For Chris McSloy, JHU 88 & Fordham Law 92, and Megan Elizabeth Rich, Georgia Tech, 2014, and more importantly, my beloved daughter. And Laura Harwood, JHU 89. And Jennifer Ann, and Steve McSloy, Chris' brother, who helped Derek Simms and I with his legal specialty once, Indian Tribal Law, and who more importantly wanted his little brother remembered as he should be: well.
Chris McSloy was pretty much everyone's favorite Hopkins student, especially for members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. When you're elected fraternity president, it means people respect you, which Chris most definitely earned.
Chris was from Long Island, New York, the youngest son of two schoolteachers who inculcated in him a love of history, especially as it turned out Civil War history, hence the role of Gettysburg in this story, as American holy ground.
Being from Alabama at Hopkins in that time and place in the mid-eighties was a little of bit fish out of water, as Hopkins if technically below the Mason-Dixon line was then very much Northeast.
I thought I didn't have that much of a Southern accent, although looking back at it, Crawford Blagden, a.k.a Blinky, clearly wasn't wrong to make my original Sig Ep nickname "Jethro," as to accents of the Deep South, and the dfficulty of being able to take boys out of Alabama, but not Alabama out of boys.
One boy from the Old Union, one boy from the Old Confederacy, at Gettysburg, American holy ground.
Chris was a wrestler like me, if a much better one, although our wrestling match in front of the "Haus," was a draw, if only because I outweighed him by thrirty pounds, as was the one at five in the morning in front of Scott Fitzgerald, Hani, "Sparky," Jan, Llloyd, Cali Scott, and "General" Robert Lee at 3025, curiously, also a Sig Ep house in one incarnation.
Incarnation. Things seen and unseen.
As fraternity brothers, Chris and I shared many of the same likes, as to how fraternities self-select, one of which was frankly a like for staying up drinking beer late at night and talking about the world and its history, if there was so much more than that too.
For example, there was a soccer tournament that Tim Malia, now Dr. Tim, almost forced us into entering, so much like the Bad News Bears, but... .
There was "Animal" on the sidelines smoking a cigarrette with a beer, and Stauney playing on a re-constructed knee that ended a formal college soccer carreer playing so brilliantly, Frank with his devastatingly slow duckwalk penalty kick you couldn't guess in time, and everyone who could just run doing their best at what they could with soccer, and with the Prock Lobster, an uber Indian genius and now literally brain surgeon almost showing off too much and barely putting in the final penalty kick that after my save, 1 goal in five games, had everyone run on the field and jumping on me to celebrate a very, very improbable Sig Ep victory.
It was a psychedlic version of Hoosiers meets Bad News Bears.
And then there was "Sloy"amid all the people jumping up and down over the Bad News Bears actually winning the game, and always Sloy at Hopkins, telling me afterwards, my climbing escapades having earned a new nickname,
"Do-things, there's a girl in your class with red hair, really cute and really, really sweet. You know her?"
"Uh," being somewhat oblivious to many practical conerns of life, like girls that are good for you, "I think her name is Jen? So?"
"Trust me, Do-Things. Ask her to the Christmas Party. Do-things, ask her to the Christmas Party. Trust me!."
I did, and if we didn't marry after dating from the second we rally met for most of the rest of my time at Hopkins, and we married different people, and had lives with children and all that, nonetheless, Chris prodded me to meet one of the most important people in my life as to being an incredible friend, which is what was our destiny, which makes Chris a great friend for being matchmaker of a form, really the best form sometimes.
Chris loved history, becasuse of his parents, and I bet his brother Steve too, military history in particular.
We talked sometimes of how Chris thought he was born in the wrong time, that he was meant to be a general in the Roman Army fighting barbarians.
Maybe he was.
Patton thought so, or rather that he was Hannibal, and if eccentric, he was a rather good general; incarnation, spirit being indestrucible reappears? Things seen and unseen, or like in Atlantic City:
And maybe everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Chris so loved military history that he took the ROTC courses at Hopkins, somewhat wondering if he had missed his calling, although since the Cold War was ending, I think not, as it seems to me that there are no accidents, only God's Will, or Destiny for some, maybe what people used to call Providence, just playing out in ways most of the time we only understand very much later, and only if humble, especially humble.
