Monday, November 30, 2009

Civil War Joke-Stonewall Jackson and Music

For all of Stonewall Jackson's talents, music was not one of them.
A female singer came to entertain the men in his brigade. After a performance of several songs, Jackson asked her to perform Dixie.
She replied,"Why General, I already did."
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Intelligence Failures and Civilian Contractors

As part of the research for my third novel, I have been reading Edwin Fishel's The Secret War for the Union. It is a book about the role that intelligence gathering played in the outcome of the Civil War.

In the initial parts of the book, Fischel makes a persuasive case that an intelligence failure contributed to the Union defeat at First Bull Run. A spy attached to General Patterson's Federal army in the Shenandoah Valley learned that Joseph Johnston's army in the same region had left its positions to reinforce General Beauregard's forces at Manassas. Patterson failed to pass on the information in time to help General Irvin McDowell, commander of the Union Army at Manassas. The information that McDowell did have about Johnston's approaching army was not processed by his staff because he had no intelligence officer. In the end, Johnston's reinforcements played a decisive role in defeating Union forces at First Manassas. Even in the Civil War, intelligence failures played an important role in victory and defeat.

The Civil War also gave us among the first civilian contractors in our history. Allan Pinkerton, the Scottish-born head of a Chicago-based detective agency, was hired by George McClellan to do counterintelligence in Washington, DC and to spy on the Confederacy. Pinkerton arrested Rose Greenhow, the Confederate spy in Washington and sent agents to Richmond. However, he remained a civilian and never acquired a military commission. Though Fishel doesn't give him the label, Pinkerton was a civilian contractor. The CIA after 9/11 was not the first to subcontract its work to outside civilians.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review-A Separate Country by Robert Hicks

A Separate Country is really a novel about Reconstruction, not the Civil War. In many ways, it's a follow-up to Robert Hicks's first novel, The Widow of the South.

Nevertheless, the book provides some insight into the psychology of the fighting men. By describing the inner life of John Bell Hood, the author writes about how it was necessary to forget those who died in previous battles. Harsh as it was, it served as the only way for the survivors to keep going. In addition, the psychology of generals is also described. After the Battle of Franklin, Hood wonders how his men could let themselves suffer so many casualties. It never occurs to him that he could have had any role in his men's disaster.

Hood's alleged remorse is where the fiction comes into play. Hicks portrays Hood as a man wracked by remorse over his role in that battle. Hood even calls himself a murderer. I did a bit of research and consulted with others online. There is little evidence that he felt such self-revulsion. There may have been some regret but there seemed to have been little mea culpa on his part. Well, it is a novel after all.

As a work of fiction, A Separate Country is very good. The characters are vivid and real. The portrayal of the killer Sebastien LeMerle is excellent. His crimes, though reprehensible, can be understood. You don't agree with them but you see why he did them. The prose is brilliant. Hicks's description of Hood's marriage is accurate and interesting. You feel that Hood and his wife Anne-Marie are truly in love despite the baggage that marriage can gather.

Though it is lightweight as a Civil War book, A Separate Country is worth reading for itself.
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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Effects of the Civil War on West Point

A little while ago, I attended a talk on the Civil War's effect on the West Point military academy at the New York Civil War Roundtable. Ty Seidule, a colonel in the 82nd Airborne Division, and a teacher at the academy, gave a wonderful lecture on the subject.
He described how the onset of the secession crisis divided the Academy and its cadets. Prior to the war, the cadets became politicized. Several Southern cadets wore blue ribbons called the South Carolina cockade. One pro-Union cadet, Morris Schaff, said it took more courage to vote for Lincoln than to participate in Picketts Charge. With secession, Southerners gradually left the Academy and the men suffered the traumatic experience of companies splitting between the North and South.
After the war, any mention of the graduates who fought for the Confederacy was expunged. Though the Academy accepted Southern cadets when their states were readmitted to the Union, post-war monuments only noted the contributions of Union officers. In 1897, West Point erected the memorial to the Regular Army. The Battle Monument listed 2,230 names, all of them from the Union Army. Southern cadets called it "the monument to Southern marksmanship." The leaders of the Academy gave the motto "duty, honor, country" to the institution in 1898. They meant it as a rebuke to the men whom they saw as repudiating the oath they took upon graduating the Academy.
The exclusion has continued into the 20th century. In 1971, President Nixon visited the Academy and as part of his Southern strategy, demanded that a Confederate monument be erected. The commandant of West Point, General Knowlton, searched for a way to avoid this Presidential directive. Knowlton asked Percy Squire, the leader of the black cadets, how his men would react to the monument. Squire replied that the graduates who left for the South violated their oath and that black cadets would boycott a Confederate monument. From Squire's answer, Knowlton told Nixon's officials that a Confederate monument would hurt minority recruitment and cause dissension at the Academy. That ended any nascent effort to build a Confederate monument.
The only exception to that rule has been Robert E. Lee. Due to Southern political pressure, a portrait of Lee in Confederate gray was placed in the USMA Library.
To this day, the Civil War is contested at West Point and no Confederate monument has been erected.
It was an excellent lecture on what seemed would be a dry subject. Colonel Ty Seidule gave an excellent talk.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Missionary Ridge

Though it occurred yesterday in 1863, I cannot help but comment on it.

