Monday, August 31, 2009

Civil War Joke#2-Beware the Civilians

Military people have throughout history felt a contempt for civilians. I believe that feeling is reflected in this joke.

When given kindness, a soldier will respond with kindness. A civilian, when given kindness, will respond with treason.
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Longstreet: Unfairly Maligned

Since today is the anniversary of the third day of Second Bull Run or Manassas, it is fitting to discuss General James Longstreet's role in it.

On the third day of the battle, his corps launched the largest mass attack of the war, 25,000 men, and broke General Pope's army on the Bull Run battlefield. This assault overshadowed Picketts Charge by 10,000 men.

Longstreet prevailed upon Lee to delay launching the attack until the afternoon of August 30th. On three prior occasions, Longstreet and his staff persuaded Lee to wait for more advantageous conditions. At one point, Longstreet's corps would have had to assault the fortified position on the Warrenton Turnpike. He launched his attack at 4pm on Day 3 of the battle, causing a rout of the Union Army.

Advocates of the Lost Cause, especially the Lee biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, argue that the seeds for the disaster at Gettysburg were laid at Second Manassas. They point to the fact that Longstreet was able to persuade Lee from attacking earlier than was done.

This argument presupposes that Lee was infallible. Robert E. Lee was a great general but he made mistakes. The attack on Day 3 of Gettysburg was a failure of military judgment. On the other hand, Longstreet's attack on the third day of Second Bull Run succeeded because he sent his men forward under favorable conditions. Longstreet clearly did not believe in assault for its own sake. I think he was maligned partially because of his stands during Reconstruction.

His assault on this day in 1862 was an impressive achievement.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lesson from the Walmart in the Wilderness

Walmart's victory in obtaining its permit last Monday is a lesson for historical preservationists.

I noted something very interesting about the comments of the local people at the hearing. Many of them clearly supported the opening of the superstore. One woman said,"Many people call us dumb shoppers so let us have a Walmart." It's seems clear that many if not most of the local people wanted the new store. I get the sense that many of the people who opposed were from outside Orange County.

I don't think that the Board of Supervisors would have voted in favor of the permit if the majority of their constituents opposed it.

This is a lesson for historical preservation battles in the future.
It is good to get petitions signed and protests made but it is more important to win over the local people. Public relations campaigns should be launched. People need to be convinced that it is better to have a historical site and a nature preserve than just another store. Billboards should be purchased, flyers should be distributed in malls and shopping centers and Internet mailings sent. The people living there must be won over. Enlightened and educated outsiders are only a beginning. The people on the ground are the key.

This is what we must take from this setback.

I'm curious to hear what you think about what has happened and what could be learned. Please give me your views.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Second Bull Run-A Strategic Victory

On this day in 1862, the Second Bull Run or Manassas battle began. Though it was an important Southern victory, I think it was largely a tactical one.

Second Bull Run did not change the strategic balance of power in the war. Basically, the North had the superiority in men and resources. Due to that predominance, much of the war consisted of Union forces marching into the South and tangling with Confederate forces. Through much of the war, the Confederates often repulsed the Union armies but the Northern forces continued to return. This is exactly what happened. After Antietam, the North launched another offensive with disasterous results in front of Fredericksburg.

This is why Gettysburg and Antietam were such important battles. Lee understood the balance of power and sought to change it with his invasions of the North. The South could only win the war through a clear strategic victory on Union soil.

When those efforts failed, it was only a matter of time before Northern will and superiority of resources would begin to tell.

I'm curious to know your viewpoint. What is your opinion of the significance of Second Bull Run?
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Impact of the Civil War from a Global Perspective

This post is inspired by Rea Andrew Redd's latest post on his Civil War Librarian blog.

I think it is important to recognize that the Civil War was a largely regional war. At best, its international impact was confined to Canada and Mexico. Our war later influenced Canada to create a stronger federation when it united in 1867. As for Mexico, the Civil War allowed France to prolong its occupation of that country. However, to the chagrin of Southern statesmen like Jefferson Davis, the war did not have a global significance. The failure of the South's policy of diplomatic recognition showed the regional significance of the conflict. Unlike our entry into the First World War, no outside power felt the need to get involved.

One should recognize that the United States at that time was what we would call a developing country. The center of art, culture and political power lay in Europe in the 1860's. The 1870 Franco-Prussian War had a far greater importance for Europe and the world than our Civil War. Though Britain and France were forced to choose about Confederate recognition, neither country felt the need to intervene.

