first thing they must learn to do is to maintain their cool, no matter what is happening at the other end of the phone line.

“The minute you hear somebody scream, your initial reaction is, ‘Oh my God’ and you start freaking out. But you just have to — no matter how hard your heart is pounding — you have to keep your voice calm and it takes a while to learn that,” said a Colorado dispatcher who asked that her name not be used.

While maintaining a calm voice can be learned, many said they just can’t learn to shake some calls. A number of the operators said that calls involving children are particularly difficult as well as calls where they hear someone die, whether it is from injuries or suicide.

Emergency Dispatchers Can Suffer PTSD

“Having that thought in your mind stuck with you that when somebody does decide to pull the trigger while they’re on the phone with you, you’re the last voice that person has heard forever,” Fincher said. “They’ll never hear another voice and yours was the last one.”

“And then hearing somebody admit on the phone that, ‘Hey, I just stabbed my husband in the chest and he’s bleeding’ and stuff like that,” she continued. “Having a person call and say their 5-year-old child’s leg was just amputated by a bear trap … stuff like that just sticks with you.”

Fincher said those are the unforgettable calls that “haunt you, that you wish to God you could just block out.”

Once emergency services are on-scene, the callers usually hang up and the call-takers never know the outcome of the situations.

“After that heightened call, when we hang up, we don’t have any closure. We don’t know the end result of what happened,” said a dispatcher named Victoria from Massachusetts, who asked that her last name not be used. “Imagine yourself reading a really intense novel that you cannot put down and you turn the page and the last two chapters have been ripped out.”

The tolls of the job affect operators’ personal lives in various ways.

Some like Robert Schumacher, a dispatcher in Antioch, Ill., say they work hard to “compartmentalize” the different parts of their lives.

“I try to leave it at the door,” Schumacher said. “One recent call, it came home with me and bothered me for a day or so, but then you have to let it go. There’s nothing I can do personally. I did everything I could to help this person. I’ve never had any issues with PTSD or anything like that.”

Others can’t prevent the traumas of work from seeping into their personal lives.

“They’ll never hear another voice and yours was the last one.”
Mundo, the Florida dispatcher, said 911 dispatchers and operators are expected to be as emotionally tough as hardened cops.

“In law enforcement, there’s this sub-culture or subconscious thought that says, if you need counseling, if you need help, then maybe you can’t take it,” Mundo said. “It’s kind of like a hero complex where you feel like you’re saving people all the time and even if you need help, you just want to brush it off and say, ‘You know what, forget it. I’ll just keep going.’ You just want to push through it when you really do need some help.”

Fincher reached her “breaking point” in 2012 when she was at the park with her daughter and realized that she was agitated all the time.

“If we keep this bottled up, we’re bound to explode and have a mental breakdown,” Fincher said. “I had reached a point where I was just so tired all the time, I was angry all the time and I really didn’t know why.”

She went to see a doctor and was diagnosed with PTSD from her job. Part of her treatment included making a Facebook page for 911 operators and dispatchers that provides a community for support and sharing.

The operators and dispatchers celebrate the joys of successful calls, whether it’s keeping a parent calm until they discover that their missing child has been hiding in the closet or talking someone through an injury until help arrives.

Michelle Lilly, a member of the Department of Psychology at Northern Illinois University, co-authored a study on the emotional stress endured by 911 operators and dispatchers.

911 Operators’ Long Term Toll

“They’re handling tons of calls in which they are experiencing pretty strong emotional distress and response to them. People handling calls where parents have found their child drowned in a pool and having a sibling in the house with a knife that’s trying to attack the other or having to talk to people who are literally dying within a natural disaster. I mean just horrifying calls,” Lily said.

“You don’t have to be on the scene, you don’t have to be a police officer or a firefighter to be traumatized by these calls. So there certainly was PTSD symptomology,” she said.

The National Emergency Number Association said the field has begun to appreciate “the long lasting and severe physical and psychological effects” of the 911 jobs, according to Ty Wooten, NENA’s director of Education and Operational Issues.

The group recommends that 911 centers create an eight hour course for employees on recognizing and handling the effects of stress.

Lily said the mental toughness demonstrated by the 911 crews was remarkable and was an illustration of how “resilient” they are.

“I think our rates of psychopathology are actually pretty low,” she said.


Highway of Sadness…

Posted By on July 9, 2014

Honor Guard

I  once met a man who had an amazing story to tell about the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. I never knew his name, as we spoke at one of my book signings at the Grant County Museum in Sheridan. I have to admit, while I’m pretty good at faces, names have never been been my strong suit.

The gentleman I met that day was in his 90′s and had, I am sure, seen his share of triumphs and tragedies in his long life.

He told me an incredible story from years gone by. Many years ago, his father worked on the road crew that was building Highway 46 that ran through the Saline River bottoms. He was not sure of the exact year, but he remembered accompanying his father as he drove a scraper through the bottom creating the road bed. Once they crossed the Saline River, working their way westward toward Leola, they began seeing more than dirt being plowed up by the road scraper.

It was men, or at least the earthly remains of them. As the scraper worked its way through the river bottoms, father and son would watch as every few yards a human skull would roll out of the dirt and onto the side of the newly made road bed. The gentleman told me his father would stop the machine, climb down, take the skull and rebury it on the side of the road. Then he would restart the machine and move forward, until he would repeat the same ritual at the next skull they came upon.

He was not sure how many soldiers they uncovered while making that roadbed but there were several. Today, those soldiers rest, not in some manicured national cemetery, but on the side of a state highway – forever lost to history.

After he told me that story, I drove the length of Highway 46 from Jenkins’ Ferry to Leola, realizing what lay beside me as I drove.

There is a sadness now for me when I drive Highway 46, knowing what is out there.

Sometimes I think about digging a few inches of soil all along that stretch of Highway 46 and place the now sacred soil into a wooden coffin, with the flags of both armies adorning the top. Perhaps having a ceremony, to be attended by representatives of both armies descendants’ as they give that simple wooden coffin a proper burial, with the headstone inscribed to honor the unknown dead of both armies.

To know that for so long after the guns fell silent, there were wives at the door of their homes, staring up that long stretch of dirt road leading to their farms, watching for that husband – that father – who would never come home.

There is immense sadness at Jenkins’ Ferry when you realize it is much more than a summertime swimming hole.

Much more.