American History

Coolidge Speaks!

Ironic that the president who has the reputation for being the most taciturn man to ever occupy the White House is also the first president to ever appear in a “talkie” in the above video.

Coolidge is a fascinating man and in future posts I will have much more to say about him.  One fact I will note now is that he was ever a friend of Irish Catholics in his home state of Massachusetts and fought against the discrimination they frequently endured.  Most Irish Catholics were Democrats, but that did not stop Coolidge from standing up for them.  As mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts he developed a life long friendship with Father Joseph Gordian Daley who shared Coolidge’s love of Latin and Greek.  Coolidge helped Father Daley build a mission church in Northampton.  There was a great deal of compassion to this dry, unemotional Yankee.

It is not a myth that Coolidge was tight-lipped.  The archetypal example is when a young lady encountered him at a White House reception and said that she had bet a friend of hers that she could get him to speak three words to her.  “You lose” was Coolidge’s terse response.  As the video indicates Coolidge was not a scintillating speaker, droning monotone being a better description.  However, in his writings Coolidge indicates that lack of verbal expression did not indicate a lack of thoughts on the issues of his day, and many of which are quite relevant to our day:

There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.

I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.

We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create the Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the Founders who created. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had and for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country.  There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man.  Of course we endeavor to restrain the vicious, and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all.  Peace, justice, humanity, charity—these cannot be legislated into being.  They are the result of divine grace. Continue reading

Vice-Presidents of the United States

Ah, the occupants of an office which is only of importance upon the death of someone!  Many of the men who have occupied the office have left some pungent quotes about it.  Here are a few:

John Adams, first Vice-President:   “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth Vice-President:  “I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president.”

Thomas Marshall, twenty-eighth Vice-President:  “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again”.

Charles Dawes, thirtieth Vice-President:  “This is a hell of a job. I can only do two things: one is to sit up here and listen to you birds talk….The other is to look at newspapers every morning to see how the president’s health is.”

John Nance Garner, thirty-second Vice-President:  “The vice-presidency is not worth a warm bucket of spit.”  (Cactus Jack probably used another term instead of “spit”, but this is a family blog.) Continue reading

The War That Gets No Respect

When it comes to the War of 1812, the ignorance depicted in the above video is no exaggeration.  Of all our major conflicts, our Second War For Independence is the most obscure to the general public.  In this bicentennial year of the beginning of the War, I will do my small bit on the blog Almost Chosen People , the American history blog that Paul Zummo and I run, to help correct this situation.   The War of 1812 was an important struggle in American history for a number of reasons, a few of which are:

1.      Until the War of 1812 the British tended to treat the United States as if it were a wayward colony that would ultimately become part of the British Empire again.  After the War the British understood that we were an independent power and a permanent factor in their calculations.

2.     The War established the United States Navy as an aggressive and resourceful combat force, unafraid to pit daring and skill against the massively more powerful Royal Navy.

3.     The War ended American dreams of conquering Canada.

4.     As a result of the War, the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi could no longer provide serious resistance to American expansion into the Northwest and the Southwest.

5.     The Star-Spangled Banner symbolized the new surge of nationalism that the country experienced as a result of the War. Continue reading

The Abolitionist and the Liberator

 

 

Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist of 19th century America and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who led the fight to gain the right to vote for Irish Catholics in 19th century Ireland, have always been two of my heroes.  Most Americans tend to be unaware of the connection between them.

Throughout his life Daniel O’Connell had been an opponent of slavery, and made his sentiments known at every opportunity, calling upon Irish-Americans to attack the “Peculiar Institution”.  He was frequently quoted by opponents of slavery in the United States.  While a boy and a slave, Douglass had heard one of his masters curse O’Connell for attacking slavery, and Douglass knew that he must love O’Connell if his master hated him so.  In 1846 Douglass went to Ireland for four months and went on a speaking tour.  O’ Connell was seventy-one and had just one more year to live.  Douglass was a mere twenty-eight.  However, a firm friendship quickly sprung up between them.  O’Connell, perhaps the finest orator of a nation known for oratory, heard the eloquent Douglass speak in Dublin and proclaimed him the “Black O’Connell”.