Like the weaker side in any conflict, the South sought to internationalize the conflict. The North successfully sought to keep the diplomatic confines of the war within America. This was one reason Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. His edict made it impossible for Britain to recognize the Confederacy because the Proclamation electrified the anti-slavery British public in favor of the Union. It was a masterful diplomatic move that kept the war from becoming an international one.

This is not to detract from the massive significance that the war had within our country. It was a foundational conflict like the Revoltionary War that set our course forever. However, its global impact was limited at best.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Civil War Joke#1: Beware your mail

I think jokes represent the spirit of not only individuals but of eras as well. For this reason, they should be told.

A soldier left home to join the army and told his sweetheart that he would write to her every day. He fulfilled his pledge but after six months, his girlfriend sent him a Dear John letter and told him she was marrying someone else. When he wrote to his family asking for the author of this thievery, they informed him it was the MAILMAN.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

1st Civil War Black Unit Ordered into Existence Today

This is the picture of General David Hunter, the commander of the 1st South Carolina Infantry, the first black unit to be legally raised during the Civil War.

On this day in 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued orders for General Hunter to assemble up to 5,000 men into army service.

Hunter had petitioned the War Department in April 1862 to muster black regiments. After a month, he received no response.

In May 1862, Hunter decided on self-help and dragooned thousands of contrabands in the Union-controlled Sea Islands. Many protested at being forced into the service against their will. Hunter allowed those unwilling to serve to go home. Those who stayed remained unofficially in the Army.

Word of Hunter's action reached Washington and caused an outcry. On August 9th, the War Department ordered him to disband his units. The reversal came on August 25th after Stanton and President Lincoln met with Robert Small and Mansfield French in the White House.

Hunter formed his regiment and the first of over 200,000 black soldiers began their service with the Union Army.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wilderness Vote Tonight

Tonight, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will vote on Wal Mart's application on the Wilderness battlefield.

After months of debate and protests, the Board will finally make its decision.

Last Friday, the county's Planning Commission deadlocked at 4-4 and did not vote to recommend Wal Mart's application. That was a denial in effect.

There is still time to take action. We can still email the Board of Supervisors. I sent my email in this morning. I urged them to reject Wal Mart's application and accept the offer of an alternative site by developer Fred Marcantoni. When they check their emails today, I hope they will feel pressured to reject the application.

This is our last chance to save the battlefield. Do we really want a Wal Mart superstore on the field where so many men gave their lives? Please take this step.
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lincoln's Statement of Intent

On this day in 1862, President Lincoln gave his famous response to Horace Greeley's challenge to him to end slavery.

Lincoln replied,"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that."

As it turned out, Lincoln first freed some and others alone. He later freed them all.

This clarity of purpose and policy showed what a great leader he was. His overarching purpose was to save the Union. All else became ancillary to that central goal. Perhaps the war gave him that clarity.

Who knows if could have maintained that focus if he had lived? Would full citizenship for the former slaves been his central purpose after the war?

That is one of history what-ifs, so tantalizing yet elusive.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final Decision on the Wilderness Wal Mart

Tonight, the Orange County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Wal Mart's application to build a superstore on the Wilderness battle site.

The Commission will hear all objections tonight and the county Board of Supervisors will vote on the application tonight or at 7pm on Friday. According to a local Fredericksburg newspaper, a majority of the supervisors is leaning towards approving the application.

What can we do? We can send emails to each of the supervisors. I have listed their email addresses in the June portion of my blog. You can cut and paste their addresses. In addition, you can go to the Civil War Preservation Trust website and enter your name to a prepared email to Michael Duke, the CEO of Wal Mart.

Only a public groundswell will stop this from happening.

Please help.
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Potential Final Lincoln Signature

A man in South Amherst, Illinois might have Abraham Lincoln's final signature.

Bruce Steiner discovered a note on the back of an envelope he purchased at a flea market.

The note stated,"Let this man enter with this note. April 14, 1865. A. Lincoln."

Isn't it amazing what you can find at a flea market?

Obviously, the question arises about its authenticity. Steiner himself originally refused to believe it. Local historical societies shunned him.

However, John Lupton, the assistant director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a preservation project at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois, supports Steiner's claim. Lupton believes the signature is authentic due to his handwriting analysis. It's clear that more analysis needs to be done.

