“A Better World”

Sunday, June 19, AD 2016

A guest post from commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri :


I am a great lover of marches, patriotic hymns, and national anthems. I can sing with equal pleasure and enthusiasm many of the old Communist songs and “Charlie is my Darling” or the Marseillaise or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Any song that expresses a great enthusiasm for something felt to be good and noble, and a desire to march and fight together to achieve it, does something for me; even though I may, as with Communism or the Confederacy, disapprove of the cause that produced it.Nonetheless, there is one popular patriotic song that I like less and less, the more I hear it: Jerusalem by Blake and Parry. There is something about its spirit that repels me, and I think I know what it is. It is self-righteousness in its pure state. Think about what it says, and how it says it: “building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”. Not waiting for God’s purposes, not even presuming to collaborate with God or with Providence or with History or with Nature – no, we shall do it ourselves, in fact, I will do it Myself. That is the sacred element in this song: I. And pay attention to the music: not, like the Marseillaise, urgent and avenging; not, like the Battle Hymn of the Republic, marching in step with an overwhelming common vision; no, it is of a piece with the poetry – muscular, self-glorifying, overwhelmingly convinced of its own value. It is a music which proclaims to you that the eschatological renewal of the world, the New Morning, the Millennium, comes from – ourselves. As if anyone who made any modest and honest bit of self-examination could ever imagine that that lump of compromise, half-measures, confused aspirations to decency, poorly controlled lusts, and fierce selfishness, that is the personality of most of us, could be the agent and inspiration of a cosmic renewal!

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4 Responses to “A Better World”

  • Not wanting to pick a fight…:-) Did you just equate the Red Menace of Communism with the magnificent attempt to gain Southern independence from the grasping, rapacious claws of the Federal Government?? Ah am appalled, sir – simply appalled.

    Next time we conquer…

  • Michael Readyp: “One person cannot own another person” Abraham Lincoln. Without this truth no nation, no state, no people are free.

  • C.S. Lewis stated in Mere Christianity something to this effect: aim at Heaven and you get Earth as well; aim at Earth and you get neither. IOW, if you concentrate solely or primarily on improving society through various utopian or reformist schemes, you end up just making it worse, whereas if you focus on attaining Heaven via individual virtue, you make society better in the process. I would really love to, just once in my life, see a politician who acknowledges his or her limitations and promises simply to not screw things up any worse than they are, rather than promising all sorts of sweeping programs for solving all problems. I’d vote for that person in a heartbeat.

  • Mary D V – Yes!!! And there were about 388,000 AfricanAmericans that no one could really own – in all our history and up to 1860. And today there are now over 60,000,000 dead children whom their mothers didn’t really own – and without the truth that each of these babies could not be owned, none of us are free, nor is the USSA. . Ekaine K-On that “politicains not screwing up” idea, the Texians today see to it that their legislature can only meet every two years-not all the time. Guy McClung, San Antonio TX

The season of freedom – introduction: the men of Milliken’s Bend

Monday, July 8, AD 2013

Milliken's Bend



A guest post by commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri on the battle of Milliken’s Bend during the campaign to take Vicksburg:

Many of us have seen an excellent movie called GLORY, telling the story of the doomed but heroic assault by the black troops of the 53rd Massachusetts against the formidable coastal confederate Fort Wagner. With due respect for those brave men, that movie had the wrong subject. If they wanted to tell the story of black victims of oppression and dehumanization, taking up arms and proving themselves men on the battlefield, there is an episode that does it much better than even the fight for Fort Wagner; I mean the battle of Milliken’s Bend (June 7, 1863).

As the situation of Vicksburg was growing dire, and Grant’s wide-ranging operations had driven any hope of support far away (taking of Jackson and battles of Champion Hill and of Big Black River Bridge, mid-May), the Confederates pinned their last hopes on attempts to break Grant’s inevitably long supply lines. A union depot was known to exist at Milliken’s Bend, upriver from Vicksburg, and an elite unit, General John Walker’s Texas cavalry division, was dispatched to destroy it.

