Art Auction for Charity at a Civil War Re-enactment

An important distinction is being deliberately blurred
between original and print, gallantry and grasping,
our attention called instead to the quality of the frame,

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the careful double matting, and when the auctioneer is
reminded that the first portrait is of Grant, he puts it aside,
says, “we’ll save that for later” and gets a laugh,

for this is still, after all, the South, where later
or sooner, everything comes back to loss. Even the far
pasture, where re-enactors have parked campers and pickups,

was once fertilized with blood and shards of bone,
and on bottomland along the creek, where they’ve pitched
white canvas for a hospital tent, the sodden earth’s

been crossed and re-crossed by Confederate horsemen
and by amateur historians with metal detectors, who keep
hoping to locate something buried and unnamed

but settle instead for uniform buttons and tarnished
silver coins. At the edge of a field by the port-a-johns
and kudzu, there’s a table with cotton T-shirts,

replica swords and plastic pistols, but also a few genuine
unearthings—an early version of a Gatling gun with a barrel
that overheated, and a small cannon that once fired

canisters of grapeshot or else iron rough cylinders connected
by short lengths of chain such as unruly slaves might wear.
General Nathan Bedford Forrest is on the block now.

He’s sitting astride an enormous gray gelding on a hill
above the rising smoke and carnage. Again and again,
the gavel falls like a judgment—although, as reproductions go,

it’s really not that bad. One can almost hear groans
from his shrapnel-ravaged company, and most bidders
aren’t yet certain what kind of goods they’re being sold.

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