It was a cold March day with just the first glimmers of Spring. My daughter had passed her 11+ examination to the local grammar school and we had just returned from the school ski trip to the French Alps, which had been marvellous. I was feeling on top of the world, but not quite sure of which direction to go in. It was March 25 and it was World Book Day. The school had issued the children with book vouchers, which could be exchanged at any participating bookshop. Harriet was into reading about Agatha Christie. She had developed a taste for murder mysteries and was determined to buy an Agatha Christie novel with her voucher. I remember the day perfectly, because it was a day that transformed my life, a day like no other.
I went down to Waterstones in Folkestone with Harriet after school. I parked the car, walked through the town and into the shop quite normally. Harriet zoomed off to have a look at the crime section. Not wishing to engage my mind with thoughts of crime and thrillers, but being more factually orientated, I had headed towards the history section. I have always had an absolute passion for American Civil War photographs. I never really knew why. I even fantasised that one-day I might find myself in a photograph. That I might walk in somewhere and see a photograph with me in it dressed in American Civil War costume. I had spent 35 years looking for my name - Baillie, spelled the Scottish way- in the American Civil War. To even just find my name in the Civil War would have been an amazing feat.
I walked over to the history section and spied a book, Private Soldiers, Public Heroes published by the Civil War Times, a collection of articles and photographs on the American Civil War. I pulled the book from the shelf, being instantly attracted by the photographs on the cover. This was definitely my sort of book. I opened the book and could not believe my eyes, for very quickly I spied on the left hand page my name - Baillie- written in large letters. I then looked at the photograph on the other page, but I was so elated at finding my name that the image did not register on my consciousness. I then read on the other page, “Alexander Baillie Kell”. It was the middle name, but my name was there. After 35 years of trying to find a link with the American Civil War I had struck the mother lode.
This for me was like winning the lottery. In fact it was more important than winning the lottery, because a number of years ago I had seriously started to wonder. Especially with my obsession with playing war games in the American Civil War period, re-enacting it and shooting black powder, whether I was really going plain crazy with this so called hobby. It certainly was beyond obsession. It was a very emotive subject. I had already coined the phrase emotion is the language of the soul in 1997. I started to feel a tingle and goose bumps. I read the text, Darien, Georgia. "Where the heck is Darien, Georgia?" I thought. All my re-enactment had been in Virginia. I had been in the 43rd Virginia Cavalry with John Singleton Mosby, riding those horses and shooting those Yankees, up in Virginia. I had been to Gettysburg, everything was based in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia for me, yet there was the word Georgia.
I couldn’t believe it. I shut the book up and put it back on the shelf. Time to go, Harriet was calling me. I made a conscious decision not to buy the book. I can remember thinking, its £20.00. That’s a lot of money. My wife doesn’t like me buying too many books as I have hundreds of books and we have the old adage, “Why have you bought another book? You already have a book, why buy another one?”
In fact you have loads of books. So I had been well trained by my wife not to buy any books on impulse purchase, so I closed the book and thought, I’m not paying £20.00 for one picture and one phrase with the word Baillie in, so I put the book back. We paid for Harriet’s book and we duly went home.
But that evening as I watched television the picture and the book nagged at my brain. I kept thinking, what are the chances of that happening? What is the probability of walking into a shop, selecting the book from the shelf and opening it at the very page that your name is on? I was aware from my physics and math studies that I had begun to successfully deduce how the matrix works. The matrix works on coincidence. In fact, coincidence is not the unusual freak occurrence; it is actually the norm. It is, how the Universe works. Coincidence is the norm! So the coincidence of finding my name was beyond a coincidence. I was in a quandary and after four days I finally cracked. I just had to have that book!
After school I drove down to the shop. I couldn’t even remember the actual name of the book. I hoped they hadn’t sold it. Oh my God, what happens if they’ve sold it? I would lose it. I would never find it again. I drove the car hurriedly and parked it. I ran along to the shop, rushed in, went to the same place and, phew; the book was still there in the same place! I opened the page and flicked through it. As with everything else, when you are trying to find something you can never find it. It took me quite a while to find the page I wanted. It was then that I looked at the picture with my brain engaged. Obviously my subconscious had registered the image, but my conscious memory had just recorded the fact that it was a figure in a military uniform. I looked at the face and then I started to shake. I trembled with excitement. I couldn’t believe it. For me it was like looking into a mirror, in fact doubly so because the actual photograph is a mirror image. The buttons are on the wrong way round. This is a common occurrence with Civil War plate camera technology, the positive image was often printed in reverse. Many belt buckles show the words US the wrong way round. So for me as I stared into the eyes I could see myself. It was myself. It was a mirror image and instantly a phrase came into my head, gazing into the mirror of time I spied a familiar reflection. I had come face to face, not only with my name in the Civil War, but with my twin reflection in the Civil War! What were the chances of the same name, the same spelling and the same face? This was far beyond coincidence.