The Texans attacked late in the night of June 6-7. The garrison at Milliken’s Bend had had some advance warning of their arrival, and were reinforced by the experienced white troops of the 23rd Iowa; but the bulk of the local garrison was made up of two nominal regiments, the Louisiana Ninth and Eleventh: black volunteers, most of them escaped slaves, who had been enlisted for only a few weeks, with as much training as could have been expected for that period, officered by white soldiers promoted directly from private for the purpose, frequently illiterate, and often armed with out-of-date, broken-down Austrian rifles. Numerically, the defenders and the attackers were about equal, but given the different levels of skill and training of the Texans, the outcome would have seemed to be inevitable. The Texans broke the Union line, screaming “No quarter! No quarter!”, and the Iowans and the Louisianans became separated from each other, each understandably convinced that the other had left.

And then the unlikely thing happened. Driven from their positions, pushed back till they had their backs to the river, the Ninth and Eleventh Louisiana did not break or even waver, but met the Texans man to man. Twice they retook the battlements from which they had first been forced. Massed and pushing in a tiny space, literally face to face and eye to eye, fighting with the bayonet more than with the gun, the superior skill of the Texans ceased to matter; and the resolution of the former slaves not to be driven back, at whatever cost, became the deciding factor. The savage melee went on from dawn till midday, when the two gunboats “Choctaw” and “Lexington”, warned of the attack, finally reached the battlefield, and a few rounds of naval artillery convinced the Texans to seek friendlier climates.

There was, indeed, “glory” at Fort Wagner; but Milliken’s Bend, I think, means more. First, the troops of the 53rd Massachusetts were well trained and armed and meant from the start to be a front-line unit; while the 9th and 11th Louisiana were the lowest grade of troop, meant only for “garrison duty”, doing the jobs that better and more expensively trained units would be wasted on; and few people would have blamed them if, faced with such a unit as the Texas cavalry, they had abandoned the field. Second, however you look at it, Fort WAgner was a defeat; Milliken’s Bend was a victory. And in spite of its small scale, it was a victory of some significance. The Confederate attack had been altogether misguided: Grant’s supply line no longer ran through Milliken’s Bend, and even if the Texans had won they would have achieved precisely nothing. But the waste of Texans at Milliken’s Bend also means that this elite unit was not sent, as its overall commander, General Taylor, had pleaded, to attack a vulnerable New Orleans; and if they had been, Grant’s whole strategy might have been in trouble.

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9 Responses to The season of freedom – introduction: the men of Milliken’s Bend

  • Plus, they understood that they were going to be murdered . . .

    Reminds of the Phocians (Phocus capitulated to Xrexes) serving with the Persians at Platea when they were about to be set upon because they were “suspect.”

    Herodotus, Book IX:

    “Seeing what was coming, their commander Harmocydes urged them to sell their lives dearly. ‘Fellow countrymen,’ he cried, ‘you cannot fail to see that these fellows have deliberately planned to murder us – no doubt because of some lie the Thessalonians have told about us. Come then; show what you are made of, everyone of you. It is better to die defending ourselves than just to give up and be butchered – that disgrace, at least, we can avoid. Let us show them that the men they have plotted to murder are Greeks – and they themselves mere foreign trash.’”

  • Interesting story. So many battles in the Civil War that I know nothing about.

    I’m kind of surprised that with all the Gettysburg talk on this site that there wasn’t anything about Vicksburg until now.

  • I have lots of Vicksburg posts on the American history blog Almost Chosen People Pinky that I run with Paul Zummo.


    I don’t post them all over here for fear that the name of the blog would have to be changed to The American Catholic Civil War!

  • “The American Catholic Civil War!”

    I thought that was already under way.

  • Donald – No complaints, just surprised. A reasonable explanation.

    Phillip – Heh.