At the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to take the Confederate rifle positions at the bottom of the valley and then wait for additional orders. The troops assaulted those pits and took them. Facing enemy fire from the top of the ridge, Union officers and the soldiers themselves disobeyed Grant's orders and attacked the Confederate positions at the top of the ridge. They took those positions, sending Braxton Bragg's Army of the Tennessee into retreat.

Like many successes, this one laid the seed of trouble down the road. Among the officers who disobeyed Grant's orders was Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur. For his part in the successful assault, MacArthur received the Medal of Honor. He later fathered Douglas MacArthur. One lesson Arthur imparted to Douglas was the occasional need for a military man to disobey orders to achieve his objective. The younger MacArthur would follow this lesson as commander of UN forces in Korea, leading to his climactic confrontation with President Truman.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Civil War Joke-Abe's Furlough

President Lincoln received the following request for a furlough from a Union Army private. It shows the difference one word can make.

"Mr. President,

I have been in the service for a year and I request permission for a furlough of fifteen days to remove my family to the poorhouse."

Abraham Lincoln carefully pondered the request the request and granted it.
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Civil War Joke-Gettysburg

On the eve of Picketts Charge on Day 3 of the Battle of Gettysburg, the division of Confederate general George Pickett rested in Spanglers Wood before being given the order to attack the Union lines in front of them.

Just before he rose from his resting place, a Confederate soldier saw a hare running to the rear.

The soldier commented,"If I was a little rabbit, I'd run away too."
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Civil War Joke

A soldier made the mistake of losing his bayonet. To compensate, he made one of wood until his next battle, where he hoped to get one off a dead soldier. Unfortunately for him, his commanding officer ordered an inspection. When confronted by his sergeant, he protested handing his new and improved bayonet over saying,"I swore to my father that I would not unsheath it unless I planned to kill with it." The officer demanded that he hand it over. The soldier gave it but looked toward the sky and intoned with a solemn voice,"May God turn this bayonet into wood for having broken my vow."
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Military Rules Broken

Today in 1864, Sherman's army marched through Georgia toward Savannah. Instead of the traditional four man column on a road, Sherman's two wings stretched out widely over sixty miles. The force was spread thin and vulnerable to attack. Fortunately for Sherman, no formidable Confederate force was in the vicinity to oppose him. He violated not only marching procedure but that key military axiom: concentration of mass.

Lee joined Sherman in breaking the rules taught in the academies. Lee's famous division of his army at Chancellorsville defied all military logic yet it succeeded brilliantly.

However, only masters like Sherman and Lee could successfully pull off these violations of the rules. In 1879, Lord Chelmsford divided his forces when his British colonial army marched into Zulu territory in South Africa. The result was the Battle of Isahndlwarna, the first engagement where a non-European force defeated a colonial army. The American Army's spreading itself thin in Iraq partially led to the unraveling of that country by late 2006.

Only the best can break these rules. To paraphrase a French saying, even with technology, the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How the Civil War Inspires Me

I have begun submitting my novel again to literary agents. I emailed several query letters on Sunday and received my first rejection email this evening. I've been down this road before so I expect it.

I have even designated words to myself when I get a rejection. They are, of course, from a mortally wounded Civil War soldier.

On his deathbed, the man said,"We will never give up."

I remembered those words when I first heard them in Ken Burns's Civil War documentary. As you can tell, they still ring in my ears. I will remember them during these hard times ahead when I look for an agent.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

The Power of Civil War Memory

My grandfather told me an interesting story the other day.

In the 1930's, (he is ninety-nine, God bless him), he made a trip to visit a cousin in Virginia. He is my maternal grandfather, descended from Polish Jews, who came to this country at the turn of the 20th century. His family came in dribs and drabs and one branch ended up in Virginia. My grandfather was born in Boston and raised largely in Brooklyn.

My grandfather kept up with that part of the family and made a visit. When his cousin introduced him to people, he told them,"This is my damn Yankee cousin from New York."

Think of it. These were first-generation Americans and sons of immigrants whose families had no connection to the Civil War. Yet, the memory lived on.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Civil War Joke-Robert E. Lee

This joke says a lot about the South's great general.

A man in Memphis goes to the top of a building and threatens to jump off.

A police negotiater is sent up to try and talk him down.

The negotiater says,"In the name of your wife and family, you should come down."

The man says,"I have no wife and family."

The negotiater tries another tack. "Then in the name of your church, you should come down."

"I have no church."

The negotiater sighs and tries a final gambit. "In the name of Robert E. Lee, you should come down."

"Who is Robert E. Lee?"

