Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Legacies of the Civil War

The June 2011 edition of AARP Bulletin contained an article "The Civil War: Freedom and 49 Other Ways It Changed American Life."  Among some of the more interesting impacts were the following:

  1. 13th Amendment - slavery banned
  2. 14th Amendment - citizenship for all born in the U.S.
  3. 15th Amendment - voting rights for all male citizens regardless of race
  4. Modern hospital organization
  5. Embalming techniques
  6. Safer surgical techniques
  7. Improved anesthesia
  8. Organized ambulance and nurses' corps
  9. 15,000 miles of new telegraph lines
  10. Mass production of canned food
  11. Battlefield photography
  12. Can openers
  13. Home-delivered mail
  14. Left and right shoes shaped differently
  15. Standard pre-made clothing in small, medium, and large sizes
  16. National paper currency
  17. Soldier ID tags
  18. Ironclad ships
  19. First national cemeteries
  20. Network of soldiers homes that becomes Veterans Administration
  21. Social care for veterans' widows and orphans
To read the rest, please see the article by Betty Towner in  AARP Bulletin, June 2011, Vol. 52 No. 5, p.39.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What Would Lincoln Say?

"Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period." ---- Abraham Lincoln, March 9, 1832.

Time has past since Lincoln's pronouncement.  The Republican Party has transformed from the organization that wanted to end slavery to one that advocates a new kind of servitude --- economic slavery.  Following the Civil War the Republican Party embraced big business at the expense of labor.  The post-war enforcement of Civil Rights reverted to Jim Crowism and de-facto slavery.  Now we find that Republicans are engaging in a new form of class warfare ---- attacking education. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Texas.

The Texas House approved a measure to disenfranchise teachers and further reduce the quality of public education.  The legislation was passed on an 81-55 vote with 11 Republicans joining the 44 Democrats to oppose the bill.  The bill allows districts to place teachers and other professionals to be placed on unpaid furloughs for up to six non-instructional days; to reduce salary to save money; remove seniority protection so more experienced teachers could be fired to save money while keeping less experienced lower-paid teachers;  reduce times to notify teachers of contract cancellation from 45 days to 10 days; increase class above the 22 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade; and deny teachers to the right to an independent hearing if they are laid off and appeal their dismissal.  

In the 2009-2010 school year, Texas led the nation with 1,237 school districts with 4.8 million students (2nd to California). Texas was 25th in student to teacher ratio, 31st in teacher salaries, and 36th in revenue per student.   (Source: Rankings & Estimates, NEA, December 2010)  Education Week gave Texas a C+ rating and placed them 13th.  Texas received a C- for K-12 achievement, a D+ for school finance, and an F for spending. 

The provisions passed by the Texas House will only drop the ratings. 

By failing to provide adequate education, Republican legislators are widening the gap between the wealthy and middle class, dismantling public education, and fostering economic serfdom.  Without proper education, children in Texas and other states operating under the Republican agenda will not be able to compete for high tech, well paying jobs.

Some Southern historians have viewed the Republican stand on slavery to be economic warfare by northern industrialists.  The actions of Republican legislators since the Civil War suggest that these historians may be right.  The war was more about depriving the South of economic power than ensuring freedom for slaves.  Did business-backed Republican interests pervert the noble ideas of freedom for their own political agenda?  What do you think?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fort Zachary Taylor at Key West

We recently visited Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West, Florida.  The fort was built over a 21-year period starting in 1845.  During the Civil War, the fort served as a base of operations for Union Navy's East Gulf Coast Blockade Squadron.
The most interesting aspect of the fort is how the Army used cannons as rebar for constructing two new batteries in 1898.  The Friends of Fort Taylor provides funds to help maintain and restore the fort.
Please see Fort Taylor Zachary Taylor Picture Gallery for more information.

While in Key West we encourage you to enjoy the other historic sites.  You might want to take a day trip to Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas.  The trip is expensive, around $150/person, including a tour of the fort, snorkeling, breakfast, and lunch.  We hope to take the trip on our next visit to the Keys.

We would also suggest that you stay at one of the bed and breakfasts in Key West.  We stayed at The Artist House and would recommend it.  It is walking distance from the historic district and has a delightful happy hour. To add to your enjoyment, the house is said to be haunted by Robert the Doll as explained in this YouTube Video.  Fortunately, we didn't experience any voicely interruptions during our visit, but we didn't stay in The Turret Suite.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

History Channel's Civil War Offerrings

Last week the History Channel offered two two-hour specials on "Gettysburg" and "Lee and Grant."  Unfortunately, neither lived up to my expectations. Viewers of both specials had to sit through a maddening array of commercials that destroyed any flow of the story.

"Gettysburg" was disappointing with an absence of sufficient scene setting for the stories about the individual soldiers.  The special was not billed as an overview of the battle.  Instead it focused on stories about specific soldiers on both sides.  It had some of the same issues that bothered historians about the movie made from The Killer Angels, namely focusing on specific battle segments and neglecting others. Many notables from the battle were omitted --- Hancock, Buford, Reynolds, Chamberlain, Hood, Armistead, and others.  Of course, that is the screen writers/directors choice.  As with many "historical" movies, there were many errors and omissions.  Eric Wittenberg counted "ten ten major factual inaccuracies in the first ten minutes" as reported in his blog The History Channel's Gettysburg

My displeasure with "Gettysburg" was topped by a more unsatisfactory "Lee and Grant" special the following evening.  Like "Gettysburg," the two-hour program was marred by numerous commercials. (I recorded both films on my cable box, so I could fast-forward through the ads.)  This version featured an endless array of interviews with historians and authors.  Their comments were interesting, but too much time was devoted to images of the experts talking in various settings.  I liked the computer graphics of the battles.  The major flaw in the story was that it stopped when Grant moved to the east and confronted Lee.  I would have hoped that a story about both of these generals would have devoted some time to the cat-and-mouse game they played in 1864 and 1865.  In the east, Lee's victories were shared with his able lieutenants Hill, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart. However, in the west, it appeared that Grant won the theater by himself with a little help from Sherman.  Grant was given undue credit for Scott's Anaconda Plan, rallying the troops at Fort Donelson, and winning the second day at Shiloh. 

Neither movie will be added to my collection of Civil War films.