  • Thank you very much, Donald, for posting this dramatic account of this very important but long forgotten fight. I too, agree that the story of Milliken’s Bend would make an even more inspiring movie than Glory, though of course that is a fine film and often cited. It has been very interesting to me to see how much attention Gettysburg has received within the past couple of weeks, with some nods to Vicksburg – and I believe present-day attention to these two mammoth battles mimics very much the way in which Milliken’s Bend was overshadowed at the time in 1863. Gburg and Vburg were literally some of the Biggest Stories of the war, so I don’t fault the journalists.
    I might also add that although several Union accounts stated that the Confederates came on with cries of “no quarter” – the battlecry was said to have been directed specifically at the white officers. The black soldiers were to have been spared. Although many Union accounts after the battle did claim that there were no black soldiers taken prisoner, this appears to be inaccurate – perhaps unwittingly so or perhaps embellished for propaganda purposes. Over 100 black enlisted men were taken prisoner. While their ultimate fate is unclear, it does appear that at least some were treated as prisoners of war (they returned to their regiments in 1865) and that probably others were returned to slavery. Enough survived the battle as prisoners that it does not appear that they were cut down on the battlefield without mercy.
    In addition to the commentary of some high-ranking Union men, it has always intrigued me that Brig. Gen. Henry McCulloch, the commander of the Confederate brigade that attacked Milliken’s Bend – praised the black soldiers, stating that they fought with “considerable obstinacy.”
    One Catholic connection that I am aware of – an item that I did not have the opportunity to fully research was a diary kept by Father Gergaud in Monroe, Louisiana – where two of the Union officers were executed after being captured at Milliken’s Bend. Gergaud was in sympathy with the Confederacy. I’ve not yet been able to explore this further; what information I have, I gathered from different sources while researching at the Ouachita Parish Public Library in Monroe. One of many sub-stories of the battle that I still wish to explore.
    Thank you again for remembering this battle; it is a story that needs to be told – and a true story of American Freedom!

  • “Phillip – Heh.”

    Just a comment (perhaps not too clear nor funny) about the divisions already present in the Church in America.

  • To T.Shaw: willingness to fight to the death is certainly understandable in former slaves. Much less easily explained away is the widespread report that the blacks showed all the soldierly virtues of steadiness under fire, obedience to orders and willingness to hold one’s place unless and until told otherwise. It is for this reason, and not just because they were brave, that I wrote this article. These men had understood the instinctive, uncodified, but unbreakable connection between duty and liberty. For it they fought and for it they died, defending, as Captain Miller said, the cause that we revere.

    This article was originally published on July 4 on my own LIvejournal blog. It is intended to open a short series on liberty in modern history, which I will try to have completed by July 14.

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The Pre-history of the Declaration of Independence

Wednesday, May 9, AD 2012

A guest post from Almost Chosen People commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri.

To be honest, this post ought to be made on July 4; but if I waited that long, I would probably have forgotten all about it by then. I have repeatedly said that I regard the Declaration of Independence as just one step below the Sacred Scriptures, and its central statement – “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain [and] inalienable rights; that among these rights are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” – as words to live and die by.
However, while these words last for ever, there is a danger that the rest of the sentiments of the Declaration – a work very much of its time, after all, intended to bring about action and change then and there – can be misunderstood when not only the circumstances, not even the laws, but the very meaning of words have changed. The danger, in particular, is that our ignorance of the meaning of facts, laws and terms of language in the eighteenth century should give King George more credit than he deserves, and make the Founders, in spite of the nobility of their ideals, sound rather more sophistical in their political arguments than they actually were. In point of fact, once things are understood in their own contemporary colours, it will be seen that the case of Jefferson and Congress was literally unanswerable, because it was based on established law.
First and foremost, the meaning of the word colony has changed in the last two hundred years. To us, a colony is a distant territory ruled and administered from a distance, for whose governance it is the mother country – or colonial overlord – that is responsible. But that is by no means what a colony was in Jefferson’s time. In effect, imperial oversight and direct rule only became the norm after the shock of the great Indian war of 1858. The British government concluded, rightly or wrongly, that it had been caused by the maladministration of the East India Company, the private body that ruled India; and decided, even more arguably, that the answer was to dispossess the Company altogether and make the governance of India its own direct responsibility. This is in general the default reaction of the London government down the century to any crisis – take control from Westminster. But that the enormous Indian colony, much larger than the Thirteen Colonies had ever been, could have been administered until 1858 by a private corporation ought to show that direct control from the central government was, to say the least, not the universal rule of colonial governance.
In actual fact, the law and legal precedent under which the American colonies organized themselves has a surprisingly long prehistory. It begins with the huge legal difficulties experienced through the middle ages by the merchants who came from the Christian West to trade with the Muslim powers of Mediterranean Asia and Africa. To trade was indispensable to both parties, but neither would allow its citizens to be under the power of the other. A practice evolved – independently, to the best of my knowledge, from the temporary formation of crusader kingdoms that imported Western feudal law to Palestine, Syria and Anatolia – whereby Western merchants, mostly Italian, would settle closely together in single areas of Eastern harbour and trading cities, often a single street separated from the rest. These quarters were legally treated like independent Italian city states – their chief magistrates being called Consuls – even when they only amounted to a few families living in a Muslim and Eastern Christian sea of people. They were responsible for their own administration and justice, in so far as it didn’t clash with the larger government. At the same time they were regarded as colonies of the European mother countries from which the merchants came. I am not quite clear how this link worked in practice, but an offence made against a colony in Aleppo or Gaza would be felt as an act of war against the mother country. The largest number of these merchant settlements were Italian, but there were also quite a few from France, Aragon, and so on, and the principles on which they were based were universally understood in Europe.
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3 Responses to The Pre-history of the Declaration of Independence

