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