American Civil War
I see this piece of fiction floating around the internet:
“The last time I ever saw Anthony Sherman was on the Fourth of July, 1859, in Independence Square. He was then ninety-nine years old, his dimming eyes rekindled as he gazed upon Independence Hall, which he had come to visit once more. “I want to tell you an incident of Washington’s life one which no one alive knows of except myself; and which, if you live, you will before long see verified.”
He said, “From the opening of the Revolution, we experienced all phases of fortune, good and ill. The darkest period we ever had, I think, was when Washington, after several reverses, retreated to Valley Forge, where he resolved to pass the winter of 1777. Ah! I often saw the tears coursing down our dear commander’s careworn cheeks, as he conversed with a confidential officer about the condition of his soldiers. You have doubtless heard the story of Washington’s going to the thicket to pray. Well, he also used to pray to God in secret for aid and comfort.
“One day, I remember well, the chilly winds whistled through the leafless trees. Though the sky was cloudless and the sun shone brightly, he remained alone in his quarters nearly all afternoon. When he came out, I noticed that his face was a shade paler than usual, and there seemed to be something on his mind of more than ordinary importance. Returning just after dusk, he dispatched an orderly to the quarters of the officer I mentioned who was in attendance at the time. After preliminary conversation of about half an hour, Washington, gazing upon his companion with that strange look of dignity that he alone could command, said to the latter:
“I do not know whether it is due to the anxiety of my mind, or what, but this afternoon, as I was preparing a dispatch, something seemed to disturbed me. Looking up, I beheld, standing opposite me, a singularly beautiful being. So astonished was I, for I had given strict orders not to be disturbed, that it was some moments before I found language to inquire the cause of the visit. A second, a third, and even a fourth time did I repeat my question, but received no answer from my mysterious visitor, except a slight raising of the eyes. By this time I felt strange sensations spreading through me, and I would have risen, but the riveted gaze of the being before me rendered volition impossible. I assayed once more to speak, but my tongue had become useless, as though it had become paralyzed. A new influence, mysterious, potent, irresistible, took possession. All I could do was to gaze steadily, vacantly at my unknown visitor. Gradually the surrounding atmosphere seemed to become filled with sensations, and grew luminous. Everything about me seemed to rarefy, including the mysterious visitor.
“I began to feel as one dying, or rather to experience the sensations which I have sometimes imagined accompany dissolution. I did not think, I did not reason, I did not move; all were alike impossible. I was only conscious of gazing fixedly, vacantly at my companion.
Something for the weekend. Good-bye Old Glory. Published on September 29, 1865 with music by the most prolific song writers of the Civil War era, George Frederick Root and lyrics by L.J. Bates. This song was popular at Union Army reunions and at meeting halls of the Grand Army of the Republic. This rendition is performed by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man crusade to bring Civil War era music to contemporary audiences.
Something for the weekend. To Canaan. One of the more bloodthirsty songs of our Civil War, it is based on this poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, published in 1862: Continue reading
Something for a Fourth of July weekend. The Battle Cry of Freedom was a popular song North and South during the Civil War. Of course they sang different lyrics to the song. The Union version was such a favorite among the Union troops, that President Lincoln, in a letter to George F. Root, the composer, wrote: “You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators. If you could not shoulder a musket in defense of your country, you certainly have served her through your songs.”
Here is the Southern version sung by Bobby Horton who has waged a one man campaign to bring Civil War music to modern audiences:
Here is the version from the Lincoln (2012) movie:
It is poor business measuring the mouldered ramparts and counting the silent guns, marking the deserted battlefields and decorating the grassy graves, unless we can learn from it some nobler lesson than to destroy. Men write of this, as of other wars, as if the only thing necessary to be impressed upon the rising generation were the virtue of physical courage and contempt of death. It seems to me that is the last thing we need to teach; for since the days of John Smith in Virginia and the men of the Mayflower in Massachusetts, no generation of Americans has shown any lack of it. From Louisburg to Petersburg-a hundred and twenty years, the full span of four generations-they have stood to their guns and been shot down in greater comparative numbers than any other race on earth. In the war of secession there was not a State, not a county, probably not a town, between the great lakes and the gulf, that was not represented on fields where all that men could do with powder and steel was done and valor exhibited at its highest pitch…There is not the slightest necessity for lauding American bravery or impressing it upon American youth. But there is the gravest necessity for teaching them respect for law, and reverence for human life, and regard for the rights of their fellow country-men, and all that is significant in the history of our country…These are simple lessons, yet they are not taught in a day, and some who we call educated go through life without mastering them at all.