The wretched condition of most of the Irish moved and shocked Douglass as this passage he wrote in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison on March 27, 1846 reveals:

The spectacle that affected me most, and made the most vivid impression on my mind, of the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin, was the frequency with which I met little children in the street at a late hour of the night, covered with filthy rags, and seated upon cold stone steps, or in corners, leaning against brick walls, fast asleep, with none to look upon them, none to care for them. If they have parents, they have become vicious, and have abandoned them. Poor creatures! they are left without help, to find their way through a frowning world—a world that seems to regard them as intruders, and to be punished as such. God help the poor! An infidel might ask, in view of these facts, with confusing effect—Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black. In conversation with some who were such rigid adherents to their faith that they would scarce be seen in company with those who differed from them in any point of their creed, I have heard them quote the text in palliation of their neglect, “The poor shall not cease out of the land”! During my stay in Dublin, I took occasion to visit the huts of the poor in its vicinity—and of all places to witness human misery, ignorance, degradation, filth and wretchedness, an Irish hut is pre-eminent. It seems to be constructed to promote the very reverse of every thing like domestic comfort. If I were to describe one, it would appear about as follows: Four mud walls about six feet high, occupying a space of ground about ten feet square, covered or thatched with straw—a mud chimney at one end, reaching about a foot above the roof—without apartments or divisions of any kind—without floor, without windows, and sometimes without a chimney—a piece of pine board laid on the top of a box or an old chest— a pile of straw covered with dirty garments, which it would puzzle any one to determine the original part of any one of them—a picture representing the crucifixion of Christ, pasted on the most conspicuous place on the wall—a few broken dishes stuck up in a corner—an iron pot, or the half of an iron pot, in one corner of the chimney—a little peat in the fireplace, aggravating one occasionally with a glimpse of fire, but sending out very little heat—a man and his wife and five children, and a pig. In front of the door-way, and within a step of it, is a hole three or four feet deep, and ten or twelve feet in circumference; into this hole all the filth and dirt of the hut are put, for careful preservation. This is frequently covered with a green scum, which at times stands in bubbles, as decomposition goes on. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in. And some live in worse than these. Men and women, married and single, old and young, lie down together, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith.

It is a tribute both to Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell that their compassion was not limited to people like them, but extended to victims of injustice far removed from them.

 

In his memoirs published in 1882, Douglass recalled O’Connell: Continue reading

Catholics in the American Revolution

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue reading

The Great Pig War of 1859

The United States and Great Britain after the War of 1812 frequently came into conflict during the Nineteenth Century, and it is a medium sized miracle that one of these conflicts did not end in a third Anglo-American War.  The most surreal of these conflicts, beyond a doubt, is the Pig War of 1859.

Both Great Britain and America claimed the San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the then Washington territory, and the islands were settled by British subjects and American citizens.  On June 15, 1859 Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on San Juan island, came out and found a pig eating tubers in his garden.  This was not the first incident involving the wayward pig, and Cutlar shot the pig, killing the porcine invader.  The pig was owned by a British subject, Charles Griffin, who took umbrage at the slaying of his wandering porker.  The two men had words about the pig.  British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, and the American settlers called for American military protection.

By August 10, 1859, 461 American soldiers with 14 cannon confronted five British warships carrying 2,140 men.  Fortunately, both sides exercised restraint and no shots were fired.  James Douglas, the governor of British Vancouver, ordered British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes to land Royal Marines on  San Juan island and engage the Americans.  Baynes flatly refused, saying that for two great nations to come to blows over a squabble over a pig was foolish.  London and Washington were equally aghast at the idea of going to war over this case of porcinecide, and General Winfield Scott was sent by President Buchanan to Vancouver to negotiate with Governor Douglas.  Agreement was reached that the British and American forces would be reduced to a 100 men each on San Juan island while negotiations were underway between the countries.  Ultimately third party arbitration, by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, led to the islands being awarded to America in 1872. Continue reading

Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt

This country was blessed at its founding to have on the scene a member of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who was a financial genius.  His idea to have the Federal government adopt the Revolutionary War debts of the states in order to establish the credit of the new Federal government was a policy of genius.  At a stroke he restored the credit of the country as a whole, made certain the debt would be paid, made America attractive to foreign investors and laid the basis of future American prosperity.  His ideas on the subject were set forth in his first report to Congress on  public credit, 1789, and which may be read here.

The final paragraph of the report is salient for the time in which we live: Continue reading

Apostle to the Sioux

“Happy would I be if I could sacrifice for God what Custer threw away to the world.”

 

Bishop Martin Marty

During his approximately 59 years on this Earth it is probable that the Sioux chieftan Sitting Bull met only one white man he trusted implicitly:  Martin Marty.

