Monday, December 17, 2012

Burnside's Legacy Lives On

Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Burnside is considered one of the most incompetent generals of the Civil War.  The criticism is based on his "leadership" at the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of the Crater.  We can now add another black mark to his legacy.  Burnside was the first president of the National Rifle Association.

Like millions of Americans, I am in mourning for the 26 victims of the attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. My prayers and sympathies are with the families.  While a lone, crazed gunman pulled the trigger, he had many accomplices in this tragedy.  The prime suspects are the National Rifle Association and their Congressional lap dogs. 

The NRA stonewalls any attempt to regulate gun control by virtue of their contributions to national elected officials. According to, the NRA contributed $719,596 to Federal candidates in 2012.  The overwhelming number went to Republicans.  Of the top 25 candidates receiving funds 23 were Republicans and 2 Democrats.  The complete list is available at  The NRA and their paid representatives were notably absent in expressing sympathy to the victims of this recent shooting.  Falling on the side of their own self interests rather than doing the right thing.  Perhaps their silence is a indication of their shame in their role in this horror.

Now here is where things get tricky.  I believe that Americans have the right to own firearms and that most members of the NRA are responsible gun owners who exercise care to restrict access to their weapons and support proper instruction in using rifles and guns.  What I object to is the unwillingness to work with authorities to manage the distribution and ownership of weapons especially high-powered assault rifles.  I know the mantra of the NRA is that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." 

Let me make an analogy with automobiles.  Cars don't kill people either, but we have laws that force automobile drivers to act responsibly.  Just because people don't behave properly, doesn't mean we shouldn't have the laws. In fact, it is this lack of any semblance of responsibility that compels, demands, us to have laws.  While it is impossible to make people use common sense --- don't drink and drive, don't text and drive --- we still have regulations and punishments to help control public behavior.  People who want the privilege or right to drive cars or own guns have a requirement to lead the fight to ensure proper usage of both.  The NRA should reach out to President Obama and the Congress to seek ways to restrict guns to those who use them in a responsible fashion. 

The measure of a society is how we protect those who cannot protect themselves.  On Friday December 14, 2012 we failed the test.  Let us honor their memory by getting these assault weapons off the market. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Civil War at the Huntington

The 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War is being celebrated at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.  I just learned about The Huntington's exhibit "A Strange and Fearful Interest" that explains how "photography became a powerful tool of reporting and remembrance in the Civil War."

The following link will take you to the exhibit website so you can view the image galleries and learn about Civil War photography.  Please click on A Strange and Fearful Interest.

The site has two short videos: In the Usual Manner that explains Civil War photography and another Completely Silenced that comments on photographs made by Alexander Gardner after the 1862 Battle of Antietam.

The exhibition was assembled from more than 200 works in the Civil War Collection at the Huntington Library.

A compilation of Civil War music adds to the exhibit in the West Hall of the library.

The exhibit will be closing in early January. 

The exhibit has taken clues from Drew Gilpin Faust's 2008 best seller This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Beautiful Glittering Life - Book Review

A Beautiful Glittering Life by J. D. R. Hawkins is the story of Hiram Summer's family during the first two years of the Civil War.  The novel describes the difficulties encountered by the northern Alabama family after Hiram enlists in the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment.  Author Hawkins focuses on Hiram's struggles in the Confederate Army and his son David's adventures at home.  When Hiram enlists, he places the responsibility of caring for the farm on his son's shoulders.  David does his chores, helps his mother, Caroline, and younger sisters, and still finds time for adventures with his friend Jake. 

We follow Hiram and his friend Bud through battles in the Eastern Theater including first and second Manassas, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.  Meanwhile, back in Alabama, David and Jake sneak away to Union-occupied Huntsville where they meet a local family suffering at the hands of the Yankee invaders.  The boys press their luck and are captured by a schoolmate who has joined the Union forces.  The boys are released, but David loses his horse.  Yet life at home seems to go on relatively undisturbed in spite of the chaos gripping the country. 

The picture of life on the battlefield and home front proceeds at a rather uneventful pace without many dramatic moments.  Hiram and Bud survive battles before tragedy strikes at Fredericksburg.  David escapes Union troops at Huntsville and Caroline and David face down marauding Union soldiers.  After the Union troops leave Huntsville and the family learns that Hiram will be coming home for Christmas, the Summer family anticipates a return to pre-war normalcy.

This is a pleasant book that unfortunately lacks the emotional intensity to make it a compelling read.  Hawkins' novel lacks the building drama that makes the reader anxious for the next chapter.  The characters are likable but don't have the depth, especially Caroline, to bring them to life.  The conflicts in David's life --- desire to join the army, responsibilities to maintain the homestead, and dreams of joining the Pony Express --- are not fully exploited.  Interspersed with Hawkins' narrative are events from the Civil War timeline that provide a historical perspective.  The battle sequences lack the intensity to put us in the scene and more detail on camp life would be welcomed.   The seeds for the sequel were sown in an ending which was too abrupt in my opinion. 

A Beautiful Glittering Life is reminiscent of a story from The Walton's television show.  Young readers will find this a good introduction to life during the Civil War as seen through David's eyes.

We rate this book


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shelby Foote's Legacy

In the February 2013 issue of Civil War Times, Gray Gallagher critiques the late Sheby Foote.  Foote is famous for his The Civil War: A Narrative.

Shelby Foote
Gallagher's comments will draw the ire of fans especially those in his native Mississippi.  Gallagher begins his examination by saying that he "was not overly impressed" when he "first encountered The Civil War in the mid-1960s."   Gallagher writes that, "The three volumes [Foote's The Civil War] reveal  what a gifted stylist can do with even well-known episodes."  The first "left-handed compliment" offered by Gallagher who illustrates Foote's prose with several quotes. 