Rossiter Johnson, Campfire and Battlefield, 1884
I have always thought it appropriate that the national nightmare we call the Civil War ended during Holy Week 1865. Two remarkably decent men, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, began the process of healing so desperately needed for America on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 at Appomattox. We take their decency for granted, but it is the exception and not the rule for the aftermath of civil wars in history. The usual course would have been unremitting vengeance by the victors, and sullen rage by the defeated, perhaps eventually breaking out in guerilla war. The end of the Civil War could so very easily have been the beginning of a cycle of unending war between north and south. Instead, both Grant and Lee acted to make certain as far as they could that the fratricidal war that had just concluded would not be repeated. All Americans owe those two men a large debt for their actions at Appomattox.
Grant in his memoirs wrote, “When Lee and I separated he went back to his lines and I returned to the house of Mr. McLean. Here the officers of both armies came in great numbers, and seemed to enjoy the meeting as much as though they had been friends separated for a long time while fighting battles under the same flag.”
Lee so appreciated the generosity of the terms of surrender given by Grant, that for the remainder of his life he would never allow a word of denigration about Grant to be spoken in his presence.
It has always been intriguing to me that, as microscopically studied as the Civil War has been over the years, more attention has not been paid to the Confederate Constitution. It is a fascinating document. Crafted by men who had lived their entire lives under the United States Constitution and who had served in the Federal government, its similarities and differences illuminate what these men thought was good with the old Constitution and what needed improvement. This Constitution took the place of the Provisional Constitution of the Confederacy, go here to read it, a document that by its own terms was meant to be temporary and had a hurried, improvised feel to it. The permanent Confederate Constitution was the product of more mature reflection and the additional time that the drafters had to think about this new government and nation they were helping to midwife. Here are some observations on this document:
- The Preamble of the Constitution invokes God, 1861 being a more religious time than 1787.
- The preamble states that this is to be a permanent federal government, the Founding Fathers of the Confederacy obviously being eager that secession not be repeated against the Confederacy. This is underlined by the fact that the representatives from South Carolina proposed that a right to secession be explicit in the Constitution. Only the South Carolinians voted in favor of this proposal.
- Article I dealing with Congress is quite similar to that Article in the US Constitution with some significant changes: State legislatures were given the power to impeach their members of Congress on a two/thirds vote. Each House of the Confederate Congress could allocate seats to the heads of Executive Departments, in order to allow them to discuss the activities of their Departments, which seems to be an attempt to adopt the practice of the British Parliament. The President of the Confederacy was granted a line item veto, but any bill on which he exercised such a veto would be resubmitted to Congress with such a veto being overridden by a two-thirds vote. Congress was forbidden to allocate funds for internal improvements not set forth explicitly in the Constitution, such improvements being limited to waterways and coastal navigation improvements. The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution was set forth in Article I, except for the ninth and tenth amendments which were set forth in Article VI. All appropriations had to pass by a two-thirds vote, except as otherwise enumerated in the Confederate Constitution. All bills appropriating money had to list the exact amount being appropriated and the purpose for which the funds were to be appropriate. All bills had to have a single subject which was to be set out in the title to the bill.
- Under Article II Presidents were to be limited to a single six year term. The only two term President during the adult lives of the men involved in drafting the Confederate Constitution would have been Andrew Jackson, and even his most ardent partisans would have admitted that his second term had been rocky. The frustrated desires of many Presidents following Jackson for a second term might have been regarded as a source of friction best avoided altogether under the new government. Confederate Presidents had to have resided within the bounds of the Confederacy for 14 years. If strictly construed this provision would have rendered every man in the Confederacy ineligible for the office.
- Article III dictated that no State could be sued in the Confederate court system by a citizen or a subject of any foreign State.
- Article IV made a two-thirds vote necessary for a State to be admitted to the Confederacy.
- Article V required only a two-thirds vote of the States to amend the Confederate Constitution.
- The most significant differences with the Federal Constitution were on the various issues arising on the question of slavery. The Confederate document used the terms slaves and slavery. The international slave trade is banned, except with the United States. Congress is given the power to ban the importation of slaves from any State not a member of the Confederacy. Congress is denied any power to pass a law impairing the right to own slaves. No State could pass a law impairing the right of a citizen of the Confederacy to own slaves. Slavery in Confederate territories was mandated.
Here is the text of the Confederate Constitution: Continue reading
Hattip for the above video to commenter Greg Mockeridge.
