'Gray Ghost' fueled Culpepper's fascination with Civil War
By Winston Skinner
John Culpepper is a genial man who has spent most of his six decades a few minutes from one of America's most famous Civil War sites.
The chairman of the Georgia Civil War Commission, Culpepper and his family lived in North Carolina until moving to Chickamauga in northwest Georgia in 1958. "My dad was a textile worker," he said.
Chickamauga was a textile town at that time, but it was the town's tie to Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park just a mile away that fascinated Culpepper. As a youth, he spent many hours on his bicycle riding around the park and other sites reminiscent of the Civil War days.
Culpepper, 64, is working to encourage Georgia communities and organizations to get prepared for the Civil War's 150th anniversary -- which will be observed from 2011-2015. He recently spoke to members of a local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp.
Culpepper grew up in the cowboys-and-Indians era. Many television shows of the time featured cowpokes and gunslingers. A 1957 series, "The Gray Ghost," captivated young Culpepper.
The series starred Tod Andrews as Maj. John Singleton Mosby, a daring Confederate hero. One of Mosby's Rangers was William Thomas Overby, who grew up in Coweta County and was hanged by Union troops in Virginia in 1864 after he refused to reveal the location of Mosby and his comrades.
Overby's remains were exhumed from a rural Virginia cemetery and reinterred at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newnan in 1997. A large monument to Overby -- sometimes called "the Nathan Hale of the Confederacy" -- is on the grounds of the Coweta County Courthouse, and a state historical marker designates the site of his boyhood home on Highway 34 west of Newnan.
Culpepper remembered that -- after becoming a fan of "The Gray Ghost" -- "I became fascinated with the war."