In Gallagher's eyes, one of Foote's sins is that the author "relied almost entirely on published primary materials - especially memoirs and the 128 thick volumes of the Official Records - and on secondary works, many of which would be described as quite dated."  I fail to see how using the Official Records diminishes an author's scholarship.  They are edited first hand accounts of officers who were at the battle.  They include errors and self-satisfying comments that must be evaluated, but they remain an excellent research tool.   

Following on this appraisal, Gallagher says Foote's "research did not approach what most contemporary scholars who spend a great deal of time combing through unpublished manuscripts, consider an acceptable standard."  What makes these "unpublished" writings more valid than other resources?   Secondary sources should not be so quickly dismissed.  Does that mean that if I am doing research I should ignore Gallagher's books [The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, The Confederate War, The Fredericksburg Campaign, and others]?  Using secondary sources says that the student values the  research done by the author.

Gary Gallagher
Not all of Gallagher's column is negative.  He praises Foote for creating a more balanced picture of the war's eastern and western theaters.  "He succeeded very well indeed in this effort, and untold readers have been the beneficiaries."  However, Gallagher rescinds this compliment when he writes that "academic historians did not go down this interpretive path because of Foote's work." Then as a sort of academic coup de gras, Gallagher concludes, "I believe his trilogy has had almost no impact in terms of shaping scholarship - just as Bruce Catton's has not."  

Gallagher also blasts Foote for a narrative that "fits too comfortably within the Lost Cause tradition."  Gallagher also condemns Foote for saying that the north won because of the North's overwhelming numbers and material.  This inequality in industrial might and manpower is widely accepted as the reason the South lost.  Foote looked at the numbers and simply stated the obvious. 

Foote is also criticized for his Southern bias.  I should hope that a Mississippian would have respect for the bravery shown by his ancestors.  Gallagher also quotes Foote's comment, "I yield to no one in my admiration for heroism and ability, no matter which side of the line a man was born or fought on."

My regard for Shelby Foote remains undiminished after Gallagher's attack.  His persona and storytelling remains inspirational.  He remains the perfect Southern gentleman with a grace and style that lives on in the Ken Burn's documentary.  If I may paraphrase Shelby, I yield to no one in my admiration for him.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is an excellent movie that all Americans should see!

The story is as fitting for today as it was nearly 150 years ago.  The film-making is suburb with great direction by Spielberg and Academy-award worthy performances from Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones as Republican Representative Thaddeus Stevens.  The film is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

The movie concerns efforts made by the Lincoln Administration to gather enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass the resolution on the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The resolution has already been approved by the Senate, but must be approved by the House before it can be presented to the States for ratification.  The back-room campaign to gain votes from the Northern War Democrat minority becomes the focus of this political thriller. 

The story begins with Lincoln explaining the problem of ending slavery as the war ground to its inevitably conclusion.  The  Emancipation Proclamation, which  "freed" slaves in those parts of Confederate states not under control by the Union was passed as a military measure based on Lincoln's war powers.  When the war ended, the legality of slavery would return to the states.  Lincoln faced a one month window to put in place a permanent solution.  His time constraint was based on end of the war and more immediately the end of the lame-duck period for Democratic representatives.

13th Amendment resolution
with Lincoln's Signature
With the stage set, we see Lincoln weave his way through a political minefield of different agendas to the dramatic vote in the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865.  Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) hires three shady, political con-men  (played by Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, and James Spader) to lure Democrats defeated in the November 1864 election to vote for the amendment. They promise the politicians patronage jobs once they leave the Congress.  Their efforts to cajole these men meets with some success. Seward doesn't want Lincoln to be involved.  However, as the ballot approaches, the administration is still short of votes.  Lincoln enlists the help of Thaddeus Stevens for some arm-twisting and enters the process himself in the last hours to try to convince a few reluctant Democrats.

The movie, like other political dramas, takes us into the dark behind the scenes street fights of government where lies and half-truths are weapons of choice.  The Machiavellian process clearly demonstrates that sometimes the end does justify the means.

Lincoln is the center of the drama and Daniel-Day Lewis is more than up to the task.  He becomes Lincoln.  The image Lewis skillfully crafts is filled with stories from Lincoln's career as a simple backwoods lawyer and a seemingly endless supply of anecdotes to illustrate the points he is trying to make.  Lincoln is both a clever politician and a skillful teacher presenting the simple morality of the issues confronting him personally and publicly.

The movie does have some issues.  The idea that ending slavery is the reason that the war was fought has been debated by scholars. Most white northern soldiers fought to maintain the Union not to free the slaves.  Southerners opposed the economic, jurisdictional, and military invasion of their homeland.  The story touches briefly on Lincoln's changing attitudes about slavery, race relations, and the ability to "know each other."   The movie would also have benefited from subtitles indicating the cast of characters as used in Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.

The story would have no honor without passage of the amendment.   The amendment is described in a tender moment between Stevens and his black housekeeper/mistress in bed.  The bald Stevens recites the sections:   

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Amendment was adopted on December 6, 1865.  On February 9, 1865, two months before Lee's surrender, Virginia became first former Confederate State to ratify the amendment.  Finally, on March 16, 1995, Mississippi became the last state to approve it  after having rejected it on December 5, 1865.

Spielberg's history lesson reveals that Lincoln, celebrated for freeing the slaves via the Emancipation Proclamation, should really be honored for the nobility of orchestrating the end of slavery with the 13th Amendment.

