Some business to take care of first:
Happy 21st birthday to my nephew, Bubba!! Love & hugs–
And now to our story. A word of background first: Today the Vols take on the University of Georgia at Athens. As with Baton Rouge last week, I had trouble finding a story specific to Athens that was in more than vignette form, save for one about a Civil War-era firebrand, soldier, and politician named Robert Toombs, whom I found rather less than inspiring.
Then I remembered this little story. It comes not from Athens, GA, but from an old fort on the Ogeechee River below Savannah, that lovely haunted city in deep south Georgia. This one engaged me since I am currently owned by a black cat, and will appeal to other cat lovers too. 😉 🙂
Fort McAllister doesn’t look much like our standardized idea of a fort. Its huge walls are concealed under mounds of sand, river mud and sod called berms, and underneath those mighty mounds are bomb shelters. Fort McAllister had sore need of those. During the Civil War, the fort was heavily bombarded on two sides–from the river in front of it and across rice fields behind–by Union troops and artillery no fewer than seven times.
War, I’m told, is long stretches of boredom relieved by relatively shorter stretches of sheer terror. And so it was for the men of Fort McAllister. They had a pet, though, to help them retain a sense of normality in between the blood and mayhem. From somewhere, one day, there wandered in a fiesty black kitten.
Now–save in some parts of the British Isles–black cats have long had a reputation for being bad luck, witch familiars, and the like. The boys of Fort McAllister, no doubt remembering pets–feline, canine, avian, or whatever else they might be–back home, promptly bucked tradition and superstition and adopted the little furball. He was an intact tom, they learned as he grew past kittenhood. Thus he acquired his name: Tom Cat.
Tom was everybody’s pet. The boys made sure he was fed and brushed and petted, and in return he played with them, comforted them when they were feeling down, and even shared their guard duty and their terrors during battle. Sometimes, when they were keeping an eye on the Yankees across the way, he’d sit by them, watching as unblinkingly as his friends did. During battles, he would dash along the top of the walls as if he were a runner carrying commands to this unit or that.
It was during one such bombardment, in March 1863, that Tom Cat was killed by a stray bullet. Ironically, he was the only reported fatality in the fort that day. His friends mournfully buried him and marked his grave, and their commander mentioned his bravery under fire and sad death in dispatches to his commanding general, P. G. T. Beauregard.
Fort McAllister is now a historical site, open to the public, with guides, reenactors, and tourists coming in and out on a daily basis, rather than being cooped up as troops were during the war. Tom Cat’s wee grave has been lost over time, but there’s a plaque in his memory.
And, often, visitors and staff report that they see a big, sleek black cat dashing about the old walls of the fort. Sometimes he stops for a few seconds and stares piercingly toward the river, then runs on to his next post. Sometimes no more than his tail is seen, rounding a corner; or he’ll appear as a black shadow, arching his back in the light striking the walls or reflecting off a cannon’s muzzle.
And some lucky few have reported getting their ankles rubbed by what is indisputably a cat–an invisible one, to be sure, but a cat nonetheless.
Tom Cat lived a rather happy life with his friends at the fort. I imagine he’s just glad to have so many new friends to greet and care for.
The story of Tom Cat, the Mascot of Fort McAllister, is told by Georgia author Barbara Duffey in her 1995 book Banshees, Bogles and Belles: True Ghost Stories of Georgia.
And with that said, there’s only one thing to add: GO VOLS!!! 😉