American Civil War

Southern Soldier

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

Little Giffen of Tennessee


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

Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Tecumseh Sherman


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


October 22, 1836: Sam Houston-First President of the Republic of Texas

“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

Star Trek and the Civil War

Time to brighten my chief geek of the blog credentials.  Long time readers of this blog know that I am a fan of Star Trek and that I have a passionate interest in the Civil War.  Imagine my joy when the fifth episode of Star Trek Continues, fan movies producing new episodes of the original Trek, is set at the battle of Antietam, at least what Kirk and McCoy think is the battle of Antietam.  Enjoy!

Lost For Over a Century

I once sent the government a check for some $35,000.00 to pay estate tax on behalf of a client.  The check was lost for several months by the Feds.  At the time I recalled this historical event:

Robert E. Lee was an advocate of reconciliation after the Civil War.  This was demonstrated by his application for a Presidential Pardon on June 13, 1865, high confederate officers having been excluded from President Johnson’s general pardon and amnesty of May 29, 1865 and being required to appeal directly to the President.  Lee wrote:

Being excluded from the provisions of amnesty & pardon contained in the proclamation of the 29th Ulto; I hereby apply for the benefits, & full restoration of all rights & privileges extended to those included in its terms. I graduated at the Mil. Academy at West Point in June 1829. Resigned from the U.S. Army April ’61. Was a General in the Confederate Army, & included in the surrender of the Army of N. Va. 9 April ’65.

Lee was not aware that an oath of loyalty was required and he took such an oath on October 2, 1865:

“I, Robert E. Lee, of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the States thereunder, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

The oath went to Secretary of State Seward, and then it vanished from history for over a century until it was found by Elmer O. Parker, an archivist at the National Archives, in 1970 among State Department papers in a cardboard box  clearly indexed V for Virginia and L for Lee.  Lee had inquired frequently about his application over the five years he had to live from 1865-1870.  Whether his application was lost deliberately or lost through ineptitude is unclear.

On August 5, 1975 President Ford restored the citizenship rights of Lee, making these remarks: Continue reading

The Civil War and Slavery

We’re not fighting for slaves.

Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to,

It takes money to buy a slave and we’re most of us poor,

But we won’t lie down and let the North walk over us

About slaves or anything else.

                              We don’t know how it started

But they’ve invaded us now and we’re bound to fight

Till every last damn Yankee goes home and quits.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body


I certainly agree with video above from Prager University that the Civil War was started over slavery.  As Jefferson Davis stated in his initial address to the Confederate Congress:


In the meantime, under the mild and genial climate of the Southern States and the increasing care and attention for the wellbeing and comfort of the laboring class, dictated alike by interest and humanity, the African slaves had augmented in number from about 600,000, at the date of the adoption of the constitutional compact, to upward of 4,000,000. In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people; towns and cities had sprung into existence, and had rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system of the South; the white population of the Southern slaveholding States had augmented from about 1,250,000 at the date of the adoption of the Constitution to more than 8,500,000 in 1860; and the productions of the South in cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco, for the full development and continuance of which the labor of African slaves was and is indispensable, had swollen to an amount which formed nearly three-fourths of the exports of the whole United States and had become absolutely necessary to the wants of civilized man. With interests of such overwhelming magnitude imperiled, the people of the Southern States were driven by the conduct of the North to the adoption of some course of action to avert the danger with which they were openly menaced. With this view the legislatures of the several States invited the people to select delegates to conventions to be held for the purpose of determining for themselves what measures were best adapted to meet so alarming a crisis in their history. Here it may be proper to observe that from a period as early as 1798 there had existed in all of the States of the Union a party almost uninterruptedly in the majority based upon the creed that each State was, in the last resort, the sole judge as well of its wrongs as of the mode and measure of redress. Indeed, it is obvious that under the law of nations this principle is an axiom as applied to the relations of independent sovereign States, such as those which had united themselves under the constitutional compact. The Democratic party of the United States repeated, in its successful canvass in 1856, the declaration made in numerous previous political contests, that it would “faithfully abide by and uphold the principles laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, and in the report of Mr. Madison to the Virginia Legislature in 1799; and that it adopts those principles as constituting one of the main foundations of its political creed.” The principles thus emphatically announced embrace that to which I have already adverted – the right of each State to judge of and redress the wrongs of which it complains. These principles were maintained by overwhelming majorities of the people of all the States of the Union at different elections, especially in the elections of Mr. Jefferson in 1805, Mr. Madison in 1809, and Mr. Pierce in 1852. In the exercise of a right so ancient, so well established, and so necessary for self-preservation, the people of the Confederate States, in their conventions, determined that the wrongs which they had suffered and the evils with which they were menaced required that they should revoke the delegation of powers to the Federal Government which they had ratified in their several conventions. They consequently passed ordinances resuming all their rights as sovereign and Independent States and dissolved their connection with the other States of the Union. Continue reading