I wish that a mandatory screening could be presented to the inhabitants of the Capitol to show them how they could work together to solve the nation's problems.   

We rate this film,


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Historical Perspectives for 2012 Election

President Barrack Obama's victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney reminds us of the importance of studying and learning from history.  Over the last few months I have commented on the issues in this election and have presented comparisons between attitudes before and during the Civil War and the current political environment.  This election illustrated more than many the relevance of understanding our nation's history.

For Republicans, no matter how disappointed you are about the Presidential and Senate results, remember that the nation survived a civil war and will continue to be a world leader.  Our system of government provides a wonderful set of checks and balances.  Issues will be debated and compromises will be reached.

For Democrats, your enthusiasm has to be tempered by the challenges facing the country and staunch opposition from the Republican House of Representatives.  Much has been said about the divisiveness in the country in the aftermath of President Obama's election.  This same disunity would have faced Mr. Romney had he been victorious.  The issues that confront President Obama would have confronted a President Romney. 

The election was not a mandate on President Obama's first term.  It was a vote on which candidate the American public wanted to lead the nation through the current crisis.  This is similar to the 1864 election between George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln.  While northerners wanted to end the war, the Union electorate chose Lincoln to lead them through the crisis.  President Obama took a lesson from the history books by not running on his record, but focusing on his opponent.  This same strategy helped Republican George W. Bush win election.

One of the issues that confounded the Romney campaign was the voluntary deportation of illegal aliens.  I discussed this position in a post Lincoln and Romney on Self-Deportation.  My conclusion was that it was a flawed policy during the Lincoln Administration and it was a flawed policy today.  Unfortunately, Mr. Romney campaign strategists did not read the post and this policy was a major factor in his defeat.  Seventy-one percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama.  Whether future Republican presidential candidates can reach out to minorities and not offend their base of support remains a major problem facing the party especially in terms of the growth of minorities.  Romney's support came Whites (59%), Americans over 65 years old (56%), families making more than $100,000 per year (54%), and Protestants (57%).   This electoral base seems to be in opposition to a minority base of lower wage earners, non-Protestants, and Hispanics.  On this same demographic theme, young people seemed to embrace Obama's message more than Romney's with 60% of 18-29 year olds and 52% of 30-44 year olds voting for Obama.

The Civil War theme of states' rights was very prominent in this election.  The conflict between Federal and state jurisdiction is as old as the Constitution and will always be an issue in our country.  What may surprise some readers is that the conflict also occurred in the Confederacy especially in regard to raising a national military.  Again student's of history would realize that this issue is not a new theme.  There is no resolution of this conflict.  State control of various issues will be influenced by economic-based decisions made by the electorate in choice of residence.  Education, taxation, immigration, and other issues will impact the state's economic future.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and recruiting of black soldiers helped turn the tide of victory.  Another similar factor was the Republican administration's enlistment of immigrants.  These two ethnic/demographic groups helped propel the Union to victory.  Today's Republican party has failed to attract support from blacks (93% for Obama) and the new Hispanic wave of immigrants (71%).

Another issue that the Democrats used more effectively was communication technology.  Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail communications were used in the Obama campaign allowing them to reach a wider and younger audience.  Adapting strategies to changing technology was an important lesson learned in the Civil War. Rifled muskets and artillery changed tactics and fortifications.  Some generals adapted and embraced the new technology while others refused to understand and utilize the new technology. Post-election analysis has criticized the Republicans and praised the Democrats for how they used the latest media.

The challenges remain for both parties.  For the Democrats, it means fulfilling the promises made to their constituents and reaching out to white voters.  For Republicans, it means appealing to Lincoln's base of support while not alienating their base of white, male voters.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I Vote

Fort Barrancas, FL
As Election Day approaches I remind myself of my obligation as an American to cast my vote.  I consider it a privilege to be able to help the men and women who will lead our nation.  However, I choose to vote not to put people in office who will support policies that will benefit me, but to honor those who have sacrificed to allow me the opportunity to vote.

Over 1.3 million Americans have died in defending this country.  In our bloodiest conflict, the American Civil War, nearly 750,000 soldiers and civilians died in defense of what they believed in.  Some 437,412 died to preserve the Union and to extend the rights enjoyed by some Americans to all Americans.

Since that terrible national tragedy,  166,516 in World War I, 405,399 in World War II,  58,209 in Vietnam, 36,516 in Korea, and around 13,000 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror.  As those of us who have benefited from their sacrifice, we owe them a debt of honor. 

Naval Air Museum
Pensacola, FL
I hope that you will honor these people who have given their lives for our right to vote by casting your ballot.  Remember when you press the button or pull the lever that your are thanking these valiant souls for granting you permission to do so.

Let us recall Lincoln's words from the Gettysburg Address and ensure "that these dead shall not have died in vain" and show our respect for those who have given "the last full measure of devotion" by casting our vote on Election Day.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
During Hurricane Sandy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Point of Agreement

In 1861 they would find themselves on different sides.  Some decided to remain loyal to the Union and fight to preserve it.  Others would pledge their allegiance to their state and a new Confederacy of states and fight to protect its rights.  However, in 1857 and 1858 in the Utah Territory, they agreed on crushing Brigham Young and the Mormon Church.