The import of the discovery then hit me. I realised I had won the lottery four times over. A tear sprang to my eye as I trembled with emotion. It really was a defining moment. It was like finding the Holy Grail after a lifetime of search.
I took the book and I paid for it, put it in a brown paper bag and drove home. I thought sooner or later I’m going to have to own up to this to my wife, because she is going to realise I’ve got the book, So I sat there on the lounge settee, opened the book and started to read. When my wife came in I just said quite simply, "By the way, have you seen this?" One of my classic understatements, she looked at the picture and said, "That’s you." Now this is so unusual for my wife, because she is the ultimate sceptic. To her physical reality is everything, but even she could see the likeness in the picture so I was not self delusional. The image was there it looked like me. She said, “Do you think that’s you?” I didn’t like to jump up and say, “YES that’s me, I’m a Civil War soldier! because quite frankly it’s a bit hard to believe for a sceptic. So I cautiously said, “I don’t know?”
I then started to read the description on the page, this photograph had been found and a gentleman called Dr Norman C Delaney had penned this marvellous piece of work. He had found the photograph in an attic amongst a load of papers whilst he was researching and had pieced together the story of his own particular naval heroâ€™s younger brother. John McIntosh Kell, who was Confederate Naval Commander, and was Chief Executive Officer on the CSS Alabama with Raphael Semmes, had a younger brother. During his researches for the book Dr Delaney had unearthed this piece of evidence, a long forgotten photograph. He had pieced together from the family letters a description of the gentleman in the photograph. The gentleman with a rather haunted look.
He thought it a shame to have lost the photograph and that the public had a right to see it. So he put it in to the Civil War Times Illustrated, a monthly magazine, with an article based on Alexander Baillie Kell, the younger brother. This had been published in 1988. The book that I was holding was a recent compilation of magazine articles from Civil War Times Illustrated and luckily the editors had selected the article and the picture for inclusion in the book.
I shall thank them, Dr Delaney especially, and the editors and the publishers, to my dying day for without that one image my whole story would not have come to light. For now the matrix had turned up the vital piece of evidence I needed. This was the crucial piece of evidence. I had been searching for this in order to make sense of my life. Up to now the Intelligent Universe which was the title of my thesis and my researches and investigations, had all been very third person. But now it had become personal. It had become very personal and I was absolutely ecstatic, thrilled. This for me was vindication.
I never quite realised how this photograph would change my life. At the time it was just the icing on the cake. Since then it has had profound ramifications in changing my life totally, especially the way I look at things, and especially my career and my belief systems and my fortunes. For this was the absolute turning point. With the discovery of the photograph I had regained my lost confidence. From being uncertain throughout most of my life, I was now 100% sure. This to me was worth more than gold.
I could hardly believe it. I was in possession of the Holy Grail. I read and re-read the description. After reading the description three or four times I realised that every facet, every single facet, line, detail of the description was me. Alexander Baillie Kell was born on a plantation in Darien, Georgia. The first thing I did was to try and find out where Georgia was. I knew where Georgia was, but where the hell was Darien. I looked at the map. I looked instinctively at Atlanta and found it wasn’t there. I then looked at the index and discovered that Darien was actually on the coast. I hadn’t even realised Georgia had a coast. Most people are not aware that Georgia has a 100-mile coastline between Florida and South Carolina. There it was, smack bang in the middle, Darien.
I then read through the description. He was born on a plantation. He had sisters, he had gone to the Kentucky Military Institute - straightaway I thought of my war games - he had gone to Princeton, the University. I had gone to University. He was a high-toned Georgia gentleman. I had always fancied myself as a high-toned English gentleman, despite being born to a working class family - although my father was somewhat exceptional, we were none the less working class. I had always aspired to being a country gentleman. The description fitted perfectly, like a glove. He had tried to run the plantation. I had gone to Newcastle University and I had studied agriculture. Agricultural Zoology, a similar sort of calling. He had fought in the Civil War as a Confederate Cavalryman for the 5th Georgia Volunteer Cavalry. I had re-enacted the Civil War as a Cavalryman for the 43rd Virginia Cavalry. I could no more stick a Yankee jacket on than die! I had always had to be cavalry and I had always had to be Confederate, always grey and yellow. There was no way I was going to be a Yankee conscript.