Truth In a Time of Hysteria

Well, the National Park Service has joined the witch hunt against the Confederate flag, with this truly Orwellian statement:

America’s national parks are no longer selling Confederate battle flags in their bookstores and gift shops.

The National Park Service (NPS) announced on Thursday that the historic emblem will no longer be available as a memento for visitors to the parks system.

“We strive to tell the complete story of America,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a statement. “All sales items are evaluated based on educational value and their connection to the park.

“Any standalone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores,” Jarvis added.

So much for attempting “to tell the complete story of America”, especially at Civil War battlefields.  (Who was the Union fighting, the “Censored” States of America?)  This is what happens of course in a country where a cadre of left wing activists live to launch Leftist crusades on the Internet, and their allies in business and government quickly fall into lock step.  An additional problem of course is that so many Americans today received a heavily politicized junk education and are bone ignorant of the history of their country.  To help cure the ignorance, I repeat this from a comment thread back in 2011.  Go here to read the original post.

Jesme:  What’s with the creepy Civil War video featuring some guy celebrating the heroism of Confederate soldiers? Practically ruins the article for me. Granted, I’m prejudiced on this point, but I can’t help it. Those nasty, murderous traitors were fighting for the right to buy and sell my ancestors like cattle. Thank God they lost. And kindly don’t hold them up to me as noble heroes. I’d as soon sing the praises of the SS. And yes, I know they weren’t quite as bad as the SS. But the difference is smaller than you might think.


Me:  The scene Jesme is from the movie Gettysburg. The actor is Richard Jordan who portrays Brigadier General Lewis Addison Armistead who died gallantly leading his men during Pickett’s charge.

The scene is given additional poignancy in that the actor Richard Jordan was dying of brain cancer at the time he appeared in the film.

The men who fought for the Confederacy did not invent negro slavery. It was an institution that was over 250 years old in what would become the United States by the time of the Civil War.

What to do about slavery seems simple to us now. It did not appear so to most people at the time as demonstrated by this statement from Abraham Lincoln in 1854:

This declared indifference, but, as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world; enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites; causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity; and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Before proceeding, let me say that I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist among them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist among us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses, North and South. Doubtless there are individuals on both sides who would not hold slaves under any circumstances, and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew if it were out of existence. We know that some Southern men do free their slaves, go North and become tip-top Abolitionists, while some Northern ones go South and become most cruel slave masters.

When Southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery than we are, I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists and that it is very difficult to get rid of it in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me that whatever of high hope (as I think there is) there may be in this in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days, and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon.

What next? Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this, and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white peoples will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question, if, indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well- or ill-founded, cannot be safely disregarded. We cannot, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the South.

When they remind us of their constitutional rights, I acknowledge them not grudgingly but fully and fairly; and I would give them any legislation for the reclaiming of their fugitives which should not, in its stringency, be more likely to carry a free man into slavery than our ordinary criminal laws are to hang an innocent one.”