The Mormons had fled to Utah to escape religious prosecution and create their own nation.  Things were progressing well under the rule of the Mexican government, but that all changed when the US obtained the area after the Mexican War. As the West was opened to settlers from the East, non-Mormons began to cross the new territory of Utah. The Saints resented the presence of these non-Mormons, who they called Gentiles, in their sanctuary. The Mormons had been treated badly by Gentiles in Missouri and Illinois. Now the Saints returned the favor by dealing severely with the trespassers. After living under the Mexican rule, the Mormons were reluctant to comply with the newly installed Federal officials and obey laws they disliked or conflicted with their religious beliefs. The US government compounded the problem by appointing men with few qualifications and antagonistic attitudes to administer the territory. These Federal officials conflicted with Governor Brigham Young's local government.

In 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California, producing the California Gold Rush. As a result, thousands of emigrants moved west to the gold fields on trails which passed directly through the Mormons' new home. These emigrants brought opportunities for trade, but also ended the Mormons' short-lived isolation. In 1857, disobedience and crimes against Gentiles reached the stage that President James Buchanan decided to send troops to install a new territorial government.

That  May, the Buchanan Administration concluded that Utah was "in a state of organized and open rebellion against the laws" and this defiance demanded stern measures. Buchanan's first annual message said that "the ecclesiastical despotism, fanaticism, and illegal Indian policy of the Mormons indicated that the people of Utah were in revolt."  The President also listed the expulsion of federal officers, disruption of the courts, and other forms of misbehavior as evidence of "insubordination" in the Territory. 

Albert S. Johnston
An expedition was sent to Utah to quell the uprising and install a Federally-appointed governor and other officials. The command of this expedition eventually devolved to brevet General Albert S. Johnston.  With the clouds of civil war hanging over the country's head, the Buchanan administration wanted to end the insurrection in Utah and impress upon the Southern states that rebellion would not be tolerated. Among officers serving in this command were men who would soon find themselves on the opposite side in the coming battle.  However, for the roughly three years they served in the Utah Territory, the men who disagreed about the spread of slavery were in agreement on their opinion of the Mormons.

The Mormons were held in contempt because they practiced polygamy and the war was more about ending this institution than imposing Federal law. The Mormons announced that they would contest any invasion into their community. They put their words into action by burning grasslands and stealing livestock to impede the Federal troops.  After surviving a harsh winter at Fort Bridger in the Wyoming Territory, the men and officers were even angrier with the Mormons.
Charles F. Smith
Lt. Col. C. F. Smith, second in command of the 10th Infantry regiment, expressed the sentiments of many of his comrades in August 1857.

... the Mormon Prophet and his Elders preached war to the knife against the Gentiles, that the Mormons threaten to attack the Army as it approaches the city of the Saints, in a certain caƱon not far from it etc. etc. I fear this is too good to be true. Should they act when the onus would be thrown upon them and we could act without hesitation and with a clear conscience in razing the city of the Saints and sowing Salt on its Surface.
Smith regarded Brigham Young as a "knave" and "imposter [sic] though a clever man."

Captain Jesse Gove of the 10th Regiment wrote his wife that, "They are worse than the banditti of Italy. They say they will not shed blood but if one of the Saints' blood is shed, they will exterminate the Gentile Army. I intend to give them a chance to execute their threat, for if the miscreants come within range of my rifles I mean to fire into them."

A. S. Johnston said,

They have with premeditation placed themselves in rebellion against the Union and entertain the insane design or establishing a form of government thoroughly despotic and utterly repugnant to our institutions — occupying as they do an attitude of rebellion and open defiance connected with numerous overt acts or treason... The time for any further argument is past, and in my opinion, the people of the United States must now act or submit to an usurpation of their territory and the ingrafting upon our institutions, a social organization and political principle totally incompatible with their own.

After the new Governor, Cummings arranged a truce with Brigham Young,  Johnston was still suspicious. "To compromise with these people on any other terms than an unconditional surrender would in my opinion be unsafe, unwise, and impolitic."

Jesse Gove
In the summer of 1858, a peace commission visited the territory carrying a full pardon from Buchanan for those who would "submit to the law unconditionally. Captain Gove was more outspoken in his criticism.
The Mormons have accepted this pardon, but it is no more in earnest than the wind: they are as impudent and villainous as ever ...No trust is to be put in them so you see we have got to give them a sound whipping, hang about 100 of them, and then the rest will submit ... They have only accepted to gain time. The President has damned himself and the country.

One can only wonder what these officers would think of a Presidential election matching a Mormon disciple and descendant of a former slave.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Congress Betrays Vets Again

Laurel County, KY
Union Veterans  
The United States Government continues its long and disgraceful history of shabby treatment of its military.  Recently, Republicans in the Senate used a technicality to defeat a bi-partisan authored bill that would have established a $1 billion jobs program putting veterans back to work providing services for their communities in tending to the country's federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments.

Democratic lawmakers introduced the legislation shortly before Congress adjourned for the final weeks election campaigns. The bill had little chance of passing the House this Congress, but it still allowed senators to appeal to a key voting bloc.

"(With) a need so great as unemployed veterans, this is not the time to draw a technical line on the budget," said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the bill's lead sponsor.  Republicans said the effort to help veterans was noble, but the bill was flawed nevertheless.

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said the federal government already has six job-training programs for veterans and there is no way to know how well they are working. He argued that making progress on the country's debt was the best way to help veterans in the long-term.  Sen. Coburn obviously doesn't recognize the importance of food on the table for the evening meal.  How can we as a country do too much for these men and women who put their lives on the line for us each day?

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.said that more than 720,000 veterans are unemployed including 220,000 veterans who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She said putting veterans back to work was the cost of war.

