Friday, May 31, 2013

Military Honors

The New York Times Sunday Review: The Opinion Pages contained a thought provoking piece by Jamie Malanowski titled "Misplaced Honor."  Mr. Malanowski  wrote that after the Civil War the "recognition of common loss helped reconcile North and South." He continues by noting "Equivalence of experience was stretched to impute an equivalence of legitimacy." This led to actions to "whitewash the actions of the rebels." "The most egregious example of this was the naming of United States Army bases after Confederate generals."

He discusses the military installations in the South and the generals that the bases were named after.
He points out that these bases are "named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers." Mr. Malanowski says that it is time to rename these bases for men whose names are not linked to rebellion, slavery, and racism.

The New York Times opinion page article says that there are 10 US bases "named after generals who led soldiers who fought and killed United States Army soldiers." The following is a list of 11 posts that I assembled:
  1. Fort Rucker - Alabama - Edmund Rucker - Confederate "General" Honorary title - Industrialist
  2. Fort Gordon - Georgia - John Brown Gordon - Confederate Major General and State Governor
  3. Fort Benning - Georgia - Henry L. Benning - Confederate Brigadier General
  4. Camp Beauregard - Louisiana - P. G. T. Beauregard - Confederate General
  5. Fort Polk - Louisiana - Leonidas Polk - Confederate General and Episcopal Bishop
  6. Fort Bragg - North Carolina - Braxton Bragg - Confederate General
  7. Fort Hood - Texas - John Bell Hood - Confederate General
  8. Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation - Virginia - William N. Pendleton - Confederate Brigadier General 
  9. Fort A. P. Hill - Virginia - A. P. Hill - Confederate Lieutenant General
  10. Fort Lee - Virginia - Robert E. Lee - Confederate General
  11. Fort Pickett - Virginia - George Pickett - Confederate General 
Fort Jackson in South Carolina is named after Andrew Jackson and Camp Davis in North Carolina is named for Major General Richmond P. Davis (1866-1937).

There are also a number of Civil War generals whose names graced military posts that are now closed.  On the Union side, there is Fort McClellan, Camp Stoneman, Fort Ord, Fort Winfield Scott, Fort McPherson, Camp Grant, Fort Sheridan, Camp Sherman, and Fort Meade. Some installations named after Confederate officers have also been closed such as Camp Maxey and Camp Wheeler.  Actually, more bases named after Confederate generals seemed to have survived than Union generals.  I found Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, Fort Custer in Michigan, and Camp Sherman in Ohio.

This issue is a subset of a greater question: "Should we accord Confederate soldiers the same honors that are bestowed upon soldiers who fought to defend the Union and end the rebellion?"  This issue is part historic and part political. These bases are located in the South and serve to honor local heroes. The names also serve as reminders of the conflict and warnings for future generations. The names were undoubtedly part of the very pork barrel legislation that brought the bases to the South in the first place. However, these forts may also be tributes to the "Lost Cause" belief that arose after the war.

Those who want to retain the names of Southern leaders on bases, parks, and public buildings usually state the historical connection.  Those that argue for name changes base their desire on removing any honors for those who supported, what Malanowski terms, "a racist slavocracy."

General William Worth
In most cases the attachment to the person whose name appears on the post is hardly remembered.  I doubt that many people know who Fort Worth is named after much less the details of General William Worth's life.  As I wrote this I wondered how Dallas got its name.  According to the Texas State Historical Association, the origin of the name is unknown.  It might have been George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States, 1845–49; his brother, Commodore Alexander J. Dallas, United States Navy; and Joseph Dallas, who settled near the new town in 1843.  Will the origins of the names of military posts suffer the same fate or will they be replaced by a new state hero?

Another question that Malanowski raises is whether the honor is even appropriate.  He cites the dubious credentials of Braxton Bragg, Leonidas Polk, John Hood, and George Pickett.  If southern leaders wanted to honor their great generals, why not nominate Thomas Jackson, James Longstreet,  J.E.B. Stuart, or either of the Johnstons?

General Lewis Armistead
Some attribute the names to healing the nation's wounds and remembering that all of the men were Americans.  I doubt that any Southerner thought of himself as either an American or Confederate.  A scene in the movie, Gettysburg, really defines the men's allegiance.  On the onset of Pickett's Charge, another technically incorrect label, Brigadier General Lewis Amistead urges the men forward by calling on their pride as Virginians.

