I’m no historian. Until 10 years ago, any history occurring longer than two weeks ago all faded to foggy gray, then black. I’m only just now finishing up my ca. sophomore history major year here.
I’m no writer either. If Jim Ed Slay hadn’t changed Mrs. Bounds’ penciled-in grades in her book while I watched the hall from the door, we both would have flunked senior English. Oh yeah, and Jim Ed changed his F to a B and mine to a dadgum C. I couldn’t put two sentences together.
If I am anything, it’s a storyteller, with grammar and spelling warts included. And every story I write can only come from looking at a photograph and imagining what human nature did that day. Stories are fiction, and lore takes its liberties.
I imagined wives and children hidden out in the county for safekeeping. In small houses, shacks and gullies. Later, I read an account saying just that. I saw Oxford as the sun came up on that 1864 morning. There was no one to fear anymore. The last Yankees to see Oxford that war were back north of the Little Tallahatchie by then. The Square, Courthouse, Depot, Jacob Thompson’s home and several others were smoldering ruins. History, or lore, tells me that Cumberland Church on South Lamar between the Square and University Avenue was the only rooftop visual downtown. I imagined a group of men on horseback gathering with not much to say. Maybe they were bitter or maybe they prayed, or both. But from that meeting, I imagined this little paragraph of lore’s:
At dawn on that hot August ’64 morning-after, with the boys all dead or gone, the town decimated, their wives and children hidden out in the county, and their homes finally, mercifully burning themselves out, a group of Oxford town fathers gathered at Cumberland Church. It was decided a small party should ride out to see if anything remained of the College grounds. As the men rode toward the Lyceum, they searched for smoke through the gap in the trees in the western sky. The road widened out as they passed onto the campus proper. They galloped on faster, and soon knew that the white and black pillars in the distance were tree trunks and columns. The Lyceum’s place in our shared Oxford and Ole Miss heritage, began that very hour.
John Cofield is a HottyToddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer, Jack Cofield. His grandfather, J.R. “Colonel” Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was the Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well.
Stay tuned for more information on Cofield’s forthcoming book: Oxford, Mississippi ~ The Cofield Collection — a pictorial history book with John’s writing on the history to go along with the photos.
Contact John at Johnbcofield@gmail.com.