He had survived the war. That was nice to know. I had always thought that perhaps if I did have a past life memory, as my father had made an aside once. But I had cottoned on to what he was saying. I had conjectured that I might have been killed and that was perhaps the reason I remembered it, because it was all so emotional. I was right about the emotional bit, but I hadn’t been killed, I had survived the war. His fiancee dumped him. Oh dear, that didn’t sound too good. He became lonely and unsettled. Oh dear. And didn’t get married. He worked on the railway. I had worked on the railway. I had a model of an American Baldwin steam locomotive over my board for the last ten years without knowing why? I had always been attracted to steam engines. I had always liked steam engines, especially American 440 locomotives. Wow! Beyond coincidence! Let’s read on and see what happened to him.
He never got married. That is a bit worrying. I had definitely got married and I had made sure I got married. That’s stuck in the throat. He had paralysed feet and applied for a pension when he was penniless. Oh dear, my left foot has had numb toes since I was round about 40. Not badly though, it started off with just a tingle in the toes caused by my spinal troubles from rugby, but gradually the toes on my left foot, the three small ones, had become numb, so I empathised straightaway with the condition. Paralysed feet and rheumatism. He died aged 84. Mm, that’s quite good I thought. 84, is a respectable age. My mother had died at 61 and my father had died at 64. Baillie was obviously a survivor, thank goodness. Perhaps that bodes well for me for the future. I often worried about dying young, but obviously if Baillie can make it to 84, so can I. Unfortunately he had died in terrible circumstances being looked after by his deceased brother’s wife.
Ian C Baillie in 1972
This would definitely need some looking into but there I had it in my hands the next phase of my research. Suddenly, poring over the maps I thought, nobody wanted to go on holiday at Easter because we had just been on the ski trip, so we had enough money go for a holiday to America again. Then I realised that Darien, Georgia is just up the road from Florida. Straightaway I looked at the teletext and I booked a cheap Airtours holiday to Florida. Two weeks in Orlando flying to Sandford Airfield and driving around Fly drive. Obviously we would end up in Orlando, but we would fly drive and then drive up to Georgia and have a look, maybe spend a week, maybe even go into South Carolina. My brain was starting to run away with me. I had always wanted to go to Fort Sumter.
This is where we decided, once we had booked the holiday, to hit the net. I was physically going in July. Come what may we would go to Georgia. We would stand where Baillie stood and we would see what Baillie saw. I was starting to get my scientific research dander up! This is a solvable puzzle. All we need is some hard work.
So, I hit the Internet. Darien came up trumps. The good old Americans have some wonderful web sites. McIntosh County had a web site! They had the Confederate soldiers listed and there, sure enough, was AB Kell. Baillie was listed as a veteran. He was obviously one of the sons of McIntosh. McIntosh County were Scots. Straightaway I knew exactly who I was. I had always felt Scottish and never English and I had always felt American. Now we had the whole thing in one go! We had Scots and Americans living side by side. The Scots had become Americans. They had gone to McIntosh County to get away from the English. Hurrah! Suddenly everything made sense. This was starting to be the roller coaster ride of a lifetime and I was on the biggest downhill slope ever. This was so thrilling.
I then hit gold. My internet trawling came up with the 5th Georgia Cavalry page, this was run by a guy called Ashley Pollette, whose great grandfather had been in the 5th Georgia Cavalry and was dedicated to the men of the 5th Georgia Cavalry. All I had done was type in 5th Georgia Cavalry and up it came, like a magic lantern. The inter-net is really an oracle. It is like a crystal ball. You consult it at every opportunity and there it comes, a lot of the time nothing, but suddenly boom! There is your piece of information you’ve been searching for. The 5th Georgia Cavalry web site was it. This was Mecca. This was the spiritual home of Baillie. I decided then and there that I would try to repay some of this debt by trying to help build the web site. Ashley had appealed for all people with any connection to the 5th Georgia Cavalry to try to contribute to the building of a web site with any information whatsoever they can get. I didn’t know whether Ashley would be ready for me, but I was certainly ready for anything just like a Confederate trooper.
Ashley was indebted to a gentleman called Tommy who? I thought Tommy Hooston, but actually it was Tommy Houston, the way you pronounce it in Georgia not Texas, and I was determined to help Tommy and Ashley with their building of the Cavalry web site. I contacted them and so started our partnership, a partnership, which has proved very fruitful in both directions. I hope that I have been able to contribute a little to make up for how much they have helped me. We were off to Georgia, bags packed, ready to go. I couldn’t wait for school to end. I even had my hair cut short because I knew it was going to be hot. The Georgia swamps with the mosquitoes and the alligators. I had no illusions of what I was up against, but even I wasn’t really prepared for what happened. The whole experience was totally amazing. We were to get a dose of reality big time, and the answer to a lot of questions.
”Baillie” rides again June 2000