Marty was born on January 12, 1834 in Schwyz, Switzerland to a shoemaker and his wife.  Gifted scholastically, he attended the Benedictine school attached to Einseideln Abbey.  Upon graduation he entered the novitiate, taking his final vows in 1855 and being ordained a priest a year later.  It is quite likely he would have remained at the abbey for the remainder of his life, “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”,  except that in 1860 his abbot ordered him to take over a disobedient and debt-ridden daughter house of the abbey in Saint Meinrad, Indiana.  He performed a minor miracle in restoring the morale and faith of the monks at the abbey at Saint Meinrad and brought it back to fiscal solvency.  The abbot decided that he was doing such a good job that he should stay where he was in America.  In 1870, the Saint Meinrad Abbey achieved independent status by a Papal decree of Pius IX with Father Marty as the first abbot.  It continues in existence to this day as an abbey and a seminary. Continue reading

Top Ten Civil War Movies For The Fourth of July

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

 

Shelby Foote

 

Two years ago I compiled a list of the top ten movies for the Fourth of July which focused on films about the Revolutionary War.  Go here to view that post.  Last year I compiled a list of top ten patriotic movies for the Fourth, and that post may be viewed here.  This year we will focus on the top ten Civil War films for the Fourth of July.  I agree with historian Shelby Foote that it is impossible to understand the United States without understanding the Civil War, and it is “therefore fitting and proper” that over the Fourth Civil War movies come to mind.

 

10.   Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-We begin with a non-Civil War movie with the video clip at the beginning of this post.  In 1908 English Bulter Charles Ruggles, well played by actor Charles Laughton, comes to work in the American West.  It is a hilarious fish out of water comedy, as Ruggles, with his culture and British reserve comes face to face with the Wild West.  While living in America, Ruggles becomes interested in American history, and becomes a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  When he recites the Gettysburg Address, the impact on his listeners is obvious, and reminds us that for Americans the Civil War will never be a matter simply relegated to books or memory, but is something that still has a vast impact on us to this day.

 

 

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, ” A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

 

 

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

 

 

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid. Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg. John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest. Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech: Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it. Continue reading

Dumbing Down the Federalist Papers

I remain fairly ambivalent about Glenn Beck (an ambivalence that got me involved in a heated debate on this very site, but that’s another matter).  His style, especially on television, just doesn’t appeal to me.  He also seems to believe that having the dial turned to 11 is the only way to get his point across.  That said, I am appreciative of his efforts to teach American history to his audience.  He’s had some excellent academic guests like Ronald Pestritto on his show, and he has an appreciation of some of the nuances of American political thought that go over a lot of other heads.

Then I saw this, and I’m ready to grab the pitchforks.  From the product description:

Adapting a selection of these essential essays—pseudonymously authored by the now well-documented triumvirate of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—for a contemporary audience, Glenn Beck has had them reworked into “modern” English so as to be thoroughly accessible to anyone seeking a better understanding of the Founding Fathers’ intent and meaning when laying the groundwork of our government. Beck provides his own illuminating commentary and annotations and, for a number of the essays, has brought together the viewpoints of both liberal and conservative historians and scholars, making this a fair and insightful perspective on the historical works that remain the primary source for interpreting Constitutional law and the rights of American citizens.

So it’s the New American Bible for the Federalist Papers.  I wonder if Bishop Trautman consulted on this project.

Just as the average person can probably handle such mysterious words as “ineffable,”  I’m sure that most Americans can pretty much figure out what’s going on with the Federalist Papers without Glenn Beck re-translating it for us.  Yes, there are no doubt some tricky words in the 500+ pages and 85 essays, but that’s what footnotes are for.  Annotated versions of the Federalist Papers already exist, and those should suffice for Beck’s purposes.  Besides, part of the joy of the Federalist Papers is reading Madison and Hamilton’s beautiful prose.

Jeff Goldstein elaborates further on why this is problematic.

On the one hand, we’re supposed to believe that anyone can read and understand the Constitution — meaning, we don’t need a special priesthood to interpret the thing (and of course, this is true, assuming a base level of reading comprehension and intelligence, and assuming one can get past the fact that the document itself is like, over a hundred years old!); and yet at the same time, the Federalist Papers, we’re to understand today, are so arcane and abstruse and unintelligible that they aren’t even being taught anymore — a problem happily solved by Beck’s latest offering, a book that rewrites the Federalist Papers using modern language, which can be yours for only however many dollars (through the website, blah blah blah).

I agree with Jeff that this sends a very poorly thought out mixed message.  In fact Beck is playing into the hands of those who criticize the concept of originalism.  He’s conceding that the language of this era is difficult for people to comprehend, so the only way to make these writings more widely accessible is to completely re-write them.  It is a contradiction that I doubt Beck has thoughtfully considered.