I have never liked Presidents’ Day. Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln? However, most presidents, for good and ill, have shaped the story of America.
To say that presidents have had a large impact on our history is to merely recite a truism. Presidential assassins, regrettably, have also had a large impact on our history.
On this President’s day we will look at the murderer of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. The rest of the week we will look at other successful assasins of presidents.
On July 4, 1835 Junius Brutus Booth, founder of the Booth theatrical family, sat down and penned a letter to President Andrew Jackson. Booth and Jackson knew each other and were friends, which makes the letter quite odd indeed. The text of the letter:
To His Excellency, General Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, Washington City,
You damn’d old Scoundrel if you don’t sign the pardon of your fellow men now under sentence of Death, De Ruiz and De Soto, I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping. I wrote to you repeated Cautions so look out or damn you. I’ll have you burnt at the Stake in the City of Washington.
Your Master, Junius Brutus Booth.
You know me! Look out!
Booth was one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of his day, and he often gave unforgettable performances. However, he was often noted for his off stage escapades, usually fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. I have little doubt that when he penned this missive Booth was quite drunk. De Ruiz and De Soto had been convicted of piracy. Many Americans had asked for clemency for the men. De Soto did receive a Presidential pardon on July 6, 1835 after an interview with De Soto’s wife and defense attorney with Jackson. In 1832 De Soto had saved the lives of 70 Americans aboard the burning ship Minerva in 1831 and that made him a sympathetic figure to the American public and Jackson. De Ruiz and the other men convicted of piracy were hung. Go here for the details of the piracy trial.
And what happened to Booth? Nothing apparently. I assume that Jackson probably laughed off the letter, assuming that his friend was drunk when he wrote it, and in any case threatening to assassinate the president was not a crime in 1835. One fervently wishes that Booth’s son, John Wilkes Booth had merely written a letter threatening to assassinate Lincoln. Continue reading
The film The Free State of Jones, is being released in May. Surprisingly, it is the second Hollywood film to depict alleged events in Jones County Mississippi during the Civil War, the first being the forgotten film Tap Roots (1948) which was based on the novel Tap Roots (1942) by James Street.
James Street noted that his novel was a heavily fictionalized account of local legends in Jones County of events that occurred in the Civil War. That of course is the usual problem when Hollywood attempts to depict history: legends and myths come to the forefront with history being a rear guard.
In regard to the events in Jones County in Mississippi during the Civil War, history is handicapped by the fact that the events were regarded as fairly minor at the time, and thus contemporary documentation is light. No adequate scholarly examination of the history of Jones County during the War has yet been undertaken, although in the past few decades some pioneering studies have been undertaken. Continue reading
As we approach Lent in this Year of Mercy it is striking to me how most who call themselves Christians have lost any sense of sin. Christ seems to be perceived as a divine Pal, with a dog like eagerness to embrace us just the way we are. Such a deity would seem to resemble Barney the Dinosaur more than the God of the Bible. Forgotten is the need for sorrow for sins, repentance for sins and amendment of life. Our ancestors tended to think much differently. Consider Proclamation 97 of Abraham Lincoln calling for a national day of prayer and humiliation to pray for forgiveness of national sins. Here is the text of the proclamation:
By the President of the United States of America.
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.
The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth — not a different truth: the same truth — only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to re-create it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.
In 1954 Bennett Cerf, the President of Random House, decided that with the coming Civil War Centennial his company needed to publish a short history of the War, not longer than 200,000 words. Wanting the history to be entertaining he hit upon the idea of having Shelby Foote, author of a novel on the battle of Shiloh in 1952, undertake the task. Foote, 37, accepted a $400.00 advance and assumed that he could pound out the history quickly and get back to writing fiction. Nineteen years, and a million and half words later, Foote completed the final volume of his immortal three volume history of the War.
Foote wrote his books during the years of the fight over segregation in the South. Although far from being a political liberal, in his bibliographical note to the second volume published in 1963 Foote made clear where he stood: In a quite different sense , I am obligated also to the governors of my native state and the adjoining states of Arkansas and Alabama for helping to lessen my sectional bias by reproducing, in their actions during several of the years that went into the writing of this volume, much that was least admirable in the postition my forebears occupied when they stood up to Lincoln. I suppose, or in any case hope, it is true that history never repeats itself, but I know from watching these three gentlemen that it can be terrifying in its approximations, even when the reproduction–deriving, as it does, its scale from the performers–is in miniature.
