Upon entering, we hightailed it straight to the auditorium where the two most popular people of the weekend were holding court, the caterer Adriane Larson and her assistant Gail. In 12 years of putting these conferences together, it has become clear that the most indispensable components are good guides, a reliable bus, and good food. Some of those things can be overcome or mitigated if they fall short—I often have multiple guides and speakers, mostly known entities with veteran track records. Some bus problems are unavoidable, but a tour organizer can take steps to minimize the chances of that. The food is a little trickier. People will forget a poor speaker, or a malfunctioning bus, but if the food is subpar you may hear about it for years to come. At our Shiloh conference about six years ago, we were compelled to use the in-house kitchen at Pickwick Landing State Park and from time to time, someone makes an effort to remind me of those all-but-inedible meals.
By the same token, really good food is remembered with a fondness that grows in memory. It's no exaggeration to say that our evening meals and box lunches from Adriane's Delectables in Marietta were the best we've had on our annual outings, and now the bar is set high for subsequent conferences.
After dinner, we gathered next to the General herself for one of the highlights of the trip, a brief history of the Great Locomotive Chase and a fleshed-out timeline on the fascinating, all-the-way-to-the-Supreme Court battle between the states of Georgia and Tennessee over the rights to the famous steam engine. Author Russell Bonds and Southern Museum historian Harper Harris told some tales (photo at top shows Russell, left, and Harper), and Russell even rang the General's bell for the enthralled throng. All readers are encouraged to read Dimitri Rotov's 2-part interview with Russell Bonds here, and here.
Not yet satisfied with having run the conference attendees ragged on a non-stop, 13-hour day, we capped the night off with a presentation on the fighting at Kennesaw by Assistant Professor John Fowler, a young, energetic and well-spoken fellow who promises to be a presence in the world of Civil War historiography for a long time to come. His regimental history of the 19th Tennessee Infantry, CSA, Mountaineers in Gray, is a new model for unit studies. It's an exceptional work, and we'll all do well to keep an eye out for Fowler's future contributions.
(Gail, left, and Adriane: best food ever)