"Instead of meeting us halfway, we have been met with resistance. Instead of saying yes to the nearly 1 million unemployed veterans, it seems some on the other side have spent the last week and a half seeking any way to say no," Murray said.

A handful of Republicans joined with Democrats in voting to waive the objection to the bill: Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Brown and Heller are also in tough re-election contests.

Heller said he was proud to support the bill, "After everything our veterans have done for us, the least we can do is make sure they are afforded every opportunity to thrive here at home." 

This latest insult to our veterans is in stark contrast to Lincoln's desire to help veterans in the last months of the Civil War.

Prior to the war, veterans received long-term treatment at a handful of Soldiers and Sailors homes scattered around the country.

In 1865, with so many veterans needing long-term care, Lincoln appealed to Congress and the nation in his second Inaugural address, "…to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."  Those words later became the motto of the Veterans Administration, which became the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989.

Lincoln’s efforts resulted in creation of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS) in March 1865, which established a national government home for veterans of the Union’s volunteer forces. The National Asylum was overseen by a Board of 12 managers. Eventually there were 11 National Homes. In 1873, the board renamed it the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers because the word asylum was starting to have negative connotations.

Civil War Veterans
Gather for Funeral
Initially, each home served as a soldiers’ home that provided medical care. Over time, the homes offered recreational activities, libraries, and church services. According to the 1900 board of manager's annual report, several homes maintained theaters, libraries, and billiard halls.

Some of the homes offered Veterans games such as dominoes, checkers, chess, backgammon, cards, boating, skating, pool, and croquet. At the homes’ theaters, Veterans were entertained with concerts, comedies, melodramas, musicals, vaudeville, and lectures.

When the Veterans Administration was established in 1930, all 11 homes, plus three newly authorized homes in St. Petersburg, Fla., Biloxi, Miss., and Roseburg, Ore., became part of VA.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Consecrated Dust - Book Review

Consecrated Dust: A Novel of the Civil War North by Mary Frailey Calland is a well-written story set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the first two years of the Civil War.   This is a finely-crafted, thoroughly-researched novel that will appeal to both men and women.  Ms. Calland has done an excellent job of blending historical details into a compelling narrative.

The story revolves around the romance between Clara Ambrose and Garrett Cameron.  Clara is the strong-willed daughter of a prominent Pittsburgh doctor.  Garrett is studying law when he meets and falls in love with Clara.  Their courtship is interrupted when Garrett joins the Pennsylvania volunteer reserves at the outbreak of the Civil War. 

Pittsburgh During the Civil War
The novel portrays the impact of the war on Pittsburgh as the city becomes a focal point for supplying men and munitions to the Union military.  When the men in western Pennsylvania enlist in volunteer regiments, the burden of supporting their families falls on the women.  Clara turns to her friend Anne Burke for support in dealing with these new challenges.  Calland describes how Clara and Anne handle this responsibility.  In Pittsburgh’s social structure it is fine for a poor Irish-Catholic girl to work, but it is not acceptable for the once-affluent Clara to take a job.  

While the novel describes the impact of the war on Clara and Cameron, Clara is the heroine of this drama.  The Ambrose family faces financial ruin as their savings are depleted and the military pay delayed.  Clara waits for mail from Cameron and her father while checking the casualty lists for their names. Compounding her problems are the unwanted advances from obsessed industrialist Edgar Gliddon.  Gliddon will do anything to capture and possess the elusive Miss Ambrose.  The more Clara resists his advances, the more Edgar is determined to pursue her with a self-serving mix of kindness and cruelty.  Gliddon personifies the profiteering industrialist who views the war as an opportunity to increase his wealth and demeans those who have volunteered to fight.  Marrying the despicable Edgar would solve her family’s financial problems, but she refuses to abandon her poor soldier.

Battle of Dranesville
While Clara deals with problems on the home front, Garrett confronts life and death struggles on the battlefield.  Private Cameron joins other men from western Pennsylvania at Camp Wright in the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves Regiment.  We follow Garrett and the other men of Company A, also known as the Pittsburgh Rifles, as their regiment is formally mustered into US service as the 38th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Garrett forms new friendships with his mess mates as he share bug-ridden hardtack and cramped quarters.  Calland describes in gritty detail the Pittsburgh men’s experiences in engagements at Dranesville, Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines Mills, New Market Road, Second Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam.  Ms. Calland has wisely included maps to illustrate the role of the Pittsburgh Rifles in these battles.

Main Gate of Allegheny Arsenal
(Courtesy of Mary Calland)
Ms. Calland skillfully leads us to the dual tragedies that occurred on September 17, 1862 at the Allegheny Arsenal and in the Battle of Antietam.  Clara and Garrett make choices and sacrifices that lead them to face death within hours of each other. The terrible explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal killed 78 young women engaged in rolling bullet cartridges for the Union Army.  News of this civilian tragedy was overshadowed by the horrendous casualties at Antietam.

I also recommend readers visit Ms. Calland’s web page.   The site includes a section "Explore Civil War Pittsburgh" with a driving tour of the various locations in the novel, a chapter-by-chapter discussion about the people and places mentioned in the book, and Pittsburgh streets – then and now.  Calland has also provided a gallery of Civil War era pictures of Pittsburgh and a guide for teachers with topics for class discussions. 

Monument for Victims of Explosion
(Courtesy of Mary Calland)
Mary wrote Consecrated Dust to draw attention to the little-known explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal.  She believes that presenting history in an accurate novel makes it more absorbing and exciting.  The evidence for her belief is the enthusiastic support for her talks to a variety of audiences.  She traces her interest in the Civil War to reading Gone with the Wind as a child.