Foote in his 19 years of studying, thinking and writing about the Civil War, became convinced that it was impossible to understand America without understanding the Civil War: Continue reading
We bide our chance,
Unhappy, and make terms with Fate
A little more to let us wait;
He leads for aye the advance,
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good
For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;
James Russell Lowell, Memoriae Positum
Selections from the score of the movie Glory (1989), the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first Union black regiments, up to their valiant assault on Fort Wagner in 1863. A prime example of historical movies should be made, Glory performs the epic feat of bringing to life again the days of the Civil War when the fate of the nation was decided.
A good object lesson to those under the mistaken belief that government red tape was an invention of the last century. Hamilton K. Redway was born in 1829 and died in 1888. During the Civil War he served in the 24th New York Volunteers and as a Captain in the 1rst New York Veteran Cavalry. After the war he served as a Second Lieutenant with the 1rst Colored Cavalry until April 15, 1866. It is interesting that his widow was fighting with the Federal government over his pay during the Civil War with this claim not being settled until May 7, 1891, three decades after the start of the Civil War. Wars come and go, but the red tape of governments is eternal.
Something for the weekend. One of my favorite Christmas carols has always been I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. It is based on the poem Christmas Bells written by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day 1863. Still devastated by the death of his wife in a fire in 1861, he had been rocked by news that his son Charles, serving as a lieutenant in the Union army, had been severely wounded at the battle of New Hope Church in November of 1863. In a nation rent by civil war, along with his personal woes, one could perhaps understand if Longfellow had been deaf to the joy of Christmas that year. Instead, he wrote this magnificent poem of faith in the power of Christmas: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. A rousing rendition of Southern Soldier by the 2nd South Carolina String Band, a group dedicated to bringing to modern audiences Civil War music played on period instruments. Southern Soldier was immensely popular among Confederate troops during the latter part of the War and was one of their favorite marching tunes. Continue reading
Out of the focal and foremost fire,
Out of the hospital walls as dire,
Smitten of grape-shot and grangrene,
(Eighteenth battle, and he sixteen!)
Spectre! Such as you seldom see,
Little Giffen, of Tennessee.
“Take him- and welcome!” the surgeons said;
“Little the doctor can help the dead!”
So we took him and brought him where
The balm was sweet in the summer air;
And we laid him down on a wholesome bed-
Utter Lazarus, heel to head!
And we watched the war with abated breath-
Skeleton boy against skeleton death.
Months of torture, how many such!
Weary weeks of the stick and crutch;
And still a glint of the steel-blue eye
Told of a spirit that wouldn’t die.
And didn’t. Nay, more! In death’s despite
The crippled skeleton learned to write.
“Dear Mother,” at first, of course; and then
“Dear Captain,” inquiring about the men.
Captain’s answer: “Of eighty-and-five,
Giffen and I are left alive.”
Word of gloom from the war, one day;
“Johnston pressed at the front, they say.”
Little Giffen was up and away;
A tear-his first-as he bade good-by,
Dimmed the glint of his steel-blue eye.
“I’ll write, if spared!” There was news of the fight;
But none of Giffen. He did not write.
I sometimes fancy that, were I king
Of the princely knights of the Golden Ring,
With the song of the minstrel in mine ear,
And the tender legend that trembles here,
I’d give the best on his bended knee,
The whitest soul of my chivalry,
For Little Giffen, of Tennessee. Continue reading
I think we can whip them in Alabama and it may be Georgia, but the Devils seem to have a determination that cannot but be admired. No amount of poverty or adversity seems to shake their faith. Slaves gone, wealth & luxury gone, money worthless, starvation in view within a period of two or three years, are Causes enough to make the bravest tremble, yet I see no signs of let up. Some few deserters are plenty tired of war, but the masses determined to fight it out.
Sherman pays a tribute to the Confederates in a letter dated to his wife March 12, 1864
“Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming….Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet….You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence…but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction…they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South. “
Sam Houston, 1861
One hundred and seventy-nine years ago Sam Houston was inaugurated as the first President of the Republic of Texas. This was only one of many roles Houston assumed during his tempestuous life: husband, father, soldier, lawyer, Congressman from Tennessee, Governor of Tennessee, drunk, adopted Cherokee, Major General of the Texas Army, President of the Republic of Texas, Texas Representative, Senator from Texas, but perhaps his greatest role was at the end as Governor of Texas in 1859-1861. As secession fever built in Texas at the end of 1860 he stumped the state vigorously, although he knew it was hopeless, arguing against secession which he viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Texas and the nation.
“To secede from the Union and set up another government would cause war. If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country-the young men.” Continue reading