There is no answer for the decisions made in selecting the names of these posts.  We cannot impose today's values and attitudes on choices made decades ago.  Time and new heroes will alter the names and the connection to man honored will fade into memory.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pfc. Sid Phillips - A Determined 1942 Confederate

Allen and Dr. Phillips
We are sometimes fortunate to meet a real American hero.  My wife and I had that privilege on Saturday morning May 18, 2013 near Mobile, AL. We spent several hours with Dr. Sid Phillips and his delightful sister, Katherine Singer, at his antique shop.  Dr. Phillips may be better known as Pfc. Phillips of the First Marine Regiment, First Marine Division and lifelong friend of Eugene Sledge.  Sid and Eugene were two of the principle characters in HBO's miniseries, The Pacific.  Dr. Phillips signed a copy of his book, You'll Be Sor-ree, about his experiences fighting the Japanese in World War II.

I was respectful of his experiences and refrained from dredging up memories of the horrors of the Pacific Theater.  I mentioned that I was interested in the Civil War, and we began a wonderful conversation about the war and Dr. Phillips' interest in history.  Dr. Phillips left briefly and returned with several page of photographs of himself and Pfc. W. O. Brown.  He titled the collection "Two Determined 1942 Confederates." Phillips and Brown were stationed at what is now Camp Lejeune and used "two thumbs for transportation" to visit Civil War sites at Bentonville and Fort Fisher. On the beach at Fort Fisher, the soldiers found minie balls, flat pewter buttons, and round balls.  The 17-year olds took turns taking pictures of each other next to battlefield markers and earthworks. Dr. Phillips told how he and Eugene used to visit the Spanish Fort battlefield, north of Mobile, to hunt for relics. The battlefield is gone, but Phillips' boyhood memories are undisturbed.

This introduction led to stories about their childhood.  My favorite, among the many told, was Katherine's recollection of sitting on a porch surrounded by men. She said the men would spit into a spittoon every time they said "Yankee." Mrs. Singer said it was not until she was an adult, that she realized that you didn't spit every time you said "Yankee." 

Dr. Phillips Signing his Book
I must admit to being an awestruck kid the entire time of our visit and in a daze that lasted well into the afternoon.  Visions from the Tom Hanks drama crept into my mind, and I marveled at Dr. Phillips' war heroics and post-war triumphs.  Driven by his wartime experiences, he decided  to become a doctor, worked his way through medical school supported by his wife, and became a successful physician.  

I consider myself  extremely fortunate to have met a real hero, and I wished others could have shared my experience.  My thought quickly faded, when I realized that we all have the opportunity to meet heroes this Memorial Day weekend.  Take time to thank them for their service and sacrifice.

Dr. Phillips signed the book "To Allen an American patriot. 2nd Timothy 1:7. Pfc. Sid Phillips." The verse he quoted reads: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." I'm not sure I deserve the honor, but I know that Pfc. Sid Phillips does.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Men, Metals, and Minerals

An interesting post in Daily Writing Tips, one of my favorite blogs, presented a list of "10 Metals and Minerals for Metaphors." The list "sometimes inspire[s] associations with human characteristics or with circumstances." This suggested that I might develop a list of Civil War leaders who might demonstrate these characteristics.

"Brassy" Stuart
"Golden" Jackson

  1. Adamant - Perhaps no officer comes to mind as "insistent" or "unyielding" except U. S. Grant.  Longstreet described him as a bull dog. 
  2. Brassy - The candidates exhibiting "bold, clamorous,or unruly behavior" are Nathan B. Forrest,  JEB Stuart, and George A. Custer.
  3. Bronze - This can refer to a person's complexion or in reference to a "physically imposing" man. I would classify these men as officers who "look and act the part." Certainly, this term would be appropriate for Robert E. Lee.  
  4. Flinty - The term meaning "stern, unyielding" could refer to any number of the West Point Regular officers.  I nominate C. F. Smith and Gordon Mead for this metaphor.
  5. Golden - This word is used to describe someone who is "excellent, popular, or otherwise remarkable."  How about Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson?  JEB Stuart might be a runner up.
  6. Iron - This element has been used to describe strength, robustness, relentlessness, and firmness.  U. S. Grant and William Sherman might demonstrate this characteristic.
  7. Leaden - This term is associated with "heaviness," lack of mobility, and inflexibility.  The top choice, not surprisingly, is George B. McClellan. On the Confederate side you might name Joseph Johnston.
  8. Ossified - The trait of being set in their ways could be applied to a cadre of officers in both armies.
  9. Silver - As in eloquent persuasion, "silver tongued," or distinguished, "silver haired."  In the distinguished category we have Robert E. Lee and his West Point classmate, Joseph Johnston. As for silver-tongued, perhaps "Prince John" Magruder would be my choice.  Alternatively, we could add the multitude of officers from both the North and South who charmed the ladies and convinced citizens that it was better to give than receive. 
  11. Steely - The adjective refers to strength and hardness as so ably demonstrated by "Stonewall" Jackson at First Bull Run, George Thomas at Chickamauga,  John B. Gordon at Antietam, and Patrick Cleburne in many battles. 
Please feel free to nominate your own favorites to the list.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Do Clothes Make the Man?