Chris had theROTC book lying around the Haus, and so one evening while evading studying for what theoretically I should have been by going to the Haus and playing the videogame Gravitar with Fetus, Schmarks, Omar, Ted and Joel, I came upon Chris' old textbook of American military history, which led inexorably to Gettysburg, American holy ground.
In it, because of Chris, I read for the first time of the American I find as inspirational as any, Joshua Chamberlin, someone to the limited extent of my abilities I try to emulate always.
Chamberlin was a professor at Bowdoin College, Maine, a scholar of Classics, Greek and Roman history.
In early 1862, he was approached by the President of the College with a serious complaint.
"Joshua my boy, this is no good. People taking your classes are leaving the College in droves."
"But I think my teaching is effective, Dean, respectfully."
"That's the problem Joshua. You keep telling your students that the fate of the Union is more important than a class in Classics. Cut that out, as our parents don't want their children to enlist in the Army, which is what they keep doing after your lectures."
Continuing in the vein of what passed for conventional wisdom of the Higher Learning, the Dean went on to say,
"Joshua my boy, it's a complicated world. You are young and full of ideals, and great promise," the Dean hastened to add.
"We like you here, and think you just need a little vacation to focus on what's important. We Academics are merely voices, not men of action. Take a sabbatical for a couple of years, and go to France. Study your languages, be one of us."
Chamberlin thought for a minute, and then said, "Two years, and full salary?"
"Sure. Enjoy your sabbatical Joshua."
Of course, Chamberlin couldn't have told the boys under his charge to do something he wasn't willing to do, and so he immediately proceeded from the College, without telling his wife by the way, as he knew she would have objected strenuously, and enlisted in the Union Army, which is why he was at Gettyburg at a place called Little Roundtop.
They didn't really know what to do with the 31 year old professor, but figured he had some leadership skills from teaching, and so made him a Colonel.
I read the story of Chamberlin at Little Roundtop, Gettysburg in Chris' battered ROTC book, and late that night insisted to Sloy that the fate of the Union was decided there.
Sloy objected to that idea of the whole thing being a close run, if Do-Things also had excited in the serious amatuer military historian that was Chris the idea of going to Gettysburg too.
Do-Things had driven Krishna out there randomly by accident one earlier summer day, a summer day before all the concerns of adult life fully pressed in, then just seeking to see what happened if you followed Charles Street in Baltimore to where it ends, apparently in someone's driveway in Southern Pennsyslvania, and then just wandered around the so lovely Pennsylvania countryside with my favorite possession, Rand McNally Atlas, and Krishna's good company.
And then, the stars aligned late that summer before senior year, and Long Island Boy Sloy and Alabama Boy Do-Things drove out one late summer afternoon towards Gettysburg.
They knew time was running short for such a thing, as it was senior year coming up, and real decisions were being made as to lifepaths, by default or otherwise. General Bob wrote the best article I have ever read on that topic only seven months later for the Baltimore Sun, his own graduation day op-ed, and still a rightly preserved family heirloom.
When we got there at the American holy ground of Gettysburg, Chris was like a ten year old boy in the best sense of the meaning, just leaping out of the car and giving history lessons.
"Do-Things, this is where Early was late! Do-Things, did you know Dan Sickles was famous for being an Irish pol while killing his wife's lover and Tammany Hall Congressman and being acquitted, a sitting Congressman acquitted for cold blooded murder, "He should have known better," before he made the Wheat Field at Gettysburg famous for being bloody?"
Such the cast of characters at Gettysburg, if none more so, even than Lee riding out on Traveller saying "I'm so sorry, it's all my fault" after the Pickett's Charge made ineveitable by Little Roundtop, than Armisted and Hancock at the Angle that last bloody July 3, the Angle where Megan signaled the reality of the unseen to me once many years later.