Incensed, the negotiater tells him,"Jump, you damned Yankee! Jump!"
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Salute You

First, tell me if you can guess who the Civil War soldier is. I'm sure there are many of you out there who can.
Since today is Veterans Day, I think they deserve a tribute. To the veterans past and present, I have only four words: thank you for everything.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Confederate Captain Enters Friendly Territory

On this day in 1862, Commander Maury of the Confederate Navy entered friendly Canada. The captain took his ship from Bermuda to Halifax, Nova Scotia. When he brought his vessel to port, he discovered the Confederate flag being flown from a seaside hotel for an entire day in his and his crew's honor. He never knew he had such good allies.

The Canadians must have wished the North much ill. We had only invaded them twice before.
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Monday, November 9, 2009

The President and the Actor

Today in 1863, President Lincoln went to the theater tonight with his wife. Despite his wishes, they saw a melodrama called "Marble Heart." One of the stars of American theater played one of the lead roles. His name was John Wilkes Booth.

Don't you just love the irony in that situation?
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

New York Civil War Site-Home of the New York Confederate

This is the home of an ardent New York Confederate. His name was Roger Pryor and he served as a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. Prior to the war, he served as a diplomat to Greece in 1854 and later founded a newspaper called The South in which he advocated an ardently pro-secession position.
When the war came, he was elected to the Confederate Congress but left politics to serve as colonel in the 3rd Virginia Infantry. He earned a promotion to brigadier general and fought in the Peninsula Campaign and at Second Manassas. During Antietam, he took command of Anderson's Division inside Longstreet's Corps when Major General Richard Anderson suffered a wound.
In an action duplicated by several Confederate generals, he quarreled with Jefferson Davis over his wish for higher command. He resigned his commission and his brigade was dismantled. In August 1863, he rejoined the army as a private in General Fitzhugh Lee's Virginia cavalry regiment. Union forces captured him on November 28, 1864. Lincoln released him on parole and he came back to Virginia.
In 1865, poverty compelled him to move himself and his family to New York City. Using his prior law degree, he established a prosperous law firm with the hated "Beast" Benjamin Butler. Becoming a respected member of the bar, he was appointed as a judge of the New York Court of Common Pleas from 1890 to 1894 and then later served as a justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1894 to 1899.
The picture above is on 157 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights. A quick subway trip across the East River will get you there. Pryor's home looked like the brownstones across the street. The apartment complex you see above is of more recent construction but come and see the home of New York City's Confederate. Pryor was a symbol of how some people truly reconciled with their enemies after the war.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Command Changes

During the Civil War, 'tis was the season for command changes. Like a baseball team in the off-season, it was time to hire or promote new management. Since the armies were generally in winter quarters during this time of the year, the timing was appropriate.

The North and the South both made some big changes. Yesterday in 1862, Lincoln replaced McClellan with Ambrose Burnside to lead the Army of the Potomac. Today in the same year, Longstreet became a lieutenant general and head of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. Stonewall Jackson also rose in the ranks to head the Second Corps of Lee's army.

Of course, we all know the results of the change in the Union's command. Winter was the season when the civilian leadership hoped to get the commanders in the right places. Unfortunately, Lincoln felt the need to change his head coach many times. Even when he found a good general manager (Grant), it could be argued that he did not find a dynamic coach for the Army of the Potomac until Phil Sheridan. It took four winters and the beginning of the regular season for that army to reach the necessary level of leadership.
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Civil War Joke-Definition of Bravery

Obviously, the experience of war altered peacetime views about courage and bravery.

After suffering the hardships of battle, a Civil War soldier said,"A brave soldier is a compassionate enemy."
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Civil War Joke-Fixing the Bugler

During the winters, Civil War soldiers, possibly to sleep later, would play a trick on the bugler. During the nights, they would fill his bugle with water. By the morning, it would freeze and the bugler would not be able to wake them up until the instrument thawed out.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

New York Civil War Site: Abe Lincoln's Anti-Slavery Church

Yes, Lincoln visited here. He came to New York to deliver his Cooper Union speech except, as I mentioned in a previous post, he was originally invited to speak in Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Above is a picture of the pew where he sat on February 26, 1860. He delivered his speech at Cooper Union and returned to sit and worship in the balcony two weeks later.
The church itself has an interesting history. Built in 1849 in Brooklyn Heights, it seated over 2,000 people. Its chief preacher was Henry Ward Beecher, depicted in a statue above. Though not an abolitionist, he was anti-slavery. He held fourteen slave auctions in which money was raised to free bondsmen in the South. The church was also a way station on the Underground Railroad. From here, church members ferried slaves up to New England by ship or overland. It is speculated that slaves were hidden in the church basement. In addition, church members concealed slaves in storerooms inside their own homes.
As mentioned before, though Brooklyn was not yet officially a part of New York City, the two cities were closely linked economically. New York was pro-slavery due to its close ties with the South. The city shipped goods southward and held the mortgages and loans made to many Southerners. Hence, being anti-slavery in Brooklyn in the years prior to war was anything but popular. The churchgoers also defied the Fugitive Slave Law in hiding and transporting bondsmen.
Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church can be visited by a quick hop on the subway across the East River into Brooklyn.