Henry David Thoreau: A Rant

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau has always struck me as one of the most buffoonish and over-rated characters in American history. His aunt paying his taxes for him so his great tax protest over the Mexican War lasted all of one night, his accidental setting of a fire that consumed 300 acres of Walden woodlands, Thoreau contracting the tuberculosis that would kill him as a result of a middle of the night excursion to count tree rings and the pacifist Thoreau writing a pamphlet in which he claimed that John Brown, a murderer, embezzler, cattle thief and congenital liar, was humane are only a few of the many episodes in his life that are worthy of a great satirical novel.  Continue reading

Mormon Long March

One of the oddest episodes in American military history occurred during the Mexican War.  In 1846 the Mormons were beginning their epic trek West which would end with their carving a Mormon Zion out of the wilderness in what is now Utah.  The Mormons, realizing they would need at least tacit Federal approval to accomplish this, sent representatives to Washington.  The Polk administration asked for a quid pro quo.  The Federal government would render assistance if a battalion of Mormons would enlist to fight in the Mexican War.  Brigham Young readily agreed, and a battalion was raised after much cajoling by Young, due to the suspicion of most Mormons of the Federal government as a result of Federal indifference to the persecution of Mormons in Illinois and Missouri.

Along with the approximately 500 men, the Battalion was accompanied by 30 Mormon women, 23 of whom served as laundresses, and 51 children.  The Mormons were mustered into the Army on July 16, 1846.  They were assigned to the Army of the West under General Stephen W. Kearny, a tough regular.  From Fort Leavenworth on August 30, 1846, the Mormon Battalion made the longest infantry march in US military history, 1900 miles to San Diego, California which they reached on January 29, 1847.  The Battalion captured Tuscon, Arizona on the way to California, but saw no fighting, although the harsh climate and terrain they marched through more than made up for the absence of human adversaries.

The Battalion was discharged on July 26, 1847 in Los Angeles, and most of the men began the long trek to rejoin the Mormons in Utah.  Among the men who marched in the Mormon Battalion was George Stoneman, a future governor of California.  The video below at the end shows members of the battalion rejoining a Mormon wagon train after their service in the Mexican War.

Continue reading

Gates v. Washington

I think most Americans today fail to realize how close this country came to dying right after its birth.  After the disastrous New York campaign, the Continental Army was reduced to a few thousand ill-fed, ill-trained and ill-uniformed men under Washington.  As the year of 1776 was coming to an end, many Americans thought the cause of American independence was also coming to an end, but not George Washington.  He realized that for the war to continue he had to come up with some masterstroke that would rouse American morale and convince his troops that they stood a chance to win this lop-sided conflict. Continue reading

Most Incompetent Union General

“It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace, yet it seems impossible to prevent it.”  Henry W. Halleck

There are of course several generals in the running for this title:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks, Franz Siegel and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent Union general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. Continue reading

Election Day

Don’t worry!  We are done with elections for a while!  I am not going to start writing about 2012 already!  However, as annoying as the election commercials, mendacious politicians and all the assorted insults to our intelligence that are part and parcel of political campaigns are, we sometimes forget how truly remarkable a process it is in the history of our planet. Continue reading

Conqueror of the Northwest

One of the largely unsung heroes of the American Revolution is George Rogers Clark.  The campaign that he fought in Illinois and Indiana secured to America a claim to these territories that was recognized in the treaty ending the war.

In 1778 Virginian Clark, at 25, was already a seasoned veteran of the savage warfare that raged on the Kentucky frontier throughout the Revolution.  Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton, known to the patriots as “Hair-buyer” Hamilton,  from Detroit constantly aided the Indians war against the settlers in Kentucky, and paid generous bounties to the Indians for the prisoners and scalps they brought him.

Clark realized that the best way to stop the raids into Kentucky was for the patriots to go on the offensive and seize British outposts north of the Ohio river.  Recruiting 150 men to form what he called the Illinois regiment, Clark, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia militia, led his force into Illinois and took Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778.  The men of the Illinois regiment received an enthusiastic reception from the French, largely due to the efforts of Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of the Illinois Country, and Frenchwomen soon busied themselves sewing flags for the regiment.  Cahokia and Vincennes were taken without firing a shot, and British power in Illinois and Indiana seemed to vanish over night.

Hamilton did not take long to respond.  He raised a force of 30 regulars, 145 French Canadian militiamen and 60 Indians, marched from Detroit and re-took Fort Sackville at Vincennes on December 17, planning to stay there for the winter and then retake Illinois in the spring of 1779. Continue reading

Come, Come Ye Saints

Something for the weekend.  A blues arrangement of the Mormon hymn Come, Come Ye Saints.  The hymn was written as the Mormons were making their epic trek in 1846 from Illinois to Utah in order to carve their new Zion out of the wilderness.

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell –
All is well! All is well!
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
‘Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward if we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We’ll make the air, with music ring, Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we’ll tell –
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well!
Continue reading

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