It was the inability of both the North and the South to remove the stain of slavery peacefully from the land that led to the Civil War. Lincoln viewed the war as the punishment of God for this and I agree with him:

“Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope–fervently do we pray–that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

The men who fought in the ranks of the Confederacy were not Nazis. They were men fighting for the freedom of their people to rule themselves. Tragically this included the right to continue the centuries old institution of black slavery. It took the worst war in our history to end that institution and to preserve the Union and it is a very good thing in my mind that the Confederacy lost. However, that fact does not negate that most Confederates fought gallantly for a cause they thought right, just as did their Union opponents, which of course includes their black Union opponents. Continue reading

June 23, 1865: Confederate General Stand Watie Surrenders


Confederate General, and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Stand Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to surrender his brigade.  He and his men had fought throughout the Indian Territory and the Trans-Mississippi theater, participating in more battles than any other Confederate unit in the theater, and waging a guerrilla war against Union supply lines and outposts.  Here are the terms of the articles of surrender: Continue reading

June 22, 1865: Last Shot Fired in the American Civil War


The Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, a converted steam merchant ship, steamed out of London on October 8, 1864.  Her skipper was Commander James Iredell Waddell, a veteran of twenty years in the United States Navy prior to the Civil War, and a graduate of Annapolis.  Under Waddell, the Shenandoah would spend the next year at sea taking or sinking 38 ships, mostly New Bedford whaling ships, virtually destroying the American whaling fleet.  The last shot of the War was a blank fired on June 22, 1865 in the Bering Strait, to indicate to a Union whaling ship the wisdom of surrender.  Some of the captured Yankee seamen claimed the War was over, but Waddell assumed they were lying.

Waddell remained unconvinced that the War was over until he encountered a British ship on August 2, 1865.  Fearing imprisonment or worse for his men, Waddell then embarked on an epic three month voyage, pursued by the US Navy, to Liverpool where Waddell surrendered his ship and lowered the Confederate flag for the last time on November 6, 1865.  The Union wished to try Waddell and his men as pirates.  The British decided to parole Waddell and his men, as reported by The Liverpool Mercury on November 9, 1865: Continue reading

Death of William Quantrill



Doubtless “Captain” William Quantrill would have stood trial for the many crimes he and his partisan bands committed during the War, if he had not died on June 6, 1865.  In the spring of 1865 he had led a series of bloody raids in Western Kentucky.  The man that led to his downfall was Captain Edwin Terrell, in many ways a Union counterpart of Quantrill, who led Federal irregulars in Kentucky.  Starting as a Confederate he had switched sides after murdering a superior Confederate officer and established a reputation of plundering and killing Confederate sympathizers.  He was described by one of his soldiers as a bad man, perhaps as bad as Quantrill.  Quantrill and his few remaining men were ambushed by Terrell and his men at Wakefield Farm on May 10, 1864.   Quantrill and his men had sought shelter in a barn.  As he attempted to flee on horseback, Quantrill was shot in the back.  He was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.

When questioned, Quantrill denied that he was Quantrill.  Terrell believed him and rode off.  Frank James and four other men of Quantrill’s band attempted to rescue him after the Federals left.  Quantrill realized his life was drawing to a close:  Boys, it is impossible for me to get well, the war is over, and I am in reality a dying man, so let me alone. Goodbye.

Realizing ultimately that that he had shot Quantrill, Terrell rode back two days later and took Quantrill into custody.  Quantrill died at the Federal prison hospital in Louisville, Kentucky on June 6, 1865.  Nursed by a Catholic priest, he converted to Catholicism prior to his death and received the Last Rites.  He was 27 years old.  Terrell did not enjoy his notoriety long.  Less than a year later, on May 26, 1866, he was ambushed and partially paralyzed by one of the bullets shot at him by a posse seeking to apprehend him for his misdeeds.  He lingered for almost two and a half years in great pain, dying on December 13, 1868 unmourned, the Louisville Journal commenting in his obituary:   “No man ever more richly deserved a torturous death.”   He was 23 years old. Continue reading

June 2, 1865: Civil War Ends



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


With the signing of the articles of surrender in Galveston by Kirby Smith on June 2, 1865, the terms having been agreed to on May 26, 1865, the Civil War was at an end.  This is a good time to give a few thoughts as to what this immense event in American history meant to the nation.

1.  Secession-A temptation for Americans whenever national fortunes grew rough or when it seemed that different sections could not compromise and agree, secession as a mainstream political option was as dead as the Confederacy.

2.  Slavery-The stain of chattel slavery was ended.  As the years have rolled by, it has become fashionable to pooh pooh emancipation and to focus on the terrible disabilities that the freed slaves and their descendants would labor under.  All true and all irrelevant.  Those who lived at the time, both white and black, realized what a vast change the end of slavery made in America.  An institution that had grown up over 250 years, it seemed almost divinely inspired that it ended so swiftly over four years, and at a terrible cost.