Steiner's discovery shows the ad-hoc nature of government during the 19th century. An internal White House note or memo from the Obama or Bush Administrations would never end up at a garage sale. Those documents would lie in a Federal vault in Washington, DC awaiting declassification. It would be stamped "Classified" even if it were a purchase order to Wal Mart for toilet paper.

Times have changed.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Civil War Militaries: The Do-It-Yourself Armies

A Civil War soldier had to do everything himself, almost literally. I was inspired to write this post by an article in the Civil War Interactive about reenactors building their own huts.

When he went into winter quarters, a soldier had to build his own hut. As described by George Anson Bruce in the Regimental History of the 20th Massachussetts, the blowing of the autumn winds sent the men into nearby forests. They cut the trees and began the work of making the wood into housing blocks. They used a material called mother wit to keep out the drafts. They stayed in these self-made huts for months until the spring campaign season began. The men received a course each winter in logging and carpentry.

They also had to make their own meals. At any rest period, the coffee grounds went into mugs tied to pieces of wire. The fires were lit and the men made their own coffee. Many soldiers carried skillets over their shoulders as part of their gear. They would enjoy(?) a meal of coffee, bacon or salt pork leavened by hardtack. One historian quipped that this was a diet designed to create acute indigestion.

It was a different military. You did not have the legions of outside contractors to build the quarters or make the meals. Naturally, soldiers now have more specialized jobs so the contractors have become necessary. The amount of necessary support staff is much higher.

However, the Civil War clearly turned our soldiers into jacks of all trades.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Trouble in the State of Jones-New York Times Book Review

The New York Times has joined the chorus of questions about State of Jones. In his review, the CUNY history professor David Reynolds echoed many of the weaknesses in the book.

He mentions the lack of evidence for the authors' assertions. Reynolds writes, "The dearth of dependable primary evidence about Knight forces Jenkins and Stauffer to rely often on conjecture." He discusses the frequent use of the words and phrases like "perhaps" and "it is possible." Reynolds makes specific reference to the authors' assertions about Knight's alleged involvement in the battle of Vicksburg despite a lack of clear evidence of him having been there.

The historian also delineates other weaknesses like the lack of direct evidence of Knight's anti-slavery views at the start of the war and the lack of proof for Knight's relationship with Rachel, his alleged lover.

This additional critique of State of Jones further weakens the book's credibility.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Canada in the Civil War

Since I went to Canada recently to visit my family there, I thought I would post about the role of Canada and Canadians in our Civil War.

It is estimated that several thousand Canadians fought in the Civil War. Most were Canadian immigrants who had come to the United States. Most fought for the Union side. A few joined the Confederate forces. The most prominent on the Union side was Edward P. Doherty, an officer who led the squad which captured and killed John Wilkes Booth twelve days after Lincoln's assassination. The most famous Canadian to fight for the South was George Ellsworth, a telegrapher for Confederate cavalry general John Hunt Morgan. Ellsworth played a valuable role in spreading misinformation about the whereabouts of Morgan's forces. No less than twenty-nine Canadians won the Medal of Honor.

The Canadian province of Quebec served as a base for Confederate covert operations. Many French Canadians took a curiously schizophrenic attitude toward the war. Though anti-slavery, a large number sympathized with secession. Perhaps they sensed that a divided United States would be to Canada's advantage.

Due to Canada's neutrality and this pro-Southern attitude, Montreal became a refuge for Southern operations against the North. Confederate agents launched a raid on St. Albans, Vermont in October 1864 and robbed banks there. Union forces pursued them into Canadian territory. Though the perpetrators were arrested, Canadian authorities dismissed the charges.

It should be remembered that Canada was still a possession of the British Empire at that time. Canada was a collection of colonies. In 1867, these separate possessions formed a confederation.

Due to the influence of our Civil War, the Confederation became a more centralized institution. A number of Canada's founders felt that America had given too much power to the states, allowing secession to occur. As a result, they created an appointed Senate with a Governor General appointed by London, an arrangement that lasted until 1931.

It would not be the last time when events in the United States affected our northern neighbor.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Lincoln Pennies

This penny is going on sale today. The US Mint is issuing new Lincoln pennies. A series of them will be issued this year to depict the president's life before his Presidency. This particular coin depicts his pre-presidential life as an attorney in Illinois. Other coins will be issued later this year by the Mint showing Lincoln's log cabin and other images. We are about to see a new side of our president.