Saturday, December 19, 2009

Grant's Insight

As a Jew, I try not to get too excited about dead anti-Semites. I read Dostoevsky and listen to Wagner. I make an exception for Hitler. Which brings me back to Ulysses S. Grant.
He had a great insight at the beginning of the war. During his first engagement with the Confederate army, he noticed that the Southern commander was as afraid as he was. It made him think of the enemy as less than invincible. As he told his staff in 1864,"Let's stop thinking about what Lee will do. Let us think about what we will do." He took that knowledge and used it to accomplish his victories in the West and later to final triumph in Virginia.
Grant seemed to do few things well (being President wasn't one of them). Waging war was definitely one of his skills.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Civil War Blooper-God Bless Those Tiny Feet

Confederate Colonel Alfred Rhett suffered capture by the Union Army. His exquisite pair of boots became an immediate subject of interest to his captors. They pronounced the boots an immediate spoil of war. Unfortunately for them, no one could use them since they were too small for Yankee feet.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grant's Order-A Date of Infamy

On this day in 1862, Ulysses S. Grant did little to cover himself in glory. He issued his Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from his military department by the Mississippi River. The order caused a great deal of suffering among the Jews who had to leave the area before it was rescinded by President Lincoln.

However, I think it's important to put the order in perspective. It was the first and perhaps only act of overt anti-Semitism by an arm of the U.S. Government. In our country, most of the anti-Semitism emerged from private sources and entities. In Europe, the anti-Jewish actions were overt and explicit. Anti-Semitic political parties emerged in the late 19th century. One of the mayors of Vienna, Karl Lueger, was reelected multiple times on an anti-Semitic platform. There was the Dreyfus Affair in France. Then of course came the Nazis and the Holocaust. Though America has a strong anti-Semitic past, the U.S. has not been too bad in comparison to what Jews suffered elsewhere.

Let's put down General Grant's order to an excess of drink, shall we?
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Miscellaneous Joke

A member of Team Tiger came to Mr. Woods's desk and showed him pictures of the women who have admitted and those who have claimed to have slept with him. Tiger Woods took one look at those who claimed it and said,"Damn, I wish I'd slept with them."
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Civil War Blooper-Retreat

Union Colonel Edward Baker informed his eager men that they could find the war if they followed the plume of his hat. They took his admonition seriously when he led them over a cliff during a retreat.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Dubious Joys of Civilian Oversight

Today in 1861, Congress passed the legislation creating the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Set up as a reaction to the defeat at Ball's Bluff, the body remained in existence for the rest of the war. This was an early example of Congress asserting its oversight power over the Executive and the military. On its face, it must have seemed like a good idea. In reality, the Committee played little constructive role in the war. Congress, in general, was largely a nonplayer in the Civil War.

Civilian oversight can play a constructive role in wartime. This was especially true for the Truman Committee during World War II. General George C. Marshall told then-Senator Truman, "Your committee was worth two divisions to me."

So civilian oversight can help a war effort. It just depends on who does the overseeing.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Portable Bible

Today in 1861, the American Bible Society produced a noteworthy report on its activities. Funded by private donations, the Society had sent 7,000 copies of the New Testament each day to the soldiers. It became noted that the most of the troops carried two objects: their Bible and a deck of playing cards. That is one combination of the sacred and the profane. However, upon the onset of battle, the soldiers dropped their decks on the ground on the theory that the gates of Heaven would narrow if their Maker found the cards on them. What would have happened if the Lord somehow stumbled on the incriminating evidence?
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Civil War Screw-Up: Missing Vital Gear

Clint Johnson's Civil War Blunders chronicles the lack of judgment that some leaders displayed.

Confederate General Felix Zellicoffer wanted to show himself to the enemy. To accomplish this goal, he wore a white raincoat. However, he forgot a vital piece of equipment that would allow him to see the Federals: his eyeglasses.
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Civil War Joke-One Big Man

David Van Buskirk of the 27th Indiana Regiment was the Union Army's tallest and largest man. At a height of 6 feet, 11 inches tall (NBA point guard potential) and weighing in at 380 pounds, he towered over them all. Confederate forces captured him in 1862. A Richmond businessman put him on display. The Richmonders came out to see him, including President Davis. Van Buskirk gave Davis an account of his family of giants. He said that when he left for the army, his six sisters saw him off and had to bend down to give him a kiss.
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Intelligence Analysis in the Civil War

Edwin Fishel's The Secret War for the Union illuminates how the first intelligence analysts in American history emerged during the Civil War. Hired by George McClellan to analyze the intelligence gathered by his spy chief Allan Pinkerton, our first intelligence analysts were not Americans. They were French.

This team consisted of a family of Bourbon pretenders to the French throne, from the royal family deposed by the French revolutions of 1789 and 1830. Louis Philippe d'Orleans and his brother, Robert d'Orleans, lived in exile in Britain. They served without pay under McClellan. They were joined by their uncle, the prince de Joinville. The two brothers turned laborious intelligence reports into summaries used by the general-in-chief.

In the present time, long delays in security clearance are required to be an intelligence analyst in any of our spy agencies. The director of National Intelligence, Mitch McConnell, once joked,"We are improving our security clearance process. We've whittled it down to eighteen months." I have a feeling that McClellan's security clearance of the Bourbon brothers consisted of a five-minute interview. Intelligence was a truly ad-hoc arrangement during the Civil War.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Loose Lips in the Civil War

Edwin Fishel's The Secret War for the Union discusses how the press during the Civil War routinely reported important military information. With the arrival of Union Army regiments in July 1861 to protect Washington DC, the National Republican listed the regiments in the area with their numbers and names of the officers. In a later report, the New York Herald listed only nineteen of those regiments. The paper later decided to report the army's total strength.

Confederate leaders arranged for the delivery of Northern papers to Richmond. General Lee routinely consulted them.

If you think the press today sinks ships, the newspapers in those days fell over each other to report state secrets.
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