A Civil War buff since the fourth grade, Clint Johnson has spent decades exploring the back roads of the Carolinas in search of the most arresting sites.
With the new edition of his book, "Touring the Carolinas' Civil War Sites" (John F. Blair, Publisher), he invites you to follow in his footsteps and provides a road map with which to do it.
The former Fish Branch, Fla., native, whose Scots-Irish and Welsh ancestors first settled in North Carolina in the 1730s and 1760s, moved there from Orlando in 1987. The region's history was part of the draw.
Visiting a book shop in Winston-Salem some years back, Johnson noted a display of touring books that betrayed one glaring omission: the War Between the States.
So the former freelance journalist, with several books of history already under his belt, set out to rectify the oversight.
The result, he says, is a hybrid of travel guide and history book, featuring 19 different tours.
"The way I try and write it, especially now with such high gas prices, is with the message that 'if you can't get out today and see these sites yourself, here is what's out there when you can,' The focus is on the people involved in these sites. I don't spend a lot of time talking about battles; it's about the personalities. I enjoy the obscure characters and the traditions of how they encountered each other.
"I enjoy digging out these little facts, finding stories that the major works of history and even the smaller local histories may have missed."
Many of the sites from the Carolinas' Civil War heritage are found well off the beaten path. But not so far off that travelers can't locate them. Johnson includes directions and maps for each site, not least to assist potential visitors unfamiliar with the Carolinas.
Although the great battles are not the book's principal emphasis, Johnson frequents the graves of the generals who fought in them.
"These grave sites often have a great story to tell," says Johnson, a University of Florida graduate who lives in Ashe County, N.C., near Boone. "Gen. Barnard Bee, who gave Stonewall Jackson his nickname, is buried in a little church in Pendleton, just east of Clemson.
And his brother-in-law, Gen. Clement Stevens, is buried right beside him.
"In another cemetery near Cokesbury, S.C., there is the grave of Nathan 'Shanks' Evans, who is buried next to Martin Gary. A West Point graduate, Evans helped win the battle of First Manassas but was an alcoholic who generally drank himself out of his command.
"Gary was a Harvard-educated lawyer who did not go to West Point, yet was one of the best generals the Confederacy produced."
Johnson, also an enthusiastic re-enactor, hopes to deflect readers from viewing history as a dry assembly of dates.
"Men and women of both races are at these sites and many are fascinating people that went on to do other things. For instance, Robert Smalls, a congressman from South Carolina, pushed through a bill appropriating money to create what is now known as the Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot. You can argue that this man, born a slave, has had a larger impact on the state of South Carolina than any politician in modern history. His grave is in a church cemetery in Beaufort."
"Touring" also includes entries on the lesser skirmish sites, homes and towns that played a significant role in the war, such as the former Smith Plantation on the state's Sea Islands, where the Emancipation Proclamation was read for the first time to a group of former slaves.
"This site is now on the grounds of the Naval Hospital in Beaufort, and you can't get to it anymore. You can only get a glimpse of it over the bridge heading to St. Helena Island. But it is among the most significant historic sites for black Americans.
"It is also the site where the 54th Massachusetts trained and where the First and Second South Carolina Volunteers (composed of former slaves) were raised and trained -- on the sly -- six months before the 54th Massachusetts was raised."
Johnson's previous book in the "Backroads" series is "Touring Virginia's & West Virginia's Civil War Sites."
He is also the author of "Civil War Blunders," "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the South," "They Call Me Big House" (a collaboration with the former Winston- Salem State University basketball great Clarence "Big House" Gaines) and three books of the "In the Footsteps" series on J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
His most recent book is "A Vast and Fiendish Plot: The Confederate Attack on New York City" (Citadel Press), chronicling a failed Nov. 25, 1864, plot by six Confederate officers to set fire to downtown Manhattan.
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