3.  National Pride-It is odd that such a blood letting would be a source of pride North and South, but such was the case after the War.  Celebrating the courage of the men who fought, and the genius of the great generals of the conflict, was a common impulse North and South.  Union and Confederate veterans began holding joint reunions in the 1880s.  Fond remembrance of what seemed at the time a national nightmare, and honoring the veterans of the conflict, helped reunify the nation.

4.  The Solid South-A legacy of the Civil War was enmity against the Republican party in most of the South and domination by the Democrat Party.  It was a heavily factionalized Democrat Party, where people who would have been Republicans elsewhere in the country, shoehorned themselves into a party with natural political adversaries.  The Democrat primaries, restricted to whites, were where the real contested elections were conducted.  This feature of American political life was so taken for granted for generations, that insufficient study has been given as to how this warping of the usual course of politics impacted the South and the nation as a whole.

5.  Civil Rights-The ultimate failure of Reconstruction to safeguard the rights of blacks, coupled with Supreme Court decisions that reflected a country concerned with national unity rather than the rights of minorities, set up a situation which held back the economic development of the South, leading to massive black exoduses in the early and mid twentieth centuries to the urban centers of the North.  One of the more dramatic results of the Civil War era, although it is not often thought of as a legacy of the Civil War. Continue reading

Post Civil War Recessions


Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!
Farewell the plumèd troops and the big wars
That makes ambition virtue! Oh, farewell!
Shakespeare, Othello


It is unsurprising that post Civil War the country entered a period of recessions.  Prior to the Civil War the nation had known periods of booms and bust, both usually short-lived.  The Civil War had been boom times in the North with war spending ensuring no recession during the War.  With the turning off of the Federal money spigot in the wake of the War, and the return of men to civilian life, the country entered a period of recession that did not end until December 1869.

The subsequent boom period was very short lived, with a new recession stretching from June 1869-December 1870.  The Panic of 1873 led to the Long Depression of October 1873-March 1879.

Demobilization after World War I led to a brief, but very sharp, recession.  With these examples, government policies in the demobilization period after World War II were geared to avoid a recession, and they were successful, although I am suspicious that other economic factors likely accounted for the lack of a recession. Continue reading

May 26, 1865: Kirby Smith Surrenders




The last major Confederate force to surrender, General Edmund Kirby Smith, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, signed the articles of surrender on May 26, 1865 in Galveston, Texas.  Consisting of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, the Trans-Mississippi had been cut off from the rest of the Confederacy since the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in mid 1863.  Smith then conducted the War in his sprawling Department on his own initiative, his command becoming known in the rest of the Confederacy as “Kirby Smithdom”. Continue reading

May 24, 1865: Grand Review-Sherman’s Army



The day after the Army of the Potomac marched in final review through Washington, it was the turn of the 65,000 men of Sherman’s Army of Georgia.  Sherman was afraid that his weathered Westerners would make a poor showing in comparison to the spit and polish Army of the Potomac.

There had long been a keen rivalry between the Union troops in the East and the Union troops in the West.  The troops in the West thought the Army of the Potomac got all of the publicity while the troops in the West were winning the War.  The informal Westerners derided the Easterners as “paper collar” toy soldiers.  The Army of the Potomac tended to look upon the Western troops as uncouth barbarians, more armed mobs than armies, and men who won victories against second rate Confederate troops and generals while they did battle with Robert E. Lee and his first team of the Army of Northern Virginia.

There was no way Sherman’s men were going to let Uncle Billy down and let the Army of the Potomac show them up.  When they stepped off their uniforms were clean and repaired and they marched as if they had spent the War doing formal dress parades.  Sherman was immensely pleased: Continue reading

May 23, 1865: Grand Review

Something for the weekend:  Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Doubtless many men who fought in the Civil War thought, and dreaded, that the War might go on forever.  Now, however, it had ended with Union victory.  Some European powers speculated that the United States would now use its vast armies to take foreign territory:  perhaps French occupied Mexico, maybe settle old scores by taking Canada from Great Britain, Cuba, held by moribund Spain was certainly a tempting target.  But no, the armies had been raised for the purpose of preserving the Union.  Now the men in the ranks were eager to get home, and the nation was just as eager to enjoy peace.