  • “To be honest, this post ought to be made on July 4; but if I waited that long, I would probably have forgotten all about it by then. I have repeatedly said that I regard the Declaration of Independence as just one step below the Sacred Scriptures, and its central statement”
    I appreciate this in depth understanding of the life and times of our Declaration of Independence, which was also written before its ratification by the colonies on July 4th. And even after The Declaration of Independence, there were many colonists who remained faithful to the King, they were called Tories. Among them was Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Franklin’s son, with whom he had no contact after the war for independence.
    There is so much to which I want to respond in this post. Initially the following comment was written this morning in response to: Cutting off Planned Parenthood is about “ideology”… Our tax dollars may not be used to deconstruct our Declaration of Independence. In the very same manner, elected officials who are compensated by public tax dollars may not use their public service to deconstruct our Declaration of Independence.

    The office of president of the United States of America, any and all publicly held offices may not be used to deconstruct the Declaration of Independence, in the same manner as citizen’s tax dollars cannot be used to deconstruct the Declaration of Independence. It states that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
    Within The Declaration of Independence are inscribed our founding principles, the sacred truths which inform man’s freedom and government’s duties toward the sovereign person who constitutes government. These sacred truths are later specifically enumerated and defined in The Constitution for the United States of America, upon which sacred truths the newly elected public officials will swear an oath to God to uphold.
    For too long our government officials have supplanted our founding principles with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of the United Nations which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” which redefines man as having no rational, immortal soul endowed with unalienable rights by “their Creator” but by the state at being born free because the state says so.
    “Government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have”. Thomas Jefferson. “Let us remind our public servants that they work for us. That we, the taxpayers, are their employers.” (Rev.) Stanislao Esposito. And that our public servants are not authorized by the sovereign persons who are citizens to redefine the human person or his unalienable rights. Mary De Voe

  • Thank you for a very interesting post.

    George III was also Prince-Elector (Kurfürst) of Brunswick-Lüneburg and of the Imperial territories of Bremen-Verden, Hadeln, Lauenburg and Bentheim. The British Parliament never even tried to interfere with these: they were governed through the German Chancery at St James’s Palace, which was never considered part of the British government.

    Even today, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not technically part of the United Kingdom. The Channel Islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy, before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 and the Bishopric of Sodor (Suðreyjar) and Man was originally a suffragan see of the Archbishopric of Trondheim, in Norway.

    The colonies of the East India Company were usually known as “factories,” a factor being a mercantile agent.

    Under the system known as Capitulations, both Britain and France had consular courts, exercising jurisdiction over their own subjects in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, until 1914. I believe a similar system obtained in the treaty ports in China.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour: Thank you, too, for a very interesting post.