On and on it went, the Sloy tour of Gettysburg, as I thought I knew that battle well, but Yankee boy had the edge, at least right until we got to Little Roundtop.
At Little Roundtop, we knew the story, and just sat there silently re-living the scene.
We both knew how on the second day, Lee had ordered Longstreet to march down the Union line, and roll it up from Little Roundtop; en echelon, classic Napoleonic tactic.
We both knew how J.E.B. Stuart like Early was late, if Stuart just got carried away with the Calvaryman that was his soul, failing though to provide the Eyes of the Army of Northern Virginia when it needed it the most, and so Longstreet had to start his march very late in the day.
We both knew how John Bell Hood, the big Texan who loved cards, and who lost an arm, and many thought part of of head and heart at Little Roundtop, said to pass around Little Roundtop, using the maneuver of the recently deceased Jackson, but that it was too late for Longstreet to change an already late march of 17,000 men right past the Union Army.
The plan was to just march along the Union line along the appropriately named Cemetary Rigde, and peel off brigade after brigade to attack, and thereby conceal the real objective and fix Union forces in place to prevent support of the real objective, which was the high ground of Little Roundtop.
We both knew how the Union only belatedly realized the gravity of the position at Little Roundtop, occupuying it late in the day, and only after an alert Brigadier realized that it commanded the Union line, and that if lost, would result in an artillery bombardment that would destroy the entire Union Army in Pennsylvania, and open the capital to being sacked and burned.
We both knew Joshua Chammberlin was present with the other two Colonels when told, "This is the end of the Union line. It cannot fail, and must be held at all costs."
We stood there on top of Little Roundtop, a small hill not more than 100 feet of elevation gain, and understood that day, not a word being spoken, for at least fifteen minutes, just reliving the battle as incarnation.
We knew the Alabama regiment arrived late that July 2, 1863 day, and after five frontal assaults, those 2,000 men, if drastically reduced in combat effective numbers, had also cut the Union force in half, leaving only Chamberlin alive among the three Union Colonels.
We knew how Chamberlin's sergeants and lieutenants came to him and said that most men had at most two rounds of ammunition, many with none, and that withdrawal might be the best move.
Chamberlin though long away from Bowdoin and with a bullet wound in his foot also remembered his orders, to hold the position at any cost, and though having lost half of the American 300 at Little Roundtop, instead ordered his men to assemble for an attack.
After lining them up at a right angle to the original position, effectively applying his reading of Hannibal at Cannae, to draw in the larger opponent for a flank attack, in his case a giant wheel on a hinge, we both knew that he then spoke to his men thusly, so calmly but so persuasively as to applying his classroom skill where it was really needed.
"Men, there are times in the lives of nations in which the fate of the nation depends on the acts of a very few men. You are those men, and this is that time. Fix bayonets. At arms. At the route step, forward, ho."
The attack caught the Alabama boys marching up right to the top of that hill for the sixth time and as the sun set on the dreams of the Confederacy in reality so by surprise that many just dropped their rifles on the spot to only bayonet-armed Yankees, the rest running down the hill to the cheers that went up along the entire Union line.
Josua fit the battle of Gettysburg. How likely was that by random chance, as to Providence of some form or another?
As the thunderclouds gathered and the sun set, Chris turned to me and said,"If the Alabama regiment takes this hill, the artillery comes up, and it's over. O.K. Do-Things, you got me on that one. Wanna see Big Rountop?"
As it was going to thunder soon, as it did late in the day after Pickett's Charge, like the Killer Angels said a cleansing rain to wash away the blood, we hiked really quickly to the top of the Other hill, bigger, but not part of the battle.
We sat there for a minute, and talked of girls, Laura clearly seriously interesting Chris now, and Jen, if Bridget was what was to be as to purposes of Megan, Eric and Barry, and futures, knowing in some sense our time at Hopkins was coming to an end, which made it more imperative to share what time we did have as friends.
As the rain started, Chris said "Beat you to the bottom Do-Things!" and took off running.