U. S. Grant
General Ulysses S. Grant is often criticized for his careless dress and lack of concern about his appearance.  This comment is often made in comparison with the more properly attired General Robert E. Lee.  The differences are quite legitimate and are tied to values formed during the Mexican War.  Like Grant and Lee, the two American commanding generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott placed different values on their appearance.  Zachary Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," was roughly dressed and cared little for appearances.  Taylor was described as "rough-hewn, folksy, direct, and at the outset self-effacing." Grant admired and emulated Taylor.  Winfield Scott, "Old Fuss and Feathers," was entrenched in the style and formalities of rank.  He was considered America's greatest military genius of the first half of the nineteenth century.  He was devoted to the details of strategy in contrast to Taylor's broad-brush approach.  Lee was on Scott's staff and would have been expected to observe the General's dress codes.  Lee retained much of what he learned from Scott including his dedication to proper appearance. 

Robert E. Lee
We are led to believe that fastidious dress is a reflection of an ordered and structured mind. Stated another way that sloppiness in appearance is a reflection of a lazy, disorganized mind. Hence, Lee gets added style points for his military bearing. The criticism of Grant may also fall into the category of "your ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

"Stonewall" Jackson
This all brings me to the greatest general in the Civil War - Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.  I recently learned that unlike his commander, Robert E. Lee, and his friend, JEB Stuart, Jackson was described as being "threadbare and disheveled."  This aspect of Stonewall's persona is seldom mentioned.  I can only conclude that as far as military issues are concerned clothes don't make the man.  Perhaps the lyrics of Trace Adkins' song are more appropriate: "All hat and no cattle, that boy just ain't real. All hat and no saddle... 'Cause all hat and no cattle ain't gonna get it done."

Sources: John Eisenhower So Far from God and Monte Akers Year of Glory.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fort Craig, NM

Commanding Officer's Quarters
Several miles off Route 25 between Las Cruces and San Antonio, New Mexico lies the crumbled remains of Fort Craig. The fort was built in 1854 along the El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land) to defend travelers and settlers from Indian raids. The fort was named after Captain Louis S. Craig who was a American officer in the Mexican War.

General Sibley
With the outbreak of the Civil War, the fort assumed a new importance in defending the gold fields of Colorado and California from the cash-strapped Confederacy.  By July 1861, Fort Craig was the largest fort in the Southwest with a garrison of over 2,000 soldiers.  The same year, the First New Mexico Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed.  The mostly Hispanic unit was commanded by Colonel Kit Carson.

Colonel Canby
The war soon came to this remote outpost along the Rio Grande River in 1862.  General Henry H. Sibley led a brigade of about 2,500 Confederate troops up the Rio Grande to Fort Craig.  In response to the threat on Fort Craig, Col. R. S. Canby, the military governor of the New Mexico Territory, moved his troops down from Santa Fe to Fort Craig.  In February 1862, five regiments of New Mexico volunteers were marched from Fort Union to supplement the Regular Army troops at Fort Craig.

Gravel Bastions
When the Confederate force reached the fort, Sibley tried to induce the Union force to meet them outside for a battle.  Sibley demanded that Canby surrender the fort.  The Union commander refused the battle challenge and the surrender.  Silbey's thoughts to attack the fort were quickly squashed when he saw how well the fort was defended by artillery.  The armament was a ruse, and Canby had mounted wooded logs painted black on the gravel bastions supplemented by Union caps and real soldiers. 

Guard House and Sally Port
On February 21, Sibley was eventually able to draw the Canby's forces into battle.  The two armies met at the Battle of Valverde north of Fort Craig on the eastern side of the Rio Grande. Canby's 3,000 Union soldiers were defeated by Silbey's 2,590 Confederates. The Confederates, under command of Texan Tom Green, defeated the larger Union force inflicting 432 casualties.  Two hundred of the casualties were identified as missing or captured, however most of these men deserted.   The Union forces retreated to the safety of Fort Craig, but not before the New Mexico Volunteers under Col. Miquel Pino burned the Confederate supply wagons.  Silbey's troops continued their march north and won another victory at Glorieta Pass on March 28.  However, the Confederate campaign in New Mexico was terminated, when, as at Valverde, Union troops destroyed the supply train.  Without supplies, Silbey was forced to leave New Mexico and return to Texas.

Today, the remains of Fort Craig are all that is left of the Battle of Valverde.  Please see my pictures of the fort. I hope that you will have the opportunity to visit the site maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. If you tour the site, please stay on the trails, keep off the walls and bastions, and watch out for rattlesnakes.