One last duty remained however:  an immense victory parade in Washington.  On May 23, 1865, the 80,000 strong Army of the Potomac marched happily through the streets of Washington on a glorious spring day.  For six hours they passed the reviewing stand, where President Johnson, the cabinet, General Grant and assorted civilian and military high brass, received the salutes of, and saluted, the men who had saved the Union.  Most of the men had hated the Army, and were overjoyed to be going home, but for the rest of their lives they would remember this day and how all the death and suffering they had endured over the past four years had not been in vain after all.    Almost all of them were very young men now, and many of them would live to old age, future generations then having a hard time picturing them as they were now:  lean, battle-hardened and the victors of the bloodiest war in the history of their nation.  When they died iron stars would be put by their graves, and each Decoration Day, eventually called Memorial Day, flags would be planted by their graves, as if to recall a huge banner draped over the Capitol on this day of days:

“The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.”   Continue reading

A Second Review of the Grand Army

Recently I have been reading of the Grand Review of the Armies which occurred in Washington DC on May 23 and May 24, 1865.  This was a victory parade of Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Sherman’s Army.  I was struck by a banner that was spread on the capitol dome those two days: “The Only National Debt We Can Never Pay, Is The Debt We Owe To Our Victorious Soldiers.”   Indeed.    So the boys in blue enjoyed two days of being cheered as heroes and saviors of their country, before they were demobilized and went back to their homes, the War left behind to fading memories and imperishable history.

However, there were silent victors who could not march in the Grand Review, and humorist Bret Harte remembered them in this poem:

I read last night of the Grand Review
    In Washington’s chiefest avenue,–
Two hundred thousand men in blue,
    I think they said was the number,–
Till I seemed to hear their trampling feet,
The bugle blast and the drum’s quick beat,
The clatter of hoofs in the stony street,
The cheers of the people who came to greet,
And the thousand details that to repeat
    Would only my verse encumber,–
Till I fell in a revery, sad and sweet,
    And then to a fitful slumber.
When, lo! in a vision I seemed to stand
In the lonely Capitol. On each hand
Far stretched the portico, dim and grand
Its columns ranged, like a martial band
Of sheeted spectres whom some command
    Had called to a last reviewing.
And the streets of the city were white and bare;
No footfall echoed across the square;
But out of the misty midnight air
I heard in the distance a trumpet blare,
And the wandering night-winds seemed to bear
    The sound of a far tatooing.

Then I held my breath with fear and dread;
For into the square, with a brazen tread,
There rode a figure whose stately head
    O’erlooked the review that morning.
That never bowed from its firm-set seat
When the living column passed its feet,
Yet now rode steadily up the street
    To the phantom bugle’s warning:
Till it reached the Capitol square, and wheeled,
And there in the moonlight stood revealed
A well known form that in State and field
    Had led our patriot sires;
Whose face was turned to the sleeping camp,
Afar through the river’s fog and damp,
That showed no flicker, nor warning lamp,
    Nor wasted bivouac fires.
And I saw a phantom army come,
With never a sound of fife or drum,
But keeping time to a throbbing hum
    Of wailing and lamentation:
The martyred heroes of Malvern Hill,
Of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville,
The men whose wasted figures fill
    The patriot graves of the nation.
And there came the nameless dead,–the men
Who perished in fever-swamp and fen,
The slowly-starved of the prison-pen;
    And marching beside the others,
Came the dusky martyrs of Pillow’s fight,
With limbs enfranchised and bearing bright;
I thought–perhaps ’twas the pale moonlight–
    They looked as white as their brothers!
And so all night marched the Nation’s dead,
With never a banner above them spread,
Nor a badge, nor a motto brandished;
No mark–save the bare uncovered head
    Of the silent bronze Reviewer;
With never an arch save the vaulted sky;
With never a flower save those that lie
On the distant graves–for love could buy
    No gift that was purer or truer.
So all night long swept the strange array;
So all night long, till the morning gray,
I watch’d for one who had passed away,
    With a reverent awe and wonder,–
Till a blue cap waved in the lengthening line,
And I knew that one who was kin of mine
Had come; amd I spake–and lo! that sign
    Awakened me from my slumber.

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