Mary Frailey Calland was born in Elmira, New York.  She has a B.A. in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School.  Her first historical novel, Barefoot in the Stubble Fields, is a coming of age tale about a young girl growing up during the Depression and World War II is loosely based on her mother’s life in Iowa.  Her next book deals with orphans in New York City were taken around the country by train.  At each stop, the orphans were lined up on the station platform in hopes they might be taken in by a local family.  This story also has family history as Mary's great uncle provided a home to one these children.  She has also done extensive research on the Elmira, NY Confederate prison camp.  Mary and her husband live in Pittsburgh.

I thoroughly enjoyed Consecrated Dust and enthusiastically recommend this novel of the Civil War North. 
We rate Consecrated Dust as

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sage Advice from Smith

Lew Wallace is best known as the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.  However, Wallace was also a soldier and politician. At the start of the Civil War, Wallace was appointed state adjutant general and helped raise troops in Indiana.  On April 25, 1861, he was appointed Colonel of the 11th Indiana Infantry.
Lew Wallace was destined by virtue of his political connections to rise in the ranks, and the paperwork was completed before his arrival in Paducah. When the official communication arrived, he was astonished. Wallace claimed that he "had not thought of being brigadier-general; neither had any one notified me of an effort to that end in my behalf..." The colonel was conflicted with the appointment.He did not want to leave his regiment, but "felt the urgencies of ambition." Compounding his decision was that he "knew nothing of the duties of a brigadier" and was overwhelmed with "the responsibilities of the place, especially of its responsibilities in battle. He decided to consult General C. F. Smith, his commander at Paducah, KY, and obtain his advice.

That evening Wallace found Smith sitting comfortably before the fire. Without rising, he said: "Bring up a chair. It's chilly outside." When the colonel was seated, Smith asked, "What is it? Anything I can do for you?"

Wallace gave him the communication from the adjutant-general, and he read it gravely, and, rising, said, "Well, sir, what of it?"

Then Wallace stood up, and answered with the same directness, "Will you tell me if I ought to accept that appointment?"

"Why not?" Smith asked.

Major General C. F. Smith
“Because I don't know anything about the duties of a brigadier-general." Smith was surprised. After briefly looking at Wallace, he said: "This is extraordinary. Here have I been spending a long life to get an appointment like this one about which you are hesitating; and yet that isn't it — that you should confess your ignorance — good God! Who ever heard of the like?"

He went to the table, filled two glasses from the decanter, and offered Wallace one of them.

"Had you come here not doubting your sufficiency," he said, "I should have decided you meant a parade of your good-fortune; as it is, I say accept — accept by all means — and I will give you the benefit of what I know about the duties of the place, be it much or little. We can always make something of a man who is willing to admit that he don’t know it all."
Then from the mantel he brought a book which Wallace recognized as the United States Army Regulations, and when they were seated Smith gave Wallace a "free-and-easy lecture of which I still remember some of the points."

I divide the duties of a brigadier-general into two classes," he began — "those owing to his immediate superior, and those owing to his command; and of the first, first ... Obedience being the soul of military organization, I hold it the beginning and end of duty.  It is the rein in hand by which the superior does his driving. . . . The difference between a captain and a general with respect to duties is that the general is a captain with multiplied and extended relations ... The chief duties of a general to his command may be classified — the enforcement of discipline —tactical instruction — care of the health of his men — and they are all important because tending to efficiency, the measure of which is the exact measure of his own efficiency ... Government furnishes everything actually needful to the good condition of the army; and of us — you and me, for instance — it merely asks in return that we know how to get those things, and to help us to the knowledge it has furnished a system of formal requisitions which fools call ' red tape.'  But I " — he stopped and held up the well-known volume in blue —" I pronounce it. the perfection of wisdom, since by it alone the government is enabled to keep accounts, prevent waste, and assert the principle or personal responsibility.  Here is that system — in this book, more indispensable to every officer than his sword, for even in battle he can make out with a riding-whip.  As the preacher knows his Bible, as the lawyer knows his statutes, every general should know the regulations and articles of war.  Here they are within these lids"— and I noticed he fondled them caressingly — "here he will find every duty relative to the care of his command defined and prescribed ...  It is not possible for a general always to see with his own eyes, or be in two places at the same time; hence the device of a staff — that is, an alter ego for every duty ... Staff-officers should he men of aptitude and experience, not figure-heads or mere pretty men.  In battle a general's duties, in so far as they are reducible to rule, are — first, to fight; second, to fight to the best advantage ... Genius is determinable by the manner of obedience.  A fort is to be taken; genius consists in finding a way to take it with the least appreciable loss. A campaign is to be planned; genius proves itself by devising the best plan; at the same time, strange as it seems, he the most capable in planning may be the most incapable in execution, making two different qualities.  The great genius is he who possesses both the qualities ... Battle is the ultimate to which the whole life’s labor of an officer should be directed. He may live to the age of retirement without seeing a battle; still he must always be getting ready for it exactly as if he knew the hour of the day it is to break upon him.  And then, whether it come late or early, he must be willing to fight — he must fight.[2]

Wallace returned to camp from the lecture a very grateful and much wiser man.  Smith's counsel was all he needed to accept the commission.  

