“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
-Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address: November 19, 1863
While my study of history is something I take a lot of pride in–I’m considered far more an expert in American History than I am in, say, cigars–I have never been a big fan of military history. I know people who can recite battle dates and troop movements down to the number of infantrymen and cavalry for each side, but conflict never fascinated me in the same way as the massive upheavals in social norms that war, disease, and politics played in our nation’s history. I’m a social historian, a revisionist who champions the nameless, faceless masses that shaped the evolution of the United States.
One of my favorite stories in history comes out of the Civil War. It’s in the early months of 1865, and the war has gone completely ary for the Confederacy. General William Tecumseh Sherman, only months earlier while operating without supply lines deep in Confederate-held Georgia, had marched his troops from the state capitol in Atlanta to the port city of Savannah, literally burning a trail as he decimated military strongholds, transportation systems, and everything else he thought could be used against the Union Army.
Now he has set his sights on the Carolinas in the hope of meeting up with northern forces in Virginia and mounting a final assault on the states in rebellion. It was the final days of the war, and following the Battle of Bentonville on March 21, the last major army of the Confederacy would fall. The conflict between the states officially ended on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse in the home of one Wilmer McLean, who by coincidence had sold his home at the sight of the Battle of Bull Run to escape the horrors of combat. The war was over, but there was still much left to clean up.
Fearing the impending attacks, many of South Carolina’s major cities were abandoned, left ironically to the slaves that had become the focal point of the war. One such city was Charleston, SC, and following the news that the war had ended, nearly 10,000 residents, mostly newly-freed men, exhumed the remains of 257 fallen Union soldiers that had been buried in a mass grave. Preparing a suitable plot in the town’s race track, 28 members of the local church had erected a 10-foot tall whitewashed fence that would outline the final proper resting place of those they called, “The Martyrs of the Race Course,” which they inscribed in black on the fence.
On May 1, 1865, the people of Charleston held a Decoration Day celebration, processing to the grave site singing songs like “John Brown’s Body” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Carried with them were enough spring blossoms, crosses, and wreaths that, according to a newspaper correspondent viewing the day’s events, “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond, there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.”
While Waterloo, New York, Columbus, Mississippi, and Major General John Logan all claim to have started the tradition, this Decoration Day ceremony is widely believed to be the birth of the Memorial Day holiday.
I think about that little slice of American history every Memorial Day, and on May 26, 2014 it was no different. I’ve had family members serve in every branch of the military, in times of peace and times of war, and I’m grateful for the dedication they have shown to this country. Both of Deej’s parents served as well, and it just so happened that on this Memorial Day he and Monica were visiting.
We had taken a trip out to my local brick and mortar shop, where Deej got a tremendously good deal on a box of Acid Nefastos. That night, in honor of the veterans in all our lives, I lit up not one, but two Rocky Patel cigars.
Both cigars come from Rocky’s The Edge line, which was the collaborative brainchild of Patel and Central America’s largest tobacco grower, Nestor Plasencia. I had been interested in trying the Edge varieties ever since the Sumatra made its appearance at #24 in Cigar Aficionado’s top cigars of 2007, and this Memorial Day I was going to enjoy the lines’ Corojo and Nicaraguan blends.
We’ll start with the Corojo toro, which for the Edge line measures in at 6 inches and a 52 ring gauge across the board. The Corojo wrapper hails from Honduras, and the binder leaf is Nicaraguan. The blend of long fillers, which are aged a minimum five years before they ever reach the rolling table, also come from the two nations, but Patel also bills the Edge Corojo as having a third “secret” filler. While there is some speculation as to where the third leaves in the blend originate, it can be noted that they are a potent ligero variety that adds significant body to this cigar.
A wide array of sweeter spice rack flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg give way to a black pepper and rich espresso sensation from beginning to end. I’ve seen some reviews that describe the body as a ramp-up from medium to full, but I felt the kick from this cigar at first light. The Edge Corojo is probably best enjoyed sitting down.
For the Edge Nicaraguan, I went with the torpedo. It’s sizes up the same as its Corojo counterpart–6 inches and a 52 gauge–but features a Nicaraguan grown Maduro Habano wrapper. The Edge Nicaraguan is a puro, with long fillers hailing from the three main growing regions in Esteli, Condega, and Jalapa blended into a tremendously balanced, full bodied smoke.
As is to be expected with Nicaraguan tobacco, and in particular the Habano wrapper, the primary note in the flavor profile is spice. There is a wonderful pepperiness throughout the entirety of the stick, but it gives way to a completely unexpected flavor: black cherries. Much the same way I got the distinct taste of apple core from the Rocky Autumn collection, there was a distinct black cherry taste to the smoke. It was like smoking a California Zinfandel, which happens to be my favorite wine, so I found the cherry notes very pleasant.
History isn’t the memorization and recitation of isolated incidents throughout time. History is a study of causality, about how Point A precipitates everything that leads you to Point E. In the end, the debate over whether the first Decoration Day was actually the forefather of our modern Memorial Day is unimportant; America had just finished it’s most divisive period and was looking to honor the memory of those lost in bloody conflict only days later. What army, what weapon, what force could ever combat the sheer power of our national soul demonstrated in the acts of those nameless, faceless thousands in Charleston that morning in early May? History is written in such actions, and we are defined by the ways we choose to rise from the ashes, and hopefully rising with us is a plume of Good Smoke.