He was much quicker than me, and so ran off to victory, even as each time we rounded the aspault swithbacks sheltered by oaks some as old as he battle, it made me ever more uneasy as if to want to says:
"Hey wait Chris, don't go away so fast."
Four years later in May 1992, after weeks of doing dangerous boulder problems, my number came up in Riverside, California, and I splintered my lower leg, somewhat to permanent effect.
It was easy to feel sorry for yourself, which was why that June when General Bob called, it was so hopeful to hear randomly from an old college friend, for a minute.
"Boy it's great to hear from you Bob."
"Uh..." voice quavering, "I don't know how to say this but to say this Donny. Chris McSloy drowned."
I had the same reaction as so many, to not believe that was possible, that someone so full of life and joy, who had just graduated from law school, and so clearly had a beautiful future ahead of him with Laura had instead been water-skiing with her, and had just a freak accident, a life jacket that made a pocket after a fall, that took him away from everyone, brother Steve, parents, fraternity brothers, and Laura too.
It seemed pretty likely they were to be married as to how such things work out, and yet she had to be there instead... and yet. And yet, he was with someone who loved him very much too.
And yet because of his death, everyone who knew and loved Chris McSloy it seemed to me came to appreciate life the more because of knowing what Chris didn't get to have, which in a real sense was his ongoing gift to others, to live life to the fullest, in a way that doesn't harm others.
As to believing in things unseen, of purpose in some sense, many years later I took my three chilren to Gettysburg, in which they knew the story of the battle rather well, since it appeared as a vignette in all my classes as to the greatness of Joshua Chamberlin.
We went to Little Roundtop, where my sons Barry and Eric played among the rocks, with a little sadness in me of not having Sloy and Laura there with their children that weren't to be, but also there because of a sense of duty to live life more fully too, his gift to everyone.
And then we went to the Angle, the high water mark of the Confederacy.
The Confederates of Pickett's Charge to the Angle were tactically led by Lew Armisted, a charge made inevitabe as Lee's blood was up and the so-close call at Little Roundtop had convinced him one more push would finish off the Union Army.
Oppossing Armisted was Hancock, both fellow classmates at the Point, and best friends in California, especially after Armisted's wife had died. Hancock's wife used to make cookies for Armisted as he missed the creature comforts of a woman in his life, even as when Virginia seceeded, Armisted saw his duty there, and so the brothers in arms came to meet at the Angle in arms of the worst sort.
We stood at the Angle that day, me always thinking of Chris and I's expedition as such a fond memory, and trying to make the more of it out of respect for that memory, when Megan, so level-headed Megan, all of a sudden got very anxious, so very unlike her, and said, shaking:
"Dad, can we go. Can we please leave here now?"
I ran over to her and said "Megan, Megan, what's the matter?"
"A lot of people died here Dad. I want to go now!" She was just shaking.
And right then, as I looked over the fields, call it what you will, I could see in the distance Confederate soldiers wavering under devastating fire, still advancing. Just for a second, but so very real, and with no logical explanation I have ever been able to attribute to that, as there weren't re-enactors there that day, as to things seen and unseen, and purpose.
Right there where the Southern Boy Armisted came over the wall at the Angle to be shot down immediately.
Right there where after being laid against a cannon, Armisted inquired after Hancock's health, former brother in arms, and who being told the General had been wounded, merely stated "Please tell Hancock I am so sorry."
He died minutes later, and if Hancock lived, from Gettysburg one can draw always on such a cast of characters, calling to be remembered, like Chris and I's day there, or with Megan, and also to remember that it is only when Americans don't settle there differences reasonably that we have real problems.
As to Chris and Gettysburg as American holy ground, I wrote his parents a letter afterwards telling them that story, just like Schamarks sent them his fraternity paddle he made for Chris as his fraternity little brother, and so many other people did similar things, as to someone who can be dead yes, but also so very much alive too.
So many people who knew Chris I know pushed themselves to live life more fully, understanding that life is always bittersweet, if with knowing too that it's how you handle the bitter parts that make the sweet stand out more too.
And maybe everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back