[1] Lew Wallace, Lew Wallace: An Autobiography (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1906)  Vol. I 342-343.
[2] Wallace 343-345.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Marine Archaeologists Develop Seismic Images of USS Hatteras

Marine archaeologists are taking "seismic" or "sonar" images of the USS Hatteras, a a 210-foot long Union ironclad Civil War ship.   The Hatteras rests in 57 feet of water about 20 miles off Galveston. 
Getting pictures of the vessel is difficult because the sand- and silt-filled water near the seafloor limits visibility to no more than 10 feet.  That's were seismic technology comes into play.  By using a variant of the science that helps geoscientists locate oil and gas deposits and monitor earthquakes and volcanoes, scientists can create a 3-D image of the ship.   The sonar technology produces images by analyzing sound waves bouncing off surfaces that are translated into electronic signals and then interpreted by computers to form an image of the object. While the core technology has been around for sometime, this is the first application to scan wreckage.  
The wreckage site was discovered in the early 1970s by a Rice University professor.  The Hatteras wreck is in waters administered by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the ship itself remains the property of the US Navy.

USS Hatteras vs. CSS Alabama
January 11, 1863
According to the US Navy Historical Center, the 1,126-ton USS Hatteras was built in 1861 in Wilmington, DE, as a civilian steamship.  Later that year it was purchased by the Navy, commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and assigned to join the fleet blockading the Florida coast.  The ship had an active tour, in Florida, raiding Cedar Keys and destroying at least seven schooners and facilities before being transferred to Gulf of Mexico operations.

Sinking of USS Hatteras
On January 6, 1863, she joined the fleet of Admiral David Farragut for duties blockading Galveston, TX.  Five days later, she pursued and tracked down a three-masted ship flying the British flag.  The ship was none other than the famous Confederate raider the CSS Alabama.  The Alabama fired on the Hatteras from 25 to 200 yards away.  After a 43-minute battle, the Hatteras was on fire and taking on water.  Commodore Homer Blake surrendered and were taken prisoner on board the Alabama for transport to Jamaica.  Of the 126-man crew, two were killed and are believed to be entombed in the wreck.  It was the only Union warship sunk by a Confederate raider in the Gulf of Mexico.
Plans are being made to post the images online on the 150th anniversary.
Readers may wish to check the following links for more information;

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Rebel Born by Lochlainn Seabrook - Book Review

General Nathan
Bedford Forrest
Lochlainn Seabrook describes his book, A Rebel Born, as "a defense of Nathan Bedford Forrest."   Subtitles to books are often forgotten, but readers should keep Seabrook's defense in mind when reading this book.   Nathan Bedford Forrest was not a man to elicit indifferent responses  — you either love the man or hate him.  So when reading this assessment of Forrest,  the reader quickly discovers that this biography is not an unbiased analysis of the famous cavalryman.

The other caution I would extend to prospective readers is this book is framed in an undying hatred for those who don't love Dixie.  Seabrook makes no secret of his hatred of Yankeeism and Southerners who have been corrupted by those devils north of the Mason-Dixon line.  This perspective begins with the authors Introduction which he signs from "Occupied Middle Tennessee."  The author's defense of Forrest starts with condemnation of Lincoln and Sherman.  In some respects, part of Seabrook's arguments is that Forest didn't do all these bad things, but any he did were in response to Lincoln's illegal war.

Now that we understand the author's predisposition, we can move beyond it to examine his arguments.  This is a well-documented, scholarly study with numerous foot notes that would rival some doctoral dissertations.  For me, the essence of this book is Seabrook's view, "That Forrest is seen as either a deity or a devil is just part what of what makes him so intriguing."  The Forrest that is revealed is a complex man with contradictions.  Because of this, Seabrook's defense is also full of contradictions.  It is my view that most men are neither as good or as bad as we think.   The Forrest that emerges from this book illustrates this clearly.

The book is divided into six parts that address Origins of the Anti-Forest Movement, Charges Against Forrest, From Rural Farmer to Urban Millionaire, Forest & The War for Southern Independence, Forrest in the Postbellum World, and Forrest: A Hero for All Ages.  These topics deal with Forrest as a slave owner and trader, the controversial Battle of Fort Pillow, and General Forrest's participation in the Klu Klux Klan.    Seabrook argues that the charges against Forrest are misplaced and were affected by "hatred of the South, one of whose primary symbols is Forrest."  In the author's view, this hatred of the South has prejudiced historians against Forrest and slanted their arguments.

I doubt that most people's initial thoughts of the South bring Forrest to mind.  Just as when people think of Texas, visions of Sam Houston do not appear.  If we add the Civil War to our search, we wouldn't see any notice of any of the leaders until over 50 topics are mentioned.  When we think about Confederate notables, the names of Lee, Jackson, Davis, and Stuart would appear before Forrest.  None of these leaders engenders the hatred that Forrest garners.  So if historians don't like Forrest it is probable that they have other reasons. 

The Nathan Bedford Forrest revealed in A Rebel Born is a very complex man.   I read this bio-defense with the idea of examining the information that the author presented and then forming my own opinion. 

Forest was a brilliant military tactician.  His mounted infantry forms the basis of much of modern warfare from blitzkrieg to the highly mobile strike forces used today.  Unburdened by the Napoleonic approach to warfare, he was free to use whatever method worked well with the battlefield situation and the capabilities of his men.  That approach clearly marks him as a military virtuoso.  While Seabrook regards Sherman's calling Forrest that "Devil Forrest" as labeling him as a sinner, my perspective is that Sherman and others who fought Forrest had high regard for him and used that term to express their frustration and admiration for a tough and clever opponent.

Some authors have suggested that Forrest was not very smart pointing to his lack of education.  The evidence presented by Seabrook refutes that notion.  His battlefield tactics show a unconventional approach to battle using bluffs, disguising troop sizes, gathering intelligence and disseminating misinformation to the enemy.  His business dealings clearly illustrate that he was quite capable.  Perhaps it is not surprising that some equate undereducated with uneducated.   The author admits that Forrest could have benefited by attending West Point.   This would no doubt amuse the General who had no use for West Pointers be they Union or Confederate.   While his plain speech may not match the prose of his battle reports, it seems likely that he used a vocabulary and style that was meant for his men and the common citizens. The language in his reports may have been fine tuned by his staff just like every field officer in the war.  Seabrook provides anecdotal evidence of Forrest correcting reports.

Brice's Crossroads Monument
Forrest was a leader.  The foundation of his leadership was in his fearless approach to combat.  He was often in the thick of battle where the action was hottest.  His men followed him because he was fearless and they gained confidence from his bravery.  His size also contributed to that role.  However, there was a dark side to Forrest and his men were certainly afraid of him.  They charged into battle knowing that if they did not, they would incur his wrath.  Seabrook illustrates this dark side in a few of the colorful folk tales attributed to the General.  In several cases he struck junior officers and enlisted men.  Seabrook finds these amusing, but another would view them as offenses worthy of court martial.

Forrest was a brilliant tactician and amazing leader, but was he a great soldier?  Regrettably, the evidence presented by Seabrook suggests otherwise.  He fought and threatened his superiors and subordinates.  A times he displayed a lack of understanding of the functions of support units.  Like many independent, self-made men, he was unwilling/uncomfortable taking orders from superiors especially those who he had no regard for.  He came close to having charges filed against him by General Bragg.  At times Forrest seems as troubling for his commanders as his enemies.   The Confederate high command did not know how best to use his unique talents.  He generally performed better when he controlled all of the Confederate forces rather than work in concert with other commanders.

Forrest & Maples
One of the issues that has tainted Forrest's reputation is his relationships with the black community.  Numerous factors have helped forge this negative image.  First, Forrest was a slave holder and slave trader.  The later occupation causes him more difficulty than the first.  Wealthy Southerners owned slaves and this ownership would not automatically carry condemnation with it.  Seabrook makes the case that Forrest was a kind and caring master.  The author points out that slaves were a valuable commodity and that Forrest had the sense to maintain the value of that human capital.  The author says Forrest's slave trading activities were done with an interest in preserving families.  On any kindness scale, slave trading earns more disdain than slave holding and making your living by trading human beings places one on the lower rung of professions.  His involvement in the Klu Klux Klan also adds to this negative image.  Seabrook denies that Forrest was a founder, although there is evidence that he was the leader of his local chapter.  The author points out that this KKK was not the same racially charged version of the last century.  People familiar with the history of the Klan know that it was originally a social and charitable organization.  There are questions about when the Klan start attacking blacks and was Forest involved in this redirection.  Seabrook says that Forrest ordered the Klan disbanded, but how could he do that if he wasn't in a leadership position.   

In his later years, Forrest spoke to the black-organization Independent Order of Pole Bearers.  His tells the group that: "This is a proud day for me. Having occupied the position I have for thirteen years, and being misunderstood by the colored race, I take this occasion to say that I am your friend."  If Forrest had treated his slaves well and was so well-liked by the black community, why was he misunderstood by freed blacks in Memphis.  On the page opposite to where the author quotes Forrest, he says that Forrest "was formulating plans to bring more African blacks to America" and had "bought over about 40 Africans."  He also made use of prison labor, a common practice in the South, on his plantation.

Battle of Fort Pillow
However, the most disturbing chapter in Forrest's life may be his command of the unit that captured Fort Pillow.  This may be the most controversial battle of the Civil War.  Northern authorities charged him with massacring black soldiers.  In his chapter "Fort Pillow: The Full True Story," Seabrook presents his defense of General Forrest's actions with arguments defending the attack and aftermath.  Seabrook reports that of the 557 Union soldiers (295 whites and 262 blacks) present,  231 were killed, 100 wounded, and 226 captured.  The mortality rate for soldiers (killed/(killed and wounded) was 70%.  The author does not present casualty by race, but some estimates indicate that only 58 blacks were taken prisoner (20%) compared to 168 whites (80%).  The overall mortalities were 41% however, if we use the mortality rate of 70% for the 204 blacks who were not taken prisoner we obtain 142 for a 54% mortality figure.  This is certainly a low percentage because it was likely that more blacks were killed as a percentage  than whites.  Seabrook lists the factors (pp. 334-335) contributing to the 40% killed percentage of which 14 of the 15 items mentioned are due to problems on the Union side.   Following this the author cites a number of reasons why the soldiers in Forrest's command had every reason to take out their anger on the garrison (pp. 337-340).  The controversy continues and may never be resolved to the complete satisfaction.  Whether you attribute this to "Dixie-loathing propaganda" by the North or the use of "scurrilous terms employed - out of jealousy, anger, and frustration - by the North for Confederate successes on the battlefield" is a matter of your own opinion.   Clearly the accusations have stuck to Forrest and have tarnished his reputation.

It seems apparent that Forrest's position among Confederate leaders was compromised by, not just one event, but the combination of actions.  These incidents include his occupation as a slave trader, actions at Fort Pillow, and membership in the KKK.  Forrest might have survived one with his image intact, but all three damaged his reputation.

Ultimately, Seabrook is preaching to the choir.  His message is directed to an audience that doesn't need convincing.  His tirades against Yankees and southerners with liberal ideas alienates that part of the public jury that needs to be convinced.  This is an unfortunate and serious shortcoming in A Rebel Born: A Defense of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

There are many books on General Forrest written by Northern and Southern authors.